There are all kinds of friendships that you have in your life. There are best friends. You’re blessed if you get more than three of those in a lifetime. There are good friends. Usually that’s your inner circle, the folks that you call up when big life events happen. I guess the number of these you have may depend on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. It may also depend on how much you want to invest in those people. There are drinking buddies, people with whom you may never have many serious conversations, but you laugh and generally enjoy their company when they are around. This number can be infinite. There are the friends with whom you only share a moment in time. You may not have ongoing contact, but because of that one shared experience, you’ll be bonded for life. This number tends to depend on the number of truly remarkable experiences you have in life.
Then you have important friends. They can certainly overlap with the other groups, but they’re more likely to be on the periphery, not in the inner circle. What sets them apart is that when they show up in your life, they make an impact. I have a small handful of these friends, people who show up and I know that their presence is going to change me in some fundamental way. My friend, the Rev. Scott Clark, is one of those people.
Scott and I met in seminary. He came to San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) during my second year. He and his partner Jeff lived above my wife and I. We would sometimes process the previous night’s episode of Gilmore Girls as we climbed the steep hill towards our classes, but where our friendship really formed was in the van. SFTS is part of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), a consortium of theological schools, most of which are in Berkeley. Those of us who lived in Marin County would have to take the schools’ vans across the Richmond Bridge to get to our GTU classes. I don’t remember which class I was taking or which one Scott was taking, but they started around the same time so we and several of the Korean students would hop on a van and cross the bay. Our classmates seemed happy to have the time where they didn’t have to use the English many of them were learning simultaneous to their seminary education, so Scott and I would chat along the way.
I don’t know if I ever told him this, but those conversations with Scott were incredibly important to me. First and foremost, Scott is just a fun person to talk to! He’s smart, witty, and oozing the charm that is stereotypically associated with Southerners. It didn’t take many conversations to realize that Scott had something else going for him; a deep sense of passion for the church. In 2006/7 when we would have been making these trips, it was still not legal in our denomination to ordain LGBT candidates to ministry, but Scott had a very evident sense of call, a robust faith in Jesus Christ, and a love for the church that I myself did not have at the time. It’s this love that inspired me and still does. I was very close to dropping out of the ordination process. My presbytery wasn’t very helpful in my care process and seemed to be putting unnecessary obstacles in may way. (The more things change… anyway…) I watched Scott move confidently through obstacles because of his love for a church that at times did not love him back. His belief in the good that the church can do kept me going.
Fast forward a few years. I was pastoring a church in Springfield, Ohio. Amendment 10-A to the PC(USA)’s constitution passes. It is a time of great celebration for most of the people in my circle. Many of my friends had been fighting this fight for a long time. Still, at that point anyway, I had some friends on the conservative side of things who were unpleased. They saw the church as losing its way and deviating from the Bible. In what I think was an act of being conciliatory, I wrote a blog post entitled “What if I’m Wrong?”. The central point I was attempting to make was that those of us on the “winning” side of this debate should practice humility as we’re all, at our best, attempting to discern the will of God. I certainly stand by the need for humility and generally consider the question of potential error essential in theological conversation, but Scott commented on my writing in a way that was incredibly instructive. These are his words :
if you are wrong on this issue, then Jeff and I are wrong by virtue of our life and love together — my call is wrong, my marriage is wrong. We are actually against God, when we are trying to be for her as best we can. Now, again, I KNOW that you did not in any way shape or form mean that. And I never would even have shared this thought because I don’t want you to feel guilty or worry that I am offended here. I’m not (and I’m not just saying that But that’s how I hear the question, or perceive its import/implication, and I thought it might help with the question you raise with me in the message.
From my social location, as ally, I was missing the context of Scott’s social location. It was a lesson that has become incredibly important to me: I cannot equivocate as an ally. If I am for someone, I have to be all in for them, not for them with qualifications. And Scott is the perfect person from whom I should learn this lesson. He is a lawyer by training. He knows what it means to be all in for the sake of defending what he believes is right. Within our church’s system, he has stood in defense of ministers who have performed same sex marriages and there is no gray area there. Either you believe that marriage is a gift God has given to all people or you don’t.
It’s in this role of defense that Scott has once again shown up as a key person in my life. I won’t say much about the details as my case is ongoing, but I have written before about the context. Scott was not there to argue my innocence. I screwed up. I own that. I have owned it for three and a half years. Scott was defending me from a process that had gone off the rails and lost focus of its goal. I called Scott up a few months ago and he has been working diligently with Shannon and I on my case. Last week there was a meeting around the case and I could not have asked for a better person to be in my corner. Scott was prepared, organized, articulate, and persuasive. I expected all of those things. What maybe caught me a bit off guard was Scott’s passion. Scott is a fighter! The same passion that I’ve heard him express for the church in the past was on display here. I know a lot of that is because we are friends, but the fact of the matter is that e genuinely cares about the church living up to her best ideals, ideals rooted in the grace of Jesus Christ. Were I not dead inside, I would have cried at his mention of the church’s missing out on my gifts and skills. This wasn’t just about me, it was about the church…
… but it was about me, and that fact has made me uncomfortable and I have finally put my finger on why: for most of my life, I have wanted people to feel that I am worth fighting for. My father was out of the picture. He clearly wasn’t going to fight for me. I wanted my mother to fight for me and my siblings against my abusive stepdad. Never happened. I wanted my siblings to stand up for me. Never happened. There have been other instances where I have desperately wanted someone to step between me and chaos and say “no more”. That’s what Shannon did for me and continues to do. And that’s what Scott did for me last week. He made me believe I was worth fighting for. That is a gift I cannot measure. There is no “thank you!” big enough.
There are all kinds of friends in the world. The good ones are the ones who will fight for what they believe in, fight for themselves, and fight for you. Everyone should have a friend like that. Everyone should have a friend like Scott.