I support the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the United Methodist Church. I got to this place through the progression of both my understanding and my faith. My understanding of LGBT inclusion has come from several realizations both ideological and personal.
My Ideological Inroads to LGBT Inclusion
Scripture is not the ultimate authority
I love the Bible, so much so that I take it at its word. And the Bible does not call itself the ultimate authority on all matters. The Bible points to Jesus, and both Jesus and the Bible defer to truth.
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Get that? Freedom comes from truth gained from believing Jesus. This matters because the Bible gets some things wrong.
I harbor no resentments for the things the Bible gets wrong. I do not doubt the sincerity of the authors. Despite not knowing most of them, I still give credit for their effort in faithfulness, that they operated out of the best of their knowledge and wisdom and understanding. The writer who asserted that a menstruating woman was by nature unclean? I credit him as doing his best, but we know he is wrong. As humanity progresses, we learn new things. When we learn new things, we must put aside falsehoods.
The truth is that homosexuality is no different than heterosexuality. It is another variety in the panoply of human experience. Homosexuality can convey great godly love and terrible abuse. The truth is that Christian love is marked by mutuality, commitment, humility, grace, humor, joy and compassion. Gay and lesbian couples demonstrate this daily, if only we all had eyes to see.
LGBT Pain is Real
As