Friday, June 10, 2011

Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

“Woe to you, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"
Matthew 23:23-24

This week at our United Methodist Annual Conference, our clergy session included the now annual call to faithfulness and accountability from a large number of our retired clergy. They are impatient with our perverse refusal to move forward toward the full inclusion of our GLBT sisters and brothers, particularly in terms of clergy ordination and same sex marriage.

Yes, there are those pesky six passages (some claim the number is seven, and I have heard another claim of ten, but the ten are a huge stretch), but I cannot help the feeling that we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, and honestly, it’s embarrassing.

Our Bishop, whom I believe to be a very decent and faithful Christian, was counseling patience and restraint, and reminding us that we are not all of the same mind on this, and we have to think of the whole church. A friend asked, “Have they ever read ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’? I don’t know how to ask that question without sounding unpleasant, but I’d just like to know.” And for those of us who can remember, the rhetoric of patience is precisely what we heard from cautious church leaders during the Civil Rights movement of the late fifties and sixties.

In the Civil Rights era, as Methodists we had our share of segregationists as well as a large number of those who cautioned against rapid change, but our church leadership was almost unanimously on the right side of history. Sadly, that is not the case in the Methodist Church today. We have some prophetic leaders. We even have some prophetic Bishops. But we have way too many on the side of the status quo.

And it’s just embarrassing.

As a United Methodist minister, I am not permitted to marry same sex couples, or even to bless their relationships. I can bless an atomic bomb. I can bless family pets and homes. I can bless baseball games and graduations. But I cannot bless the loving relationship of two persons of the same sex.

At our clergy session many politely stated that this was a place where they would follow their consciences rather than the Book of Discipline.

In the midst of this there was a wonderful moment of grace.

A colleague stood up and asked a simple question. He asked it, not to stir debate or controversy, but simply because he is a pastor with a heart for his people.

He began by saying that as a conservative he was concerned about the Scriptures. “But,” he said, “I have several lesbian couples in my church and I am shaking in my shoes that one of those couples is going to ask me to marry them. And my question to you, Bishop, is, will I be brought up on charges?”

What this pastor was asking was, if I am faithful in my role as pastor to these couples, will I find myself in a church trial charging that I have disobeyed the Discipline of the church? It was so simply and beautifully put by someone who was not thinking about the church politics, but only about the people. Sadly, the answer was (as I knew) that if someone reports his actions to the Bishop, he will face some sort of disciplinary response.

Opponents of inclusion and equality will often tell me that this is not like the Civil Rights movement. The discrimination, they say, is not the same and the issues are totally different. Sometimes they will tell me that sexual orientation is a choice. (But they usually won’t give me a chance to ask, “When did you decide you were a heterosexual? Was it a difficult choice? How did you decide?”) Almost always, they will conclude by assuring me that they are in favor of Civil Rights.

They say that the army is always prepared to win the last war and seldom prepared for the next one. In the church we are certain about the last great issue, but find it hard to commit on the next one.

Enough already. It’s time to move on. We need to forget the church politics and concentrate on the people. Pastors need to be pastors.

1 comment:

  1. This is quite upsetting, Bill. Sorry the conference and it's pastors are up against this issue in this way. What a shame. Power to you.