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. I am one of those who is relieved to hear that the UMC stood its ground. Having said that I do not want to exclude people. I also do not want to embrace what are considered immoral behaviors. It is clear from the reactions of the LBGT folks when they hear this argument that they totally reject it. So now what? Is this squabble going to continue until one side or the other quits and goes away?

    • I will say one more time: I don’t know how we will ever resolve these issues, but I am POSITIVE that legislative process is NOT the way to do it. Voting on values, morality, interpersonal relationship, and scriptural interpretation is a no-win situation. We must find/create forums for a better way to navigate the stormy seas together.

      • So, if we cannot fix it legislatively, actual lay glbt people want and need pastoral advice from our pastors and leaders. My pastor was the first person I came out to — I wanted, you know, actual advice and counseling — imagine that. One says to stay celibate, one says it can be changed and another says its fine and I simply want to know how best I should live my life and what I ought to do if / when I fall in love.

    • Not all glbt people would reject it, but some of us want help and advice (see my response to Dan below). And, it would be nice if it were consistent — and when multiple pastors in the same building give different advice, what is that lay person supposed to do? It sometimes feels as though we are checker board pieces or pawns in a tug of war between the power struggles of others. One pastor says be celibate and other other sets you up on a date with his nephew. So you feel on your own because you are perplexed by this. Its not just about ordination. Its also about the inconsistently different advice different people give to lay people.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your refreshing post. It’s wonderful to see such an honest statement and I envy your way with words. You hit on many issues that many people right now are struggling with (like knowing or having friends that are gay).
    My only disagreement is from your statement “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?”
    I am not at general conference so I do not fully know everything that has been said. However I would like to point out that many people, including myself, do not claim that a gay or lesbian may not be a Christian. On the contrary, Christians are made up of sinners. In fact, I don’t know of a Christian who isn’t a sinner.
    I think the real issue is not whether they should be loved or accepted into our churches, but whether it’s ok to pronounce that willingly leading a (in my opinion) sinful lifestyle is acceptable. Part of choosing to follow Christ is to accept that we are born sinners and will continue to sin but we must make an effort to overcome our sinful nature and follow God’s word.

    • In truth, the real basic issue is whether currently closeted clergy who lied during their ordination vows and are in violation of the Discipline every day since should be allowed to be openly non-celibate in singleness. The rest, while not insignificant, is really window dressing. Even after losing “guaranteed appointment” UMC clergy still enjoy far greater job protections and benefits than other clergy as well as most other professions.

  3. I agree with a lot of what you say. At least the spirit, if not the whole of the letter.

    But let me say, what really bugs me about the whole ‘gay rights’ and ‘gay pride’ movement both within and without the church is what often *seems* like a basic denial of human identity. That is, there is no such thing as gay rights or gay pride. There are human rights and human pride. We are all individuals endowed with the same rights and roughly equivalent natures. Particularities of gay and not gay are irrelevant when talking about one’s CORE identity as a person.

    But when we take something like ‘gay’ and say that its what defines somebody. Whether or not that person is actually being oppressed (hypothetical), that action alone is a divisive maneuver. It makes gay and not gay fundamentally different states of identity, rather than merely two humans who each happen to act different sexually. This is true, I think, of almost *any* incidental behavior or character trait be they sinful or righteous. And it is only by the grace of God that we are all equally dignified and justified regardless of our individual particularities.

    And it is with charity that we ought all to push forward each and the other to see each other as that and connect with one another as that, the whole body, before attempting to legislate the church’s accepted rulings of practice. This whole politically charged vitriolic hate fest of each ‘side’ is the problem. At least, I think it’s the root of the problem for this church. And at least part of that root is stemming from the battle lines drawn all the way back at how people are choosing to view their own identities–which necessarily puts them in conflict.

    • The problem with your concept, Amos, is that LGBT never identified themselves as separate, it’s been society, driven and supported largely by the church.

      We all believe we have the same rights as anyone else, but we are not granted those rights, so we have to identify the situation, and fight for them…and yes, I chose the word “fight” very deliberately. Praying for them hasn’t worked. Asking politely hasn’t worked.

      I’ve been a Methodist for my entire life. I’ve been active in, and supportive of my Church, but I stand in that hall yesterday and hear another person, professing to be a Christian, stand up and compare me, as a gay man, to animals…and watch the presiding Bishop sit on his hands and not even bother to bother to call this man out of order. I had not planned to participate in any action, until I heard that. But after 50+ years of supporting this church, I will not longer sit in the back of the Methodist Church Bus…not for Eddie Faxo, not for Mark Tooly, not even for Florida Bishop Timothy Whitaker.

      • I am with you on opposing others comparing homosexuality and bestiality. But when it comes to how LGBT people not divisively separating themselves, all I have to say is… yeah right.

        They do it all the time. It’s almost *all* I ever encounter. LGBT is one of the most exclusivist cultural groups I know. I see local groups organize constantly, get vehement about GAY PRIDE (an un-Christian notion–how exactly is that holy and humble?), and start spewing vitriol about old white men and systemic segretation and others not understanding or *whatever*.

        The whole movement puts itself necessarily in opposition to ANYONE that doesn’t 100% agree with them and get on their ‘side’ right away. There’s no room to love ‘the enemy’. There’s no room to be gracious. It’s their way or the highway.

        Can I say the same thing for those drawing up battle lines along anti-gay rhetoric? Yup. Does that make either side right? Nope. The anti-gay group erroneously supposes that a particular orientation funadementally changes the identity of their fellow Christians and sons/daughters of God. The pro-gay political action group errorenously supposes that their orientation defines them and their identity. That they have the right to demand 100% acknowledgement and validation of their sexual identity before humbly and gracefully bringing their own walls down.

