I haven’t wanted to become a controversialist.
I have no deep-seated desire to become yet another voice in the decades-long argument in the United Methodist Church over the status of sexual minorities.
As a matter of fact, my current interests are in a completely different direction. With all my reading and studying on music and theology, I’ve been working on an Advent Study using the music of Curtis Mayfield as a jumping off point for talking about our preparations for the birth of Jesus. I’d actually like to return to that, but the status of sexual minorities in my denomination is one that can neither be ignored nor set aside. I have seen a sudden upwelling among the usual suspects (Good News, in particular) of talk of schism in the United Methodist Church. This pains me, if only because, at the end of the day, there is no doctrinal, dogmatic, or theological principle involved. The sides aren’t discussing the status of the Persons of the Trinity; there is no question of the efficacy of the means of grace in the life of the congregation; we aren’t even arguing over whether to have an organ or American flag in the sanctuary (matters that once upon a time caused a great deal of conflict in our and other denominations). At the end of the day, should a split occur, we shall have two groups whose only difference will be the full acceptance or lack of full acceptance of sexual minorities in the life of the church, as well as protecting clergy who perform legal same-sex weddings in jurisdictions where they are permitted.
If I have come off sounding angry, my anger is rooted in dislike of the dehumanization of others. Claiming that “the practice of homosexuality” is in and of itself sinful, as I discussed yesterday, is dehumanizing. Being gay is not “a practice”, any more than being a red-head, or blue-eyed, or left-handed*. I didn’t say to myself at 13, “I think I’m going to like girls.” It was just always something that I felt. Same thing with men who are attracted to men or women attracted to women. To insist that who they are is contrary to Christian teaching is theologically untenable, as well as grossly insulting and dehumanizing.
There is no principle involved in this discussion, however. Perhaps that galls me more than anything. There is no deep-seated theological or biblical issue at the heart of this discussion. It is an argument rooted in the power dynamics of the denomination, as well as a reaction to changes in the surrounding culture. While I still stand firm in my insistence that the language of the Discipline be changed and sexual minorities be fully integrated in the life of the church, this is, at the end of the day, adiaphora. There will still be, perhaps all will be, those who dislike or are made uncomfortable by gays and lesbians. Human beings aren’t perfect, despite that we are to work toward it. Being uncomfortable around those who are different means a person is a human being. It should no more be a bar to ordination than being gay is currently a bar. Lord knows, when women were first ordained there were plenty of men who refused to recognize the authority granted to them. There still are. Yet, life in the church has gone on, and our church life is enriched because of it.
There are those who say that reconciliation on this topic is impossible. Those are the folks who trouble me most. Not because I believe them; on the contrary, not only would reconciliation be possible, it would be necessary. Those who say it would be impossible refuse to recognize the possibility of the Spirit’s movement within the church, the Spirit that created the blessed community on Pentecost, the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead on Easter. I believe that if the Spirit can do those things, it can certainly bring together those who disagree on this issue.
So, no, I’m not here for an argument, and I’d much rather not be a controversialist. I would much rather work on refining that Advent Study I was considering and sending a draft out to people, get some feedback, and try to see if someone at Cokesbury would be interested in it. As this whole issue isn’t about me, I would also point out that we in the United Methodist Church have much work to do. There is a world that is hurting, needing to hear the healing words of the Gospel and feel the transforming breath of Spirit. Mired in our ongoing sniping, yelling, and what-not makes us less effective at our mission. For this, we should repent, get busy becoming the church we need to be, and be about the work of transforming the world.
*Once upon a time, being a ginger and being left-handed got the side-eye from religious authorities. As a red-head myself, this is more than a little troubling. It might seem odd to think so, but it is nonetheless true.