Several people have recently asked me my opinion on the question of marrying same-sex couples, especially with the current build-up to the United Methodist General Conference next year. I have also been asked recently why I haven’t written as much about homosexuality as I used to.
My simplest answer to both is, I really don’t have anything new to add to the conversation. I have written a bunch about my beliefs on the question; a brief search of “Enter the Rainbow” would illuminate them fully.
Here’s the un-nuanced, nutshell version - first, I know that my understanding is limited and fallible, and I am not privy to the entire truth of God. Secondly, I believe that Scripture is clear about what it condemns, and it does not condemn a mutually loving and respectful relationship between two adults of the same gender. Thirdly, I have come to this belief through deep study of Scripture, earnest prayer, a lot of reading, and many hundreds of conversations and experiences with others. And fourthly, I know that there are many who do not share my belief, and many of those happen to be dear friends whom I know are faithful, loving, gracious followers of Jesus who are not hateful or homophobic or hypocritical in any way. I truly lament when some who share my belief accuse others of such hurtful things.
Lately, I have begun to be alarmed at how the United Methodist positions on same-sex marriage and ordination of people who are gay hinder the mission of the church. The official positions of our denomination on this issue create the perception that our church preaches one thing but enacts another. We’ve all read about the research done by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons that came out in 2007 in their book “unChristian.” (Here are some of their data - http://www.unchristian.com/downloads/uc_data.pdf). This study has led to others, and Adam Hamilton does a wonderful job with this topic in his book, “When Christians Get it Wrong.”
Anecdotally, all it takes is a Google search. Go to Google, type in “Christians are” and a space, and let the drop down suggestions do the rest. The first one I got just now was “hypocrites,” the second was “crazy” and the fourth one was “annoying.” (The third one was “like pumpkins,” which is that trite little piece about how God scoops out our internal junk and carves smiles on our faces. Horrifying!)
Experientially, all it takes is a dozen or so conversations with a few teens and twenty-somethings. The UMC’s position is seen as so completely out of touch with the real world as to be almost laughable. It would be laughable, in fact, if it wasn’t so sad. I’ve had dozens of conversations with dozens of people outside the church who simply consider the church to be so far removed from their lives that they would never even consider turning there for spiritual connection. And it’s not animosity; it’s simple ambivalence.
And so here am I, a pastor who is passionate about helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ who are working to make the world better for God’s sake. And I am discovering over and over again in multiple conversations with many different people who are “outside the church” that I am unable to accomplish that mission, simply because people don’t see why they need to be a part of what they see as a hypocritical organization in order to make the world a better place. They’re already doing that, thanks.
We in the church are told over and over again by so many different people that we need to stay focused on the mission above all else. Districts, conferences, denominational offices, inter-denominational groups - everyone seems to be calling the church to an intensive focus on the mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This renewed focus, they all say, is what it is going to take to save the church from its impending demise.
Well, okay then. How serious are we about that? If there a couple of phrases in the “Book of Discipline” that are proving to be a significant stumbling block to undertaking that mission, should we not remove them?
(Again, I welcome dialogue on these questions. However I invite you to respectful and grace-filled dialogue only, please. Please comment and express your perspective on matters, but please do so in a way that indicates you have read Romans 12 at least once in your life.)