Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Asking a Better Question

Demonstrators Calling for Inclusion at General Conference in 2012

The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Acts 10:45-47

The official United Methodist website has an article written by Heather Hahn on the 2016 General Conference titled, “How should General Conference discuss sexuality?”

A better question might be, “Why are we still talking about this?”

Seriously. If you have not been convinced by the witness of the Scriptures, from the Torah to the Prophets to the Gospels and the Letters, that the great arc of the biblical message calls us toward liberation and love and grace, and if the science is not enough, then maybe you might at least pay attention to the commonplace of public opinion.

As the great abolitionist hymn writer and poet, James Russell Lowell wrote:

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

We need to move on.

The article comments on a meeting held recently at First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, on how the next General Conference might avoid the divisive rancor of precious gatherings. Denominational leaders brought together leaders of The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church, Good News, Love Prevails, the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Reconciling Ministries Network. The Confessing Movement and Good News want to maintain the current stance against homosexuality and to increase the penalties for clergy who violate those standards. Love Prevails, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Reconciling Ministries want the church to be fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons.

After the meeting, Rob Renfroe, President of Good News, said, “The consensus was that we all know General Conference is an emotional and hurtful process.”

“I think there is consensus that we all want to find a way to minimize the hurt and to allow everyone be heard and at the same time … to allow people to vote their conscience and keep to their principles. We happen to see some important issues in different ways,” he said.

I give him credit for his gracious manner. Clearly, he wants to be kind. He is right, we do “happen to see some important issues in different ways.” And there is pain on both sides.

But let’s be clear. The pain is not equally divided. The pain of being excluded and told that you are “less than” is not the same as the pain of being told that you have excluded and hurt people, or that you shouldn’t do any more hurting and excluding. Neither side is without fault. But again, the fault is not equal.

One of the groups working hard to keep the old exclusionary language in place calls themselves “The Confessing Movement.” One assumes that this is a conscious reference to the Confessing Church which rose up in Germany in the 1930’s in opposition to Hitler. Do they really want to compare those working for inclusion in the UMC to Nazis? And can they really believe that leaders of the Confessing Church, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, would actually be on their side today? And if they are not trying to make those claims, then they need to change the name.

We need to move on. We have inflicted way too much pain on our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. And we have done great damage to the credibility of the church. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Which brings us to another question: How many people have never gotten to know who Jesus is because we are so unlike him?


  1. "How many people have never gotten to know who Jesus is because we are so unlike him?"

    Brilliant... and tragic.

  2. Thank you. And yes, it is tragic.