There is a discussion going on over on John Meunier’s blog about the future of the United Methodist Church (see “Fields in Anathoth”). John’s thoughts come from the on-going debate about homosexuality and the recent decision by my bishop, Martin McLee, not to purse the trial of Thomas Oglethorpe for officiating at the same-sex marriage of his son.
One of the comments posted spoke of what would happen at the 2016 General Conference and my reply was that we, as a denomination, probably would not make it that far; that others would seek to take actions that would preserve the Discipline but would tear apart the denomination.
I was challenged to state where I stood in regards to what will transpire in the next few months. To borrow a phrase from an old union song (and one that I have used in at least two sermons in the past), I was asked, in effect, “which side was I on?”
Now, for me to reply to this, you have to know some things. I am a Southern boy, born in the South, raised by a Southern momma, and educated, for the better part of my life, in Southern schools. I went to school in the South when schools were still segregated. The one thing that I don’t remember too much is what the pastors of the churches we attended said on the subject of integration and civil rights. I have my thoughts that the pastor of the Methodist church we attended in Montgomery, Alabama, probably didn’t say much or was opposed to the idea, what with the Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, a member of the same church.
The likelihood was that I heard that segregation was Biblical; that the scriptures were very clear that the races had to be separated.
And when I was a junior in high school in Memphis, Tennessee, and schools began to be integrated, I saw the rise of private Christian academies, schools designed to meet the thoughts of the parents that their children would never attend a integrated school.
So when I hear today that certain individuals are to be denied the same rights and privileges I have solely on the basis of their sexuality, I hear (as so many others have heard) the same arguments made fifty years ago that state that race was a determining factor in getting into heaven.
And those who read this for the first time have to know that I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education with an emphasis in chemical education. To be a scientist requires some understanding of the world around us; not mere blind acceptance of words in the Bible, especially when such acceptance is not always by choice but as the result of someone’s demands.
I am not a theologian nor am I Bible scholar so I don’t spend a lot of time dealing with scriptures that make the point for or against. Maybe that would make it easier to take a stand, make a decision, or decide where I stand.
But I don’t approach it that way. Rather, I use the skills and abilities that I know come from God and that I know He wants me to use. I think the problem through, using what I understand the Scriptures to mean (though not necessarily say). I look at the problem, knowing the laws expressed in the Old Testament were written for reasons that we have often forgotten or never understood and knowing the Jesus Christ came to embody the law, not merely enforce it.
What I have come to understand is that homosexuality is not necessarily, as some say, a choice but rather a result of genetics. If we are all made in the image of God and then deny the truth of genetics, we have a problem. For at the very least, we are saying that God made a mistake. And how is possible for God to make a mistake? (And if you think about this, if this is a mistake, what does that say about the parents who bore this child of God that we want to expel from our church? Maybe the sins of the parents are truly imposed on the children.)
My wife will tell you that she had some long and interesting discussions with a gay colleague and he would say that he always knew who he was. He would tell you if he could but he committed suicide because society didn’t want him to be an open part of it.
It’s not my place or my obligation to judge others. It is my job and my obligation to show the Love of Christ for all, no matter who they are.
I have said it before and I shall say it again – I cannot leave the United Methodist Church. It was in the United Methodist Church that I was given the opportunity to find Christ; it was because of a number of ministers in the United Methodist Church that I was given the opportunity to understand who Christ was and what He meant for me. My path was not limited because I stood side by side with friends for civil rights and in opposition to the war in Viet Nam, even though that would have been the politically sound thing to do.
It would have been very easy for me to leave the church back then. I saw working for civil rights and being against the war in Viet Nam as an extension of all that Christ had said and taught. I thought that all I had to do was the same things and I was in heaven.
It was a United Methodist minister who taught me that my actions meant nothing unless they were done with the same love that Christ showed. Still, the churches where I grew up and the church where I was a member when I was in college easily supported the war in Viet Nam and thought that civil rights were a political thing and not part of the church. Members of those churches would have treated me as a pariah, not as someone seeking Christ.
I cannot begin to imagine Christ telling someone that they cannot come into Heaven because of who they are. Yes, Christ would ask if they have repented of their sins but, then, Christ would ask us the same question.
Which side am I on? I cannot be on the side of those who would say to some that they are not welcome in this place. But I can be on the side of those who have Christ in their actions, who stand with Christ as He stands at the door beckoning all come in.