|Lou Ann Sandstrom and Kathleen Kutschenreuter, at Foundry UMC|
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
I am not ashamed of Jesus.
And I am certainly not ashamed of his teaching.
But I am sometimes ashamed of those who claim to follow him.
I participate in several social media groups where United Methodists and others share opinions and insights and discuss issues of faith and practice. Last week on one of those groups someone posted this question:
"Does anyone ever post anything about feeding the hungry, providing healthcare for the poor, and other things that Jesus told us about? It seems that most if not all posts are connected somehow to sexuality issues in the UMC. Much energy is being spent on this issue to the detriment of many other issues the church could address. I agree with the idea of removing the restrictions on clergy and members, but it is as if the orthodoxies are holding the entire church hostage with this issue. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to split."That’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing because it is true. That is pretty much all we talk about. And it has to stop.
We need to move on.
We have spent too much time and energy on this.
Unfortunately, we can’t move on until we have resolved this. And the resolution can only go one way. We need to stop the trials. We need to let conferences fulfill their responsibilities in determining the fitness of clergy to serve. We need to remove the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline.
One thing that both sides ought to agree on is that this has been a public relations disaster for a very long time.
Think about it.
In the twenty-first century two people celebrating their love for one another in marriage should not be news. We have marriage equality everywhere in the United State and in most of the civilized world.
This should not be an issue.
For Christians of conscience, our first concern must be the harm done to LGBTQ persons, especially our youth. And our second concern should be the moral issue. The exclusion of LGBTQ people is just plain wrong.
But beyond all of that, it is hard to think of anything in recent history that has done more damage to Christian faith than the persecution of our LGBTQ siblings.
Among the early casualties in this conflict, is our witness to the nature of God. We cannot even imagine having this discussion in the presence of Paul Tillich or Reinhold Niebuhr, or any of the great twentieth century theologians. By reducing God to a rule giver, we have anthropomorphized the Ground of our Being, Being itself, into a grumpy old man in the sky who is petty and mean, judgmental, and superficial, more concerned with rules than with human beings. How absurd that looks from outside the church.
This “god” we worship must have a very strange sense of priorities.
Of course, the anthropomorphism would be a problem all by itself. And there are plenty of “Christians” eager to embrace an anthropomorphic vision even without the issues around a rule giving “god,” but our current debate has given that vision a legitimacy within the church that it would not otherwise have had. And it has undermined our attempts to invite those outside the church into the spiritual journey.
A second early casualty is the Bible. In this argument the traditionalists have reduced the Bible to a rule book and led us to focus on some of the worst texts in the Bible, take them completely out of context, misrepresent them, and then give them a literal interpretation. If the goal is to invite folks to explore the biblical witness, does anyone really think that Leviticus is a good place to start?
The result of this misbegotten effort is not to legitimize the stigmatization of LGBTQ folks, but rather to de-legitimize the whole Bible. Because of this conflict there are folks outside of the church, and even some inside, whose only encounter with the biblical word is through those “clobber verses.”
By asking people to accept the literal interpretation of these scattered texts, we encouraged them to judge the whole Bible by the truth or falsehood they found there. The emphasis on the literal interpretation of those verses advanced the public perception that the only right way to read the Bible was to interpret it literally. Not surprisingly, many found the Bible to be untrustworthy.
The final early casualty of our argument is the church itself. If those outside the church could not trust the Bible, then they also could not trust the church which had told them how these strange texts should be interpreted.
The demographics tell an important story.
According to the Pew Forum, in 2001 Americans opposed same sex marriage by more than twenty percentage points, 57% to 35%. In 2016 the numbers are almost exactly reversed. Supporters outnumber opponents 55% to 37%. White mainline Protestants basically mirror the national average, and United Methodists show a majority in support. But among younger Americans, Generation-X and Millennials, the support is even higher, with approximately 70% of Millennials supporting same sex marriage.
Demographically, our exclusion and oppression of LGBTQ people is a ticking time bomb.
Our experience of LGBTQ persons is changing and so are our attitudes. Eventually, even the traditionalists will come around. In the meantime, we continue to harm our LGBTQ friends and neighbors, and we continue to marginalize the church.
If we want to have a credible voice in an increasingly secular world, we need to do what Christian ethics demands. Our present policies will soon render us irrelevant.