Monday, May 6, 2013

We Are Past the Tipping Point

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 
Mark 16:6-7 

As I read the story about the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree, a retired United Methodist clergy person and former dean of Yale Divinity School facing a church trial and possible censure for officiating at the wedding of his gay son, the sound in my head was of that Easter hymn that Christians have sung for more than 300 years., “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done.”

The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun: 

The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions have dispersed;
let shouts of holy joy outburst: 

It’s over. We may still be fighting the battles on this one in the United Methodist Church. And the arguments will persist. But it’s over.

Last week Rhode Island voted for marriage equality. We are the last New England state to embrace same sex marriage, so it’s about time. But we are also the most heavily Roman Catholic state in the country. And the legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality in spite of strong opposition from Bishop Thomas Tobin and the Roman Catholic Diocese.

We are beyond the tipping point. It’s over.

For United Methodists, the more critical issue is how we will manage the inevitable change. We need an exit strategy from a position we should never have taken. Our problem is not just that we unwisely declared homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching” forty years ago, at the same time as the medical people were declaring that homosexuality was not a mental illness. We compounded a bad decision on ethics with an even worse decision on church policy.

In our United Methodist Discipline we declare ourselves to be in favor of lots of wonderful stuff, like environmental stewardship and gun control and economic justice. We are against war and against capital punishment. But in all of those other cases (and many more) there are no penalties for clergy or others who disagree and act on their disagreement. A United Methodist pastor can bless a nuclear submarine without fear of official censure, but he or she cannot celebrate a same sex wedding.

In the New York Times article it notes that the clergy persons who brought the complaint against Dr. Ogletree belong to the “Good News” movement, which the Times calls a “tranditionalist” United Methodist group. They are “tradionalists,” but traditionalism is not our United Methodist tradition. Our tradition is to be what is now called “progressive” Christians. Our tradition is to be forward thinking and forward looking and forward moving.

My guess is that at our next General Conference in 2016 the Discipline will be revised to remove the negative characterization of homosexuality and endorse full civil rights for our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. My hope is that we will do better than that; that we will focus on the future rather than the past.

Christ is not to be found buried in the bitterness and bigotry of the past. He is risen as he said. And he goes ahead of us. He is always calling us into the future. Our task is just to follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment