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Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 2005

Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning; Clinical Assistant Professor of Contextual Theology and Practice, Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey describes her ministry first and foremost as relevant. As a leading advocate for LGBTQ rights, she consistently calls for an end to the UMC’s discriminatory polity as it relates to ordination, church membership, and marriage rights. But she also understands her ministry work as “risqué”—in that she continuously challenges the status quo by writing petitions and letters, leading workshops and seminars, and preaching and speaking out for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. She’s accustomed to criticism for her theological views, but she’s clear, as Frederick Douglass was, that “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

A self-avowed “lightning rod” (not because she wants to be but because this happens as she follows her call), Dr. Lightsey acknowledges that her work is controversial and places her in the midst of trauma and crisis. But through it all, she retains a keen awareness of her own strength:

“What does a lightning rod do? It draws the strike to help the building be protected. I have credentials and, in some contexts, I have clout. To the extent that people direct their anger at me, it’s better than directing it at an innocent person who is not equipped or prepared—or who feels they have no voice at all.”

She understands that this work has made her stronger; attacks directed against her have fueled her commitment to make the world a better place for her children, her grandson, and for younger activists.

Underlying her activism, though, is a spirit of compassion. Dr. Lightsey understands that people committed to a system of hierarchy and control often don’t see the need for change. In her mind then, activism is a form of education, and her work is about helping people see the need for change. This evokes not only her priestly gifts—helping to motivate people and allow them to see from a different perspective—but also her prophetic gifts—alerting people to the consequences if they refuse to change. While she works from within the UMC and continues to love the church, she is not blind to its flaws,

“If you look to the church for some kind of perfect saintliness, you’re looking in the wrong place; it can be a beautiful place but, historically, it also has done evil.”

Dr. Lightsey takes seriously John Wesley’s teaching that, “The world is my pulpit.” She sees faithfulness in ministry—whether it’s preaching in the church, teaching in the academy, on the ground in Ferguson, or reviewing the legal documents of same-sex marriage—as working for human rights, so that the notion of “human being” can be lived out in fullness and truth. Inspired by her ancestors, she is committed to doing justice to the deep history and tradition of Black people. Painful as it has been, she is constantly aware of that history, and seeks to add to the beauty of that tradition. But she’s also motivated by her own children and all children, mindful of the kind of world we are leaving to them. Her respect for the past and her hope for the future are powerful motivators for her, “How can I honor what’s gone on in the past, and how can I make the future better?”

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