Living up to Jonathan Edwards
“Are you really a descendent of Jonathan Edwards, the angry God guy? That’s what they are telling me in the newsroom,” asked Dennis Roddy, a Sunday columnist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when he called me several years ago after I presided at a wedding for two women. Jonathan Edwards has loomed large in my life as a measure of ministerial duty since I first felt called to ordination 35 years ago. Though I understand him a bit differently than Roddy did.
Most of all, it’s his path in ministry that resonates deeply with me. After a long pastorate in Northhampton, Massachusetts, he took the position of minister in the experimental village of Stockbridge in western Massachusetts, very much on the edge of the wilderness in the 1750s. The English and the Native Americans, Mohicans, lived side by side and Edwards was the preacher for both churches, using a translator to speak to the Mohicans.
Over time Edwards came to see the treatment of the Mohicans by his Williams cousins (Williams College) as land-grabbing manipulation, and challenged them on their behavior. He sent letters criticizing the Williams family to the governor in Boston, and his cousins began to criticize Edwards in return. Though it was a hardship for his family, he eventually accepted an invitation to become president of Princeton College partly in order to escape this conflict with his cousins.
So in ministry, at least, I have not fallen far from the tree. Just as Jonathan Edwards treated the Mohicans in the same way he treated everyone he met — as a child of God, deserving of love from their neighbor — I seek to treat everyone in the same way, including GLBT people. Everyone is capable of receiving and responding to God’s love and, certainly, is deserving of love from their neighbor.
The ministry to which I have been called has not been without its hardships. I am comforted by a sense that I am following my family’s proud tradition of standing firm for what we believe is right, no matter what tests may stand in our way.
There are ways in which Jonathan and I differ—how could we not, living three centuries apart? But that I will hold for another time. The heart of the matter, according to Jesus, is loving God and loving our neighbor. In seeking always to obey those commandments, Edwards and I stand firmly arm in arm.