As a divinity student at Yale, I was asked to chronicle my spiritual journey and to include some of the people who had influenced me the most. We were to write a letter to one of those individuals. I choose to write to Mr. Melvin Ford, an elder from my hometown community who had long been deceased. Why Mr. Mel?
Because, he never told me to “hush” when I asked a thousand questions about the Bible. Because, he told my parents that I had a lot of questions and to talk with me. Because, he questioned me. Because, he opened my mind to a different way of thinking. Because, he helped me to realize that there is more than one way to think about things. Because, he reinforced what my parents taught but in a different way.
One day when I was visiting him (I think I was in high school or maybe home for a visit my freshmen year of college), we sat in his living room talking, just the two of us. He must have been well into his 90s. He asked me a simple question. “What do you think of homosexuality?” At the time, I responded something like “I don’t know. I guess it’s wrong. That’s what the Bible says.” His response, “The Bible says ‘let man not lay with anything unnatural.’ As for as I can tell it natural for them.” Huh. I don’t remember what I said after that statement. What I remember is that he didn’t try to convince me one way or the other. He simply asked me a question, and in doing so, he opened my mind to a different way of thinking about the Bible, its interpretation and our love for one another.
Many years would pass before I was aware of the debate within the Presbyterian denomination, in which I am an ordained minister, regarding the acceptance and ordination of gay and lesbian church officers. I had little understanding regarding the hurt that those in same sex relationships experienced and how the church was/is often complicit in that hurt. I believe that he did.
I marvel at this southern man with a fourth grade education who was so intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, well read and, importantly, loving to an inquisitive young girl. Even as I write this post, I wonder what he saw in me. Did he have a clue that I would one day become a healer? Was he planting a seed? I don’t know. Here’s what I know. His words and teachings had a profound effect on me. I believe that we are all loved unconditionally and need to be healed from our wounds! Today, I salute Mr. Melvin Ford!