Compatibullying

2501945759_1The 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.

ReconciliationIronically, 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.

21 replies

  1. Since we are all sinners, why single out the sin of homosexuality? This is the final fall-back argument. Since we’re all sinners, heterosexuals have no right to come down so hard on same-sex intercourse. Right?

    The problem with this argument is that it results in a church that never takes a stand against sin at all. Sure, all of us are sinners, but not a single writer of a biblical text ever concludes that the church should cease to take a stand against sin in all its forms. Few people who argue for full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church would want to argue that the church should tolerate or affirm adultery, pedophilia, incest, polygamy, etc. Few would say, “Hey, we’re all sinners. Who am I to judge you?”

    The church must always approach the rebuking of sin among its members with humility, repenting of its own sins and providing offending members with support for change. It’s for certain that we all sin, but not all sin is equally offensive to God and not all sin is to be treated in the same way. God gives clear guidance for approproate expressions of sexuality and not once does that include same-sex intercourse.

    • I can agree with you, as long as we’re consistent. If we apply your standard, let’s make sure that we hold the divorced, those in any kind of debt (credit card, mortgage, education, etc.), those who withhold tithes, alms, gifts, and offerings, etc. to the same standard and do not act unjustly.

      • Don’t forget those who sin by mixing flax and wool. They’re going to destroy the family. And those lesbians… Oh, wait. They’re not on the list. Never mind.

  2. I agree with your “do no harm/do all the good you can” concept. While the Bible does prohibit sex between men (homosexuality), it can nevertheless be shown that the prohibition does not apply today when the sexual activity causes no harm. Also the prohibition does not apply today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Roman cultures. The Bible criticizes, but does not prohibit, sex between women. Full reasons for these conclusions are given on the Gay and Christian website (www.gaysandslaves.com).

  3. A line of thought wonce went like this: “Who is my neighbor?” I need to know because compassion and justice can only go so far. And there is no advantage to me in going farther. If there is no them, then there can be no us.

    Another good question would be “With whom can I share God’s love and thus become closer to God?” The answer is everyone, the more the better.

  4. While I would stand much firmer on the ‘it is a sin’ side of this issue I think you make some valid points. I think our ministry to and with homosexuals should not be a ministry of angst and fear. There are some really good examples of this in the pro-life / pro-choice arguments. There are a number of pregnancy centers that offer young women hope to counter fear by providing material support, adoption services etc… The point is that their ministry is one of hope and not fear never appealing to guilt, and all the while they still stand firmly on their convictions.

    People need to do the same in this debate. Stand firmly on their convictions by offering hope to the situation knowing that perfect love casts out fear. The turn or burn argument of course is fear driven… but so is the “in the future your gonna look like a slavery supporter” argument.

  5. Related to a tangential point you wrote…

    “…soon we will fight with everything we have to denigrate non-Western, non-American Christianity as our faith population explodes in the Southern Hemisphere.”

    In my mind, that is a bold prediction (although it does resonate with me). How do you see that process of denigration unfolding?

    • I think it is already unfolding. For United Methodists, we want regional conferences so that we will not lose power and when the population shifts south no one else will be able to tell the church in the U.S. what to think or do. I hear people in our denomination referring to Biblical/pre-modern interpretations in the global south as uneducated, ignorant, superstitious, occult, and even un-Christian. I also witness Westerners using non-Westerners for their own political purposes around specific issues (homosexuality, abortion, and capital punishment) while ignoring — and often holding in contempt — other beliefs. I have a friend, Ysaf Membele, who holds three Ph.D.s, yet is treated like a poor bumpkin by UMs in this country. He believes in demons, miracles, spiritual healing, and angelic intervention and he will be a leader in the Christian growth in Africa, yet he experiences racism, classism, and paternalism each time he visits. He laughs and says, “One day? This shoe? Other foot!” He’s got a great laugh.

  6. I think I have posted this before on your blog, Dan, but I will again. I am less middle of the road than you on this issue. I advocate openly for the full inclusion of the people that God has created gay or lesbian. However, I agree with you that none of this focus will alleviate physical hunger or the hunger for God’s grace. I had the unique experience of being on staff at a large membership church where the other associate pastor and I were in full disagreement over this issue. On the other hand we worked, prayed and broke bread together regularly. We were both blessed to be in ministry together and we both believed that we shared that blessing with everyone we were in ministry with.

    Thanks for being continuing to challenge us.

  7. I really enjoy this blog and your essays. I especially like how you are trying to get Christianity back on track. You teach what real sin is, what God’s love is, what the real mission of Christ was and finally how the church has lost its way.

    Like Stephanie has stated, the real mission of the church was and is to provide a place for Jesus Followers to find community/fellowship and to reach the world with the healing power of Jesus.

    I don’t know exactly when it happened but the church redefined sin and other aspects of Judaism to suit its own needs. Now, so many Christians have a false sense of what sin really is and why community is so important especially in our current technological age.

    At the United Methodist Church I attend we had some bad times recently. However, this caused us to refocus on what is really important and amazingly we have seen a major focus on community and fellowship. This has in turn caused us to see long lost members return to the church and become active again.

    In regards to homosexuality and other so-called sins. Once again, if people truly understand what sin really is then they would open their eyes to how homosexuals fit into the church and that is as full members of the body of Christ who should be viewed by their actions, love and compassion rather than their sexual orientation.

    Great post.

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