The United Methodist Judicial Council has adjudicated the “homosexuality question” for the denomination by deeming the Baltimore-Washington attempt to reframe and redeem the gay-lesbian-bi-transgender issue “out-of-order.” The claim is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Okay, fine, I accept that — but only if we’re consistent. The ordination of women is incompatible with Christian teaching — that is, until Christian teaching was changed. Slavery is compatible with Christian teaching, but only if you are an evil, hateful, ignorant Christian. Greed isn’t compatible, but we don’t want to go there or rich people won’t give us their money. There are food issues, but they’re confusing, so it’s better to ignore them. Incompatibility is a lousy excuse for setting boundaries, because we refuse to use them consistently.
Justice doesn’t work much better. We like Law much better than Justice. We like walls — to keep “good” people safe and “bad” people out. Unless we clearly define what behaviors and beliefs belong to each camp, we have no reliable criteria by which to ostracize and alienate people we don’t like. I have no axe to grind either way. I think a lot of things earlier cultures and primitive worldviews deemed “sin” really aren’t, and a lot of things readily accepted, like American Idol and Donald Trump and the little eyeballs-on-a-stack-of-money Geico commercials, are “sin.” In my personal experience, I have met many more hurtful, hateful heterosexuals than I have homosexuals. On the list of important beliefs and practices of Christians, sexuality is way down on the list. The “do no harm/do all the good you can” concepts trump people’s private relationship practices every time. I don’t think homosexuality is “great” but I don’t think it is “awful” either… and if I did think it was awful, I would want as many opportunities to interact with and witness to homosexuals as I could get. So, either way, my belief is that the place for homosexuals is IN the church…
I always upset people whenever I address this issue. I please no one, but I don’t care. I honestly believe that one day future UMs will look back on this time and marvel that we allowed such an issue to divide and damage the body of Christ. People are dying of hunger and abuse. Young lives are destroyed by drugs, violence, and suicide. More teenagers will die this year due to cell phone/texting related car accidents than ever before, and we’re spending our time making sure that people of the same-sex who kiss each other can’t worship God with us. It breaks my heart.
I am in sympathy with anyone who struggles from a deep sense of belief and conviction. If a person believes homosexuality is a sin, they have the right to that belief. What they do not have is the right to exert hateful and sometimes violent influence to hurt people who disagree. And to fight so hard to judge, condemn, vilify and humiliate another group of human beings is nothing short of “sin” itself.
The Bible serves two basic purposes: tool and weapon. As a tool, amazing things can be built. The greatness of the Christian faith rests on the foundation of “the Book.” Our scriptures offer a powerful direction for creating beauty, truth, and goodness. It can teach, edify, inspire, encourage, and affirm. The Bible — and the theology of grace, mercy, and love it offers — can transform our world into a wonderful reflection of God’s will. But as a weapon, the Bible is a terrible and vicious force for destruction. Just as agents of darkness disguise themselves as agents of light, so too we can easily clothe ourselves in light to do great harm and spread deep darkness.
Why is it so important to build a dividing wall of hostility between different groups? We used to draw the line using power and wealth. Then we used race and ethnicity. Then we used gender. Then we used politics. Now we use sexuality. We also struggle with age, nationality, and soon we will fight with everything we have to denigrate non-Western, non-American Christianity as our faith population explodes in the Southern Hemisphere. No matter how many times we rise above our petty hatreds and divisions, we seemingly can’t wait to create new ones.
Ironically, were John Wesley to look at many of the decisions and directions that define United Methodism today, he would probably label the majority of them “incompatible with Christian teaching.” So often we hear leaders call for a return to an authentic Wesleyan theology. I personally believe that the only people who call us back to a Wesleyan theology are those who least understand what Wesley thought and taught. Modern day Christians in the United States would HATE a truly Wesley-based faith discipline. We think what we’ve got is too stringent. Oh, man, what we would think of Mr. Wesley!
Perhaps the saddest thing I witness in all this is that it has become a win-lose situation. I don’t find too many people wanting to come to a solution — they just want their way. We aren’t even talking compromise — which means everyone loses to some extent — it is a simple right/wrong, good/evil, my way/highway discourse. Doesn’t anyone care about anyone else here? A few years ago I met with confessors and reconcilers for a 24-hour prayer vigil. We didn’t resolve anything. We didn’t really change minds. What we did was leave friends — able to disagree and willing to work together instead of fight. It was cool. Praying together, what a concept. I suggested this approach a few months ago and was told by each side that I was, a) a coward and b) a poor Christian. It bugs me to know that there are UMs who see prayer as cowardly and unChristian, but obviously I don’t know what I am doing.
The past few years of my life have been guided by a simple question: what would it look like to live my life by the nine fruits of the spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — and the instruction from Micah 6:8 — to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. I apply this to every issue of life — including homosexuality — and I simply can’t come down on the side of the people who judge, condemn, alienate, ostracize, criticize, insult, disrespect, and otherwise steal dignity from gays and lesbians. Does this make me a poor Christian? It’s really sad if it does.