Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I Was Wrong

Confess your wrongs to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.
James 5:16

I don’t like to be told that I’m wrong.

I always listen. I pay attention. I try to listen closely and I always try to learn something new. And then I reexamine my assumptions.

But I also often push back pretty hard.

Last week I wrote a blog post about my hope for compromise at our United Methodist General Conference this May. I wanted us to find a way to go forward and live with our disagreements around the issue of homosexuality.

In order for us to agree to disagree, I suggested that two things would need to happen:

“First, those of us in favor of inclusion need to give up on changing that grotesquely offensive statement about “homosexual practice” being incompatible with Christian teaching. Maybe we can modify it slightly and maybe not, but we probably cannot eliminate it, and we just need to let it go. 

“And second, those in favor of the continued exclusion of LGBTQ persons need to give up on the penalties for pastors and bishops who celebrate same sex marriages and appoint LGBTQ pastors. Just let it go. We don’t have penalties for any other comparable infractions.”

I didn’t get any comments on the second point. My guess is that there are not very many folks in favor of exclusion who read what I write, and that those who do read it don’t think it is worth commenting.

But I received a lot of criticism on the first point. Some of it was pretty impassioned. The language in the Discipline was wrong and hurtful, they said, and we could not just “let it go.”

I was surprised by the vehemence of the critique. 

After reflecting on it, I thought maybe I ought to clarify what I meant when I said we should let it go. I didn’t mean forever. I meant for now. Eventually, we would get rid of it, but maybe by backing off this year we could find a way forward. 

Then I had an extended conversation with a young gay friend.

We often discuss social justice issues. The friend regularly reads the blog. So I asked about it. 

I explained what I was trying to do and described the push back I had received. My friend was not surprised. I lamented the ways in which the church has fractured over this issue and talked about how much I wanted us to avoid schism.

My friend expressed real appreciation for the ways in which local United Methodist churches had provided a strong spiritual and ethical foundation, but then went on to say that we should not compromise on this issue.

You have to realize, said my friend, that those people made me want to die.

“They made me want to die.”

In evangelical language, I was convicted.

In truth, this was not new to me. I was wrong and I have no excuse. I wanted (and want) so much to “preserve the union,” that I forgot two critical points:

First, there is no moral equivalence on this issue. This cannot be overstated.

The pain of exclusion is not equivalent to the pain of no longer being able to exclude. Our exclusionary policies do real harm to real people. I don’t know how many people have spent years in therapy or perhaps even committed suicide because of the United Methodist position on homosexuality, but I do know that across the Christian church such exclusionary and condemnatory policies have caused unfathomable death and destruction.

And a second point is related to the first. This is not an academic discussion. It is about real people in the real world and it has real life consequences.


  1. I agree totally that the exclusionary language must go. But then I have lost my confidence and support of the organized Church for the most part after a lifetime (I'm 65) of lay leadership/speaking/volunteering in all sorts of roles. The Church's habit of promoting certain beliefs/laws in the name of self preservation are in fact driving people away from the Church. I have found many retired clergy who speak out against the Church now that they need not mechanically support their employer right or wrong. The term "Christian teaching" raises questions for me. Does this refer to the ruling with fear and dominance first put into practice by the early Roman Church, or the actual (as far as was recorded by others) words, teaching and practices of Jesus? After many years of Bible studies, reading and hearing sermons I know that these two sources are vastly different. In the final analysis such judgements are up to God and Jesus calls us to love and care for all our neighbors without first putting them through a test of any sort.

  2. I'm grateful for the blunt honesty of your friend and for your courage to rethink a point of view. And I'm grateful for your foundational hope that the UMC can come through this by coming to the right place and remaining whole. I hope the Church merits your commitment!