AC19: Jay Williams is Ziegler Preacher

June 15, 2019

The Rev. Dr. Jay Williams, lead pastor at Union UMC in Boston, is the 2019 Ziegler Preacher. 

The Wilbur C. Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching is presented annually by the Conference Board of Church and Society to a person who demonstrates excellence in preaching the whole Gospel, addressing both personal and social salvation.

In his sermon on Saturday, June 15, Dr. Williams reminded New England United Methodists: “We have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.”

“I love Jesus,” Dr. Williams began, “so this sermon is about Jesus, and it’s about justice, and about the gospel of liberation.”

But which Jesus? 

“I’m not talking about the Jesus some people want us to believe in – not the docile, turn-the-other-cheek Jesus … not the Kumbaya, let’s hold hands, can’t-we-all-get-along-Jesus,” Dr. Williams said. 

He described Jesus this way:

“I’m talking about the Jesus who was born to an unwed mother, who grew up poor, who grew up living under the constant threat of terror in a nation occupied by the Roman Empire; the Jesus who was an immigrant refugee, who was a brown Jewish rabbi who came to comfort the comfortless, who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly … the Jesus who came to set us free.” 

In fact, Dr. Williams said, the Jesus he is talking about is queer. 

“Though Jesus was not gay, Jesus is queer,” Dr. Williams said. 

“Queerness is an ethical orientation and not simply a sexual orientation,” he explained.
“Queerness is a way of thinking, a world view, an approach; so, to be queer is to be non-complicit, non-conventional, non-compromising, and non-conforming with injustice.”

Jesus was not a centrist or a moderate, Dr. Williams said, “Jesus was a rebel, and a rebel who said: ‘love everybody and treat everybody right.’”

So following Jesus “is a queer act,” he said.

“When we answer the call of Jesus, when we are baptized into the church, we commit ourselves to being counter cultural. When we make our vows to resist evil, oppression, and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves, we choose to be queer.”

The United Methodist Church died on Feb. 26, 2019 (the closing of the General Conference),

Dr. Williams said, and it was killed by “intersecting systems of colonialism, classism, heterosexism, and white supremacy.”

But while we remain in “Holy Saturday,” as a church, there is the hope of resurrection, he said.

“What if Pentecost did not initiate ordinary time, but rather ignited in us an extraordinary pursuit of justice and liberation work?” Dr. Williams said. “What if we followed Jesus, and Pentecost night inspired within us a justice-centered Jesus movement? What if we follow Jesus, the queer radical, follow that Jesus, the resurrected Christ, into creating the queer church?”

Dr. Williams, 38, was elected as the first clergy delegate to the 2020 General Conference and as head of the delegation. 

He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Harvard and is adjunct faculty at Boston University School of Theology. 

He serves on conference Board of Ordained Ministry and on the leadership of the Study of Ministry Commission of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and UMForward, the group that proposed “The Simple Plan” at the 2019 General Conference. 

The Annual Conference approved placing the complete text of Dr. Williams’ sermon in the 2019 Journal that will be published this summer. 

Dr. Williams with the Praise Team from Union UMC in Boston.