To Rainbow or Not To Rainbow…

I am as divided as my General Conference on today’s protest by the Lesbian/Gay /Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) nonviolent demonstration at GC.  Here is proof positive that non-violence can still be disruptive.  Whether it was effective is another matter.  As for me, I donned a rainbow stole this morning for a while… then I took it off.  I am so frustrated that this artificial polarization allows a sympathetic moderate no place to stand (or fall).  I have long spoken out against making this “the homosexual issue” because it is a fallacious reduction of our relationship to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  A core question being, are they Christian brothers and sisters, or are we, as a denomination actually claiming they cannot be Christian if they are gay/lesbian?  And compounding this tragedy?  We think we can settle this “issue” by voting on it!  Making the reality of men and women with a gay/lesbian predisposition a legislative contention is self-defeating — and it leads to the kinds of protests being lodged at GC today.

Don’t expect great wisdom here.  This is nothing more than the opinion of a middle-aged straight white male.  My credentials for entering this discussion are sketchy.  I am a flawed human being — that is all that qualifies me.  The fundamental (is this a good word to use at this time?) point for me is that we stray into treacherous waters any time we start treating people as categories or groups.  Everyone is hurt when the discussion is about the worth and acceptability of a particular group of human beings.  The question, “should gays be ordained?” is an unanswerable question for me.  Why?  Because I am sure not all gays should be ordained any more than I believe all straight people would make good pastors.  Well, what about “the sin” issue?  Well, I don’t believe “homosexuality” as an individual act or orientation IS a sin.  Yes, the Bible says it is, but the Bible says a lot of things that we have learned aren’t precisely true.  If the Levitical authors and Paul knew what we know of biology, ethics, and genetics, it might never have been an issue in a premodern and primitive society.  In context, homosexuality was a sin against the community’s need to multiply in order to spread, grow and conquer.  It was not a moral issue in the light we interpret today.  But beyond that, I don’t know “homosexuals.”  I know people who happen to be gay or straight.  I like most of them, try to love all of them, and have problems with a few of them.  The clergy colleagues I know who are gay or lesbian are average to great pastoral leaders.  But their propensities do not impact their leadership in negative ways.

The stress and strain of today is wanting to stand in solidarity with people who are people unjustly treated, unfairly persecuted, and harmed — while at the same time wanting to support and serve this church I truly love.  Do I hate that my church is the source of hostility and hurt?  You betcha.  So, in empathy with the hostile, hateful, and misinformed words being spoken this morning, I donned my Technicolor stole.  But on my way out, I heard equally hostile and unkind words being spoken by gay and lesbian people aimed at religious conservatives and central conference delegates.  Instead of the rainbow being a symbol of positive solidarity, it has become a badge of division, drawing a line to clearly delineate who is “us” and who is “them.”  Now, I can’t control another person’s reaction; I can only take responsibility for my own choices.  And I choose not to drive wedges between the very people I want to see reconciled.  If I wear a rainbow, I am drawn into an “us/them” division created by other people.  If I choose not to wear a stole, I am not endorsing either posture, but remain committed to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters while not causing offense to those who think and feel differently than I do.  Paul says something about not giving offense, I think.  I will not respond to the hostile and unkind acts and words of others with unkind acts and words of my own.

The rainbow is a glorious sign of promise — God will never wipe out humankind through flood.  It is a sign of hope, but it should not be a sign of hope for some and not for all.  This is where I come down — we need signs of hope for all.  We have a church that is communicating a gospel that says, “this is not for you — our perception of your sin makes you unfit for Christ’s love and God’s mercy.”  This is unacceptable.  I cannot believe that God ever intended followers of Christ to commit so much time and energy to keeping people out, pushing people away, and shaming their sisters and brothers.  I have been proud of our Episcopal leaders — they repeatedly state that our United Methodist theology defines ALL people on earth as children of God.  By God’s grace, may we outgrow our fervor for child abuse, and instead create a church of justice, mercy, compassion, kindness, peace and love.  I look forward to the day when God redeems the rainbow, and it is not used to make a point, but can be embraced and enjoyed by all.

37 replies

  1. There simply isn’t one “homosexuality issue” to be debated, and lumping it all together confounds arguments on both sides. The moral stance of United Methodism towards any and all homosexuals is one issue. How a church deeply divided on that matter functions is another. Whether you agree with inclusion or not, our denomination is deeply divided about it. And just maintaining the status quo will not work for anyone. That is why the Hamilton Slaughter amendment was important. Read it. it wasn’t saying pro gay or anti gay, but that we must work together to deal with the issue. It was also acknowledging the current hypocrisy. The BOD may say it is incompatible with Christian teaching, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of local church completely ignoring that and openly accepting LBGTQ members. There are openly gay clergy and staff in many of these as well. We are operating as a divided denomination already. That won’t go away with any decision or vote by a GC. The amendment was a means of beginning to deal with it, but too many still operate out of fear.

