Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Cost of Our Unfaithfulness

Rev. Benjamin Hutchison, former Pastor of Cassopolis United Methodist Church

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, 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

In 1937, when he has deeply engaged in leading the Confessing Church in its opposition to Hitler, the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book called “Nachfolge,” which means following. After the war, the book was published in English as, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer declared that, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

By contrast, an analysis of the current experience of Christians in the United States might be called, “The Cost of Unfaithfulness.” And our unfaithfulness is costing us dearly.

Over the several decades that the church has debated the inclusion or exclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, many have decried the lack of civil discourse. In the midst of heated debate there is always someone who takes the floor to remind everyone in pious tones that there is pain and hurt on both sides of this issue.

It is, of course, a false equivalency. The pain of being excluded is not the same as the pain of feeling that the power to exclude will be taken away. No matter how hard it might be for the traditionalists to feel like they are being demeaned for their beliefs, it is not the same as actually being demeaned for who you are.

The traditionalists are not being victimized. But the whole church is paying for the conflict.

In Jesus’ colorful language, we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels and there is a price to be paid for our unfaithfulness. The cost is borne most directly and painfully by those we have excluded, but it is also borne by the church as a whole.

Someone once said that all publicity is good publicity. It isn’t. In the current debate, the “Christians” are almost always identified as those opposing equality. Christianity is identified with discrimination and bigotry.

The latest example comes to us courtesy of my beloved United Methodist Church and the treatment of a congregation and pastor in Michigan.

This past Monday night, Rev. Benjamin Hutchison was forced to resign as the pastor of the Cassopolis United Methodist Church after he admitted to his District Superintendent that he had a same sex partner.

As far as we know, Hutchison was a good pastor. In the three years that he served the Cassopolis church, he dramatically increased the membership. A parishioner said that the membership had quadrupled. And they had become financially stable.

The local church was well aware of Hutchison’s sexual orientation. Bill Loux, a member of the congregation, told a local television reporter that initially he was surprised and upset to find out that his new young pastor was gay. “At first,” said Loux, “it was kind of shocking to us, like, ‘Oh my gosh, we got some gay dude in here.’ But we immediately learned to love this guy, he’s crazy good.”

Loux went on to say, “He's just done a wonderful thing here, and for the Methodist Church to treat him this way is totally unacceptable to our church and everybody in this community.” Loux said that Hutchison’s sexual orientation was not a problem for the congregation. “Even though he's gay, he's part of our family, my family, the church family,” said Loux.

According to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the District Superintendent and the Bishop did the right thing. They followed the rules. 

Sometime, as Jesus explained to his critics, the rules are wrong. Sometime, love and the Gospel demand something more than following the rules. 

Maybe there is something more to it. Maybe the Bishop and the District Superintendent in Michigan had some compelling and confidential reason for doing what they did. But it doesn’t look that way. 

Looking at this latest case through the lens of public opinion, it looks bad because it is bad. Sometimes faithfulness to rules means unfaithfulness to the Gospel. The traditionalists insist that there must be consequences for not following the rules. 

There are also consequences for not following the Gospel.

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