      • I continue to disagree Amos. We are identified by others based solely on our sexual orientation. That’s what matters to them, and we work to be accepted based on that. If we were accepted based on our sexual orientation, and treated equally, then there would be no distinction to even discuss. It’s easy for you to say, since it’s AOK to be straight. Black people in America were judged based solely on the color of their skin, and so fought to make it illegal and socially unacceptable to discriminate based on skin color. I’m sure they would have preferred to not talk about race at all, but we forced that issue. The same has happened to gay people. We’d all rather not have to have discuss sexual orientation, and “gay pride” activities wouldn’t be necessary if all were treated the same regardless of sexual orientation. But alas, it’s not to be.

      • And one last quick thought Amos Paul, Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”

        It is a good and right thing for all people to be welcome into God’s Church, but not just his Church, but his Kingdom on earth. Come on, every person with even a little study and thought realizes the Bible does not condemn homosexuality or any two people loving one another in the context of our time…and with a more clear understanding of the original languages, we realize most of the translations are flawed. So we do what is right, for as Martin Luther famously said, “Here I stand Lord, I can do no other.”

    • I fully understood the concept of gay pride the first time a gay friend made the transition from being ashamed of who he is to being proud, not just for being human, but finally proud for being the gay human that God created him to be. Until GLBT folk can no longer be fired or evicted without legal recourse for being GLBorT, there is a distinct need for gay rights. Until they are fully included in the life of the United Methodist Church, there is a need for gay rights in the church. It is not a matter of lack of humility on their part (as stated elsewhere in this comment section) but a recognition that they won’t be afforded these rights without standing up for their right to have them. I do not know where I would have placed myself in the various protests at GC, but as a whole, I stand for the right of full inclusion in the church and the world.

  4. “Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.

    “The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

    “Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

    “We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.” – N.T. Wright

    • That’s a popular interpretation from a clear theological perspective. It is so sad that it is framed in absolute language that assumes the Bible was written for a modern audience through the post-Victorian lens. But, this is a fantastic example of eisegesis from a pop-theologian. Thank you for a comparative sample.

  5. It feels like the church is in a no-win position.

    I feel caught in the middle–I truly struggle with this issue; life long tapes are hard to combat at this point that tell me homosexual behavior is unacceptable. I am prayerfully working on it–I have conciously dredged the issue out of the dark fringes. But truthfully, I have not been able to get comfortable with the thought of a gay pastor and partner.

    It hurts me to see the church in such disarray over this issue,

    Honestly, it feels like the LGBT community will pursue this issue even if it collapses the Methodist church. I was stunned at some of the tweets out of their community last week: “Be inclusive or be extinct”. And if they really interrupted a prayer…we have other basic disagreements.

    I hurt. I want the rainbow back..

    • I’m sure there are a lot of rumors floating around about what the witness to G*D’s love by GLBTIQ Christians did and did not do. I think it important to reframe things from the “LGBT community” to baptized, confirmed, believing Christians who have been gifted and called. This shift in orientation helps with other orientation realities.

      • It has been so depressing that a number of people are taking offense when I speak of our “gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” or “gay and lesbian Christians.” The alternative suggestions they make are either dismissive or cruel. Even if people are diametrically opposed to gay people or feel it is a terrible sin to be a lesbian, in what universe do they think that gives them the right to be mean and hateful. This is where everything breaks down for me. It is one thing to disagree, it is quite another to attack. I want to much to build bridges and there are those who simply want so much to blow them up.

      • The “rumors” (implying there is some question about fact) are simply true. Today’s actions were a premeditated set of acts. Just like the previous protests, demonstrations and disruptions at General Conference sessions. At least this time, no one broke a chalice. But, instead you decided to disrupt a prayer. Maybe our bishops will finally learn that appeasement simply breeds more disruptive behavior. Allowing a person who should be defrocked to have any influence on the General Conference agenda is simply wrong. Anyone who is demonstrating on the floor of General Conference should be removed. If they refuse to leave, they should be arrested, detained and charged. If they are clergy, then they can be the test subjects for the new changes in appointment status. There has been nothing prophetic about yours and DeLong’s actions. Nothing is done with the idea of changing hearts and minds except by intimidation. Instead, it is simply an expression of petulance and anger. There is nothing Christ-like about that. You should think about the fact that you finally went too far for Dan!

      • For what it is worth, I did stand with many outside the bar of the conference but was not one who entered with the witness that was made. Any petulance presence was not mine. That rumor is false.

        Since you seem to be at General Conference, want to do lunch tomorrow? I can be contacted at

      • No, I’m not in Tampa. But, the livestreaming and social media can make it like you were. So, you were smart enough not to join the people who rushed the floor? That says a lot for you too, Wesley. But, also says even more for those who participated. There should be severe consequences for those who did. Freedom of speech and freedom to assemble only work when you can have a meeting without disruption. When DeLong is allowed to go beyond expressing petulance and anger to setting the limits for the General Conference agenda, that is so far out of bounds it is difficult to express. The bishops also bear blame for this abdication of one of their basic responsibilities to the church.

  6. Thanks for your insights, Dan. I was anxious to hear what you would say on the matter. I thought the amendment offered by Hamilton/Slaughter accurately depicted where we are as a church and how both sides answer the question, “Where now is our authority?” I’m sorry it didn’t pass. But the Sola Scriptura team was determined there would be no change in the status quo. What did you think about Hamilton/Slaughter amendment?

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