Thursday, November 21, 2013

Homosexuality, We Methodists, and Thanksgiving

     Two Facebook messages I saw recently have given me cause for immense thanksgiving, all the greater because of the deep sorrow involved.  The first: a friend wrote to me, “I am just heartbroken over our church’s posture.”  I replied, “Which of its many heartbreaking postures do you have in mind?”

     I knew, of course.  It strikes me as especially galling that the term “trial” is bandied about:  a minister performs a ceremony invoking God’s presence where people who love make a lifelong commitment – and we put that person on “trial”? as if it is criminal, heinous, destructive? and the culprit must be put away?  In the Pennsylvania/Schaeffer case, it was a father and his own son's marriage - but then a "trial"?  Can’t we honor (or deal with, if we must) holy intentions with better language?
     More than one Board of Ordained Ministry in Methodism is fond of asking candidates for ordination, “What if John and Jeff came to you and asked you to marry them?”  The “right” answer is supposed to be “Oh, I would listen to them and love them but – even if I disagree with the church’s posture – I would decline, explaining I am in covenant to uphold the Discipline.”

     I fully understand that people who can’t uphold the way we do things may pose a few problems... But what if, after deep prayer and theological wrestling, a minister feels for the sake of conscience that this lone piece of civil disobedience is not only desirable but actually required by God?  Is this the kind of person we would not want leading God’s people?  Would we refuse to acknowledge God’s calling him or her into ministry? or lay in wait to put her/him on “trial”?  Don't we need a little courage among our leaders? even if we might disagree with their stance?

     Facebook message #2. A good friend, the day before speaking at a church weighing whether to become a reconciling congregation or not, hoping to persuade them to be accepting, asked for prayer, noting that “I'm tired of showing up and saying the equivalent of ‘Like me, please.  Consider me as worthy as you are.’"

   Beyond flinching in the face of such a pained weariness, I was reminded of something Amos Oz wrote about growing up Jewish, the kind of overcompensation and constant defense of simple human worth he knew too well.  “The fear in every Jewish home that we never talked about but were injected with like a poison, drop by drop, was the chilling fear that we might, heaven forbid, make a bad impression on the Gentiles, and then they would be angry and do dreadful things.  A thousand times it was hammered in to the head of every Jewish child that we must behave nicely and politely with Gentiles even when they were rude or drunk; we must not provoke or argue with them, or irritate them; we must speak quietly, with a smile.  We had to try very hard to make a good impression that no child must mar because even a single child with dirty hair could damage the reputation of the entire Jewish people.  They could not stand us at it was, so heaven forbid we give them more reason.  You can never understand how this constant drip-drip distorts all your feelings, how it corrodes your human dignity like rust.”

     We are upon the season of Thanksgiving.  I want to express something my best words, or even a painting, ballet or symphony would fail to articulate – and that is how very grateful I am for those I have met, befriended, and now love, who are heartbroken, whose very life is like a trial, whose dignity has been eroded, and yet is miraculously intact, resilient, a shimmering wonder, a mirror reflection of the very loving heart of God.  You have good cause to lash out at our church, which we know is deeply flawed and always in need of reform - but then it has this nasty habit of being mean...  And yet you stay, and that shows me what God’s grace looks like.  I love all of you and am standing, not so much with you but a little bit behind you, hoping to follow, or maybe to help catch you if you’re knocked down.  Thanks be to God for you, for us, for grace.


  1. May God bless the bullied and those who bully and may God forgive me as I find myself wandering through each with equal innocence and guilty shame.

  2. Beautiful - thank you for your courageous words.

  3. Thank you for such words of true grace James.

  4. Thank you for your beautiful words - they express so much of my feelings! As I read them, I was reminded of Mark Miller, a gift of grace in the life of our often ungracious UMC. He released a song yesterday as a reflection on his experience of the most recent church trial. It fits perfectly with what you have shared!

  5. Thank you James. Very nicely articulated.
    Dean Snyder
    Foundry UMC

  6. I continue to be thankful for your witness. Thanks for this.

  7. "But what if, after deep prayer and theological wrestling, a minister feels for the sake of conscience that this lone piece of civil disobedience is not only desirable but actually required by God?"

    This is likely the mindset that the Corinthians Christians had when one of their members entered into a loving relationship with his stepmother, though. Given Paul's response to the Corinthians' inclusiveness in the name of spiritual maturity, I don't see how one can arrive at such a position without first jettisoning the authority of Scripture when it comes to sexual ethics.