    • Re: Whether you agree with inclusion or not, our denomination is deeply divided about it.

      Hmmm… There are many doctrines of a less essential nature… In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ These are the fundamental doctrines… summed up, as it were, in two words, — the new birth, and justification by faith.

      In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

      – John Wesley

    • You write: “The question, “should gays be ordained?” is an unanswerable question for me.” May I respectfully suggest that if it is unanswerable, then it is the wrong question.

      A better question to ask is, “should we refuse ordination to an otherwise suitable candidate solely on the basis of the fact that they happen to be gay or lesbian, but not celibate?”

      I agree with your reflections on Pauline and Levitican scripture and, in light of those, I believe that the question answers itself. Paul would not have countenanced female ministers, but our Church now has for many years. I do not believe that this is so very different.

      Likewise, our Methodist fellowship has in the past been strained to the actual point of schism over the issue of racial equality. I sincerely hope that no one today still believes that black people are unworthy of full inclusion in our congregations or to stand behind our pulpits.

      This issue will not wait nor will it give us rest until we have faced it, admitted error, and done what lies in our power to redress that error. I hope to see a change in the Book of Discipline in 2016.

  2. In this situation, Dan, i agree with you that voting will not settle the matter, but i would lift up the “church-in-exile” option: that those of us hoping for a more grace-filled UMC will wait as participants in either open UM congregations or congregations of other denominations. This possibility does not meet the needs or desires of everyone, but for me it provides more time and space for God to work in and inspite of us. In this mean time, i support the witness of the Love Your Neighbor persons–and others, and i recognize that i can continue to support caring ministry such as UMCOR and UM mission efforts.

  3. Since General Congerence sets policy and that is done by voting then that should settle the matter but as we have seen it does not. The other method is by defiance. Enough people ignore the rules and those charged with enforcement decide not to do so. This is what happened in the Episcopal church. Put enough boots on the ground under the radar and enforcement becomes logistically impossible. There will be a price to pay for that method. I have seen no denomination which has resolved this issue without losing people. Within the Episcopal church they are splitting and suing each other all over the country.

  4. This blog has troubled me a great deal. It’s not like I am unaware of that judging has been taking place, I just am uncomfortable with it. I’ve felt that as a follower of Christ, my “job” is to love and not to judge. This morning’s epistle reinforced that for me. I John 4:19-21: “We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.” CEB
    The interesting part for me is that the commandment is to love our brother and sister–not only our brother and sister in Christ but all of our brothers and sisters.
    Too bad unqualified love seems to be so difficult. I am feeling the need to re-read all of John’s letters and then to put them to work.

    • Did you forget about 1 John 4:14-16? We have people who are collecting United Methodist paychecks who, at best, question whether Jesus is the Son of God and was bodily resurrected. It is too easy to make this a discussion about hate and bullying. It should be a discussion about who our ordained leaders are.

      If people want the luxury to put reason and experience on the same level (or even above) Scripture, then they need to answer the question about why the Episcopalians and other denominations that have allowed openly gay non-celibate persons to be ordained aren’t just not growing but are in free fall.

      • As opposed to The United Methodist Church that is growing by leaps and bounds? I maintain that all scripture is mediated by the limits of human writers and readers in their comprehension. We will never resolve our differences over the authority of scripture, so even if we use Scripture as our baseline and experience, reason and tradition as our lenses, we still harbor a subjective view of “truth.” I believe many of the instances of “demon possession” were the very best description primitive pre-moderns had of a wide variety of psychological abnormalities. This doesn’t mean the scriptures were “wrong,” but they were simply limited. There are areas of the world still struggling with the difference between “sick” and “evil.” Not everything the Bible labeled “sin” is sin, nor is everything the Bible approved acceptable. But we aren’t limited by such pedestrian and ignorant readings today (thank God) and we can use reason — as a gift to us from God — to learn, grow, adapt, and change.

      • So, the quadrilateral only applies when it tells you to do what you want to do? 😉

        Seriously, Diane appears to be saying that everyone should simply do what they want and is trying to use John as an authority to support that. You didn’t bother to chime in then.

        I agree that The UMC is in deep trouble. But, jumping off the same cliff as others truly makes no sense.

