Much to my astonishment, more than 60,000 people have read the blog entitled, “Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church.” (here)
The shear numbers speak volumes about the feelings associated with the topic. People want to discuss the issue in a common desire to discern a faithful way forward.
This is a teaching moment and many people are listening and eager to share. The church must be a compassionate participant in the conversation.
Another surprise: Less than 2% of the 60,000 expressed explicit disagreement with my position of full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the church. That says to me that people are more open and accepting than we often assume.
With few exceptions, those disagreeing have been respectful and civil in their opposition. Less than a dozen were mean-spirited, which suggests that we can have a civil conversation while disagreeing!
The most poignant revelation in the responses is the extensive pain and deep hurt people are carrying. The stories of rejection, cruelty, ostracism, and struggle are heart-wrenching. Some contacted me personally to share wounds they are afraid to expose publicly.
While there are those who say that the language currently in The Book of Discipline (here) is compassionate, thousands of people are hearing and experiencing rejection, hatred and exclusion. Regrettably and sadly, the language is being used as justification for bullying, demeaning, and ostracizing God’s beloved and faithful people.
Tragically, the hurtful message is coming from the institution that exists to bear witness to God’s boundless love and radical hospitality!
I’m even more convinced that the current official language violates two of three United Methodist General Rules: “Do no harm” and “Do all the good you can.” Our pronouncements are inflicting terrible suffering on individuals and families; and we are denying the church of the witness and leadership of many gifted persons whom God has called into ministry.
We must get inside the pain within ourselves and those most affected by our pronouncements and policies; otherwise, we will continue to inflict wounds rather than contribute to reconciliation and healing.
An additional gleaning from the responses: Considerable confusion exists as to the meaning of “authority of Scripture” and the role of the Bible in Christian formation and living.
I grew up in fundamentalism. Taking the Bible seriously is indelibly etched into my heart and soul. I challenge anyone who concludes that I fail to take the Bible seriously or reject its authority. It’s because I take Scripture seriously and authoritatively that I can’t take it literally.
Getting into the world and transformative authority of the Bible is arduous work, requiring that we
- struggle with its original contexts and languages,
- locate ourselves in the stories and let them read and transform us,
- wrestle with its deepest questions and probing ambiguities,
- listen attentively for God’s divine Word within the human words,
- read each specific passage in the context of the whole narrative of God’s revelation from Creation to God’s supreme revelation in Jesus Christ,
- strive mightily to embody and live its core message of love for God and neighbor.
It is through that struggle along with the engagement of our tradition, reason, and experience that I have come to believe that the exclusionary language in the Book of Discipline should be removed. Removing the language, in my opinion, is an act of faithfulness to Scripture.
I accept that others who take the Bible with equal seriousness differ from my perspective and conclusion. I claim no infallibility or superiority in understanding. We all read Scripture within our own personal and cultural context and experience, which limits our understanding.
Scripture, therefore, is to be read and interpreted in community. We need one another to challenge, question, and expand our finite perceptions, but always with respect, humility, and mutual longing to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
The responses to the blog post also confirm my conviction that legislation will not resolve the issues or silence the conversations. Legislation results from a coercive exercise of political power by a small minority representation of the whole, operating within a strict time frame and emotionally charged environment.
Regrettably, open conversations are only beginning in many local congregations. From my experience, local churches are much better able to deal with the issue of human sexuality than is a legislative body.
In our local congregations, the issues are personal, not abstractions; and with appropriate encouragement and assistance, congregations can deal with volatile issues with civility, compassion, and humility. I’ve witnessed it, as recently as last Sunday!
Many of the responses to my reflections have come from members of the LGBTQ+ community. They clearly exhibit the fruits of the Spirit–“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” (Galatians 5:22). The whole church needs their presence, leadership, and witness!
Finally, I have been confronted again with my own need for repentance for my blindness, silence, and complicity in the church’s discrimination against LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. I voted for the exclusionary language in 1984 and 1988 and I have been publicly silent too long.
My prayer is that God will forgive and empower me to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and that the church will fully embody the reconciliation and hospitality entrusted to it by the Triune God.