Wrong, Stupid and Evil — the United Methodist Position on Homosexuality
I’m not exactly sure why I hoped that General Conference would have a change of heart this year and, after ten times getting it wrong, finally come around to the Jesus side on the issue of homosexuality in the church. After all, every four years since 1972 without exception we’ve heard the same refrain from our elected denominational leaders — “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
For one thing, it’s clear our country and culture have come a long way in 40 years. Most people today recognize that homosexuality is not a choice, that it’s something much deeper in people’s genes or at the very least is generated quite early in their development and can’t be undone. We long ago recognized it’s not a deviant behavior, as it was described in psychiatric manuals 30 years ago, but it’s part of the diversity of how people are created. In the days since gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have come out of the closet we have come to recognize them as our families, friends and neighbors. We are together in community and it works just fine. In fact, it works great.
This change in cultural attitudes hasn’t gone unnoticed in the local church, too. Back in the mid-1970′s it was a minor scandal at First Church when two people of the same sex held hands during worship. When the pastor at the time, David Aasen, preached about acceptance of gay and lesbian people there was a mini-Exodus of conservatives from our congregation.
But that was 35 years ago. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that today probably 30% of the people who join First Church are LGBT — and not only do they freely hold hands, but they bring their kids, they are elected to positions of leadership, they are supported for ordained ministry and they proudly do everything and anything our straight people do. In fact, we would be unable to function without their faithful presence and gifted ministry. Sometime before I came to First Church this congregation figured out that because people have no choice about being gay or lesbian we are theologically required to include them in every way if we want to call ourselves a church of Jesus Christ. First Church has been rewarded with an unusually grace-filled and growing congregation. That’s right, we’re a rare bird — a growing, downtown, mainline church.
So the General Conference’s re-reaffirmation of its 40-year old condemnation of homosexuality feels to us like a throw-back to the very bad old days. First Churchers are hurting because last week’s General Conference suggests we’re stuck in a Pope-Benedict-slash-Rick-Santorum-slash-Southern-Baptist-slash-Rush-Limbaugh church of closeted gays and sanctimonius straights. We at First Church have been telling people that we’re progressive, we’re enlightened, we’re not like those Christians whose personal prejudices transform their churches into stagnant pools of exclusionary dogma and phony, conditional grace. Then another vote from our elected representatives is announced and we’re splashed with stagnant water of the past: “Nope, this church is just like the others.”
Not that the delegates who voted in the majority on this issue care about what the rest of us think, but I’d just like to tell them that their vote to uphold this offensive language is wrong, stupid, and evil.
It’s wrong because it elevates as doctrine parts of the Old and New Testament that describe outdated and ancient social conventions like slavery and the subservience of women, ignoring the gracious and inclusive heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is stupid because it stands our denomination squarely against the tide of history, and it is evil because it perpetuates discriminatory attitudes against a portion of society that should be welcomed, supported, valued, and loved.
I want to be clear that I will do everything in my power to ignore, circumvent and undermine the General Conference’s will in this. I will not apologize for this decision. I will not rationalize it. I will not submit to it. I will present it as the institutional evil that it is, and I will work to exorcise its demonic influence from my congregation and its loving and faithful people. And if I know my congregation, its members will support me each step of the way.
Why so angry? I’m angry for the beautiful lesbian couple in our church with the lovely and intelligent daughter who can’t figure out why their denomination won’t celebrate the joy of their family with them. I’m angry for the young, gay man who’s finally found a place where he can worship without feeling like he’ll be condemned. I’m angry for the straight woman who came to our church because she’d finally found a place where her lesbian friend would be accepted.
The General Conference delegates who supported this backward language about homosexuality need to hear that congregations like mine are seriously wondering today why we continue to stick it out in this denomination. We’re frustrated to be growing a congregation that welcomes everyone within a denomination that welcomes only some. We’re asking ourselves how we can remain in a church that preaches a Gospel that is foreign to what we know of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the best we can figure out for now is that we’re not going to let this wrong, stupid and evil decision keep us from doing God’s work of acceptance, love and understanding.
Sorry, General Conference. You’re wrong, and I’m ashamed of you.