      • Creed, Do you actually believe any of these denominations are/were so fragile as to attribute their decline to a single issue? All were in dire straights before we lost our heads over “the homosexuality issue.”

        I do not believe conditional unconditional love is a virtue, nor do I believe that the proper response to “cheap grace” is restrictive “grace deserved.” Wesley never taught that grace was “cheap,” he said it was “free.” But something that is free is not necessarily without value. Reread Diane’s comment — nowhere does she say everyone should do what they want — she said it is not her job to judge, but to love others as God loves her. I don’t think it is fair to twist a statement of unconditional love for all God’s children into something it is not. But, this is where we are so broken right now — each side ascribing ignorance, decadence or malicious intent to the other. Until we move beyond the battles over language we will not ever address the deeper issues.

      • Then we are just changing definitions again. We should extend Christ’s love to everyone including our “enemies” however we define the term. But, your original post was about the demonstration by “Love Your Neighbor(!)” after they didn’t get what they wanted. We can extend love and not have them shot on sight or unleash dogs and water cannons on them.

        But, extending love and condoning unacceptable behavior are two very different things. They decided that when democracy didn’t work that they would act like thugs act all around the secular world. The bishops were wrong to enable the behavior for the past quadrennia and they were wrong to enable it in Tampa. Giving someone who should be defrocked (notice the loss of a job is different than doing physical violence to someone’s person) the ability to set the agenda for General Conference is absolutely ridiculous.

      • A couple of things there Pogue. First, that whole “extending love and condoning unacceptable behavior” thing sounds suspiciously like, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” And Jesus never said that. So you’re still trying to put conditions on your Agape love. I don’t think the Bishops condoned the protest in Tampa. I was there. They tried to get order in the hall. The thing they did condone was an African delegate comparing gay people to animals. No one acted like a thug, and it is an unfair characterization I’ve seen you use several times, but making derogatory statements about any group of people, such as was done, is bullying…yet I hear no condemnation from you on that point. I hear nothing from you on the point of the Bishop failing to enforce the agreed to rules, and calling the speaker out of order. But oh Good Lord, LGBT shouldn’t call for some actual discernment, and full inclusion in the denomination.

        Frankly Pogue, maybe the reason the Methodist Church (and most others) are losing members is because we have decided that we won’t extend Christian love and fellowship nor our welcome to anyone who you decide has sined…well, that would pretty much empty out the churches, so that explains that. There’s no cure for that.

        And by the way, lots of people and groups “set the agenda for General Conference.” Do you think it comes down on stone tablets from a mountain top. If so, we Methodists picked the wrong place for a GC…there aren’t any mountains around Tampa. The agenda gets set based on a lot of input, and it changes constantly during the course of the weeks based on a lot of things.

        Frankly, the impression I get from all of your comments is that everything should be decided by “I don’t know who” prior to Conference, and everyone…especially LGBT people…should shut up, vote the way you expect, and just tick off agenda items as if they have no affect on the lives of we people called Methodist.

      • When I said that Diane sounded like she was saying that it was okay for everyone to do whatever they wanted, Dan thought I was wrong. But, Mr. Masters seems to also believe that and is willing to double down.

        You don’t get order by calling a recess and then negotiating with people who had no right to be on the floor over the conditions of them leaving it. You simply encourage more disorder. Rushing the floor and refusing to leave is thuggish behavior. You may not like the characterization but sometimes the truth hurts. Dan wrote this blog to express his uneasiness with the protest.

        Just saying that something is “bullying” doesn’t make it so. Thank God.

        I will agree with you that the bishops aren’t perfect presiding officers. Apparently, it was out of order to refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization but it was okay to attack Israel as being Nazis. We need to be careful about how much political correctness we are going to insist upon because when it is imperfectly enforced that leads to a lot of pain.

        If the hypothesis of those who believe that if only The UMC was “more gay-friendly” then we would have a lot of people coming in the door were correct, then the Episcopalians would be growing instead of declining faster than we are. I know it isn’t the only factor. But, these arguments do take us away from the fundamentals of reaching souls for Christ.

        Maybe you should read Rev. DeLong’s quotes about her control of the agenda. Those were her statements, not mine.

      • I’ll be glad to see this particular exchange pause for a breath. There was one of those at General Conference when on the last day the Good News paper carried this:
        “Sometimes our words and actions weighed heavier on “incompatible with Christian teaching” than on “persons of sacred worth.” That was never our intent. Despite that, we apologize.”

        I expect there is plenty of apologizing left to do by all parties, including myself. Blessings, y’all.

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