Out of Exodus

A Journey of Open and Affirming Ministry

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Darryl W. Stephens
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , February
     202 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Out of Exodus is a welcome resource for congregations seeking to offer radical hospitality and full inclusion to those often excluded by society and the church. The contributors of this volume offer a narrative of how a United Methodist Church (UMC) located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a city some call "the belt buckle of the Bible belt" (88), engages their ongoing process to minister with the LGBTQIA+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersexual, asexual, and others who do not conform to binary categories of gender). While discussions of gender and sexuality are central for many contemporary Christian denominations, this congregation's quest for inclusion also recognizes that becoming open and affirming means continuing to unpack and dismantle racism and other systems of oppression to create a hospitable community.

The contributors parallel the Exodus narrative with contemporary struggles for liberation and acceptance and how both groups discern what it means to be God’s people. Darryl Stephens argues that there are similar trials, dangerous crossings, and wilderness experiences on the way to freedom and the promised land (xiii). The church frames its story in five main acts tied to the Exodus event. Each act begins with Stephens' theological grounding, followed by sermons preached by Michael Alleman, Andrea Brown, and Stephens focused mostly on Exodus and its themes of justice and liberation. Layperson Ruth Daugherty reflects on these in the context of her experiences. Every section also includes testimonies from several members of the congregation. For example, Rev. Mary Merriman, a retired Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) pastor and civil rights activist, shares powerful testimonies about her experiences ministering to LGBTQIA+ communities and her narrative about overcoming oppression. Stephens notes that the testimonies serve to remind the church who they are—part of God's story called to love all of God's creation (1). Further, they represent experiences from other Christian denominations, creating a more ecumenical narrative.   

The word "out" in the book's title is intentional and woven throughout each stage of this narrative. Stephens explains: "To be in an open and affirming ministry is to seek continually to be aware of those who feel left out, singled out, and simply outside the love of God, and then to offer the Good News of Christ" (7). Act 1, "Crying Out in New Birth," reminds us that becoming a new community can be challenging, yet, there is a deep faith and hope for something new (11). The journey will require learning from the past to move forward. It might also require disobeying unfair laws to promote life like midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Exod 1:8-22), or forging unlikely partnerships like the one between Moses' mother and Pharaoh's daughter who collaborate to protect baby Moses. Act 2, "Called Out to a New Role," is grounded in Moses' call from the burning bush (Exod 3-4) to call out Pharaoh’s injustice. The sermons, reflections, and testimonies in this section give examples of the community's risks to interrupt injustice. Act 3, "Coming Out with a New Identity," reads the Passover narrative and sea crossing as pivotal for the Hebrew people's identity as God's chosen people. Coming out is complicated, and there is no turning back for the Hebrew people who leave Egypt or those in the LGBTQIA+ community who publically claim their identity. Church members reflect on the congregation's new identity as part of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN)—a network of open and affirming churches—while others share coming out stories.

In Act 4, "Figuring Out in a New Voice," Stephens notes that here the Exodus and resurrection meet (98). Missteps in the wilderness (e.g., building a golden calf, Exod 32) and wilderness struggles to discern what it means to be God's chosen turn into messages of hope. The contributors also deal directly with some of the UMC’s wilderness moments, like the trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer that precipitates Brown's November Easter sermon that stresses "love trumps all."  Stephens draws on a Wesleyan understanding of the Spirit's charisms and outlines how these are manifest in an open and affirming congregation through "radically inclusive love" with persons of all gender and sexual orientations (96-98). The final act, "Setting Out on a New Journey," underscores the ongoing nature of the journey toward open and affirming ministry. From on top of Mt. Nebo, Moses stares at the promised land on which he will never set foot. Likewise, full inclusion might take a lifetime or more, but the congregation has a responsibility to continue this new journey of faith and ministry.

The theological and biblical underpinnings in this journey are Wesleyan—the community’s tradition. The book provides a powerful application of the quadrilateral (the interplay of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) to conclude that the Bible promotes radical hospitality and that “we can be both biblical and progressive in our faith" (xiii).

Also helpful for the community and a good model for others were recitations of the community’s historical commitment to justice (e.g., connections to the Christiana Rebellion that helped overturn the Fugitive Slave Law and to the abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens). Contributors note that the congregation has always had a heart for refugees and immigrants (Exod 22:21) that naturally led to opening their arms to other disenfranchised persons.

The journey described in this book is particular to a congregation (Grandview UMC). Still, it serves as a helpful model for other congregations and communities within and outside of the United Methodist tradition, working toward full inclusion of the LGBTQI+ community and others often left out of the life and mission of the church. The book's structure makes it conducive for small group conversations facilitated by discussion questions available in the appendices. The book also offers an outline of their process to becoming open and affirming (ten years and continuing) and tips for opening conversations on sexuality that include a glossary of terms, guides to prepare for them, and ground rules for "holy conferencing" (162). I assigned this book in my United Methodist Missions class to open conversations about inclusion, especially within the current dialogue on sexuality within my denomination. In a world where churches are searching for authentic and new ways to express their faith amid social change, this book offers guidance and hope.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Deborah A. Appler is professor of Hebrew Bible at Moravian Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
March 5, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Darryl W. Stephens is director of United Methodist Studies at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He is author of Methodist Morals: Social Principles in the Public Church's Witness (2016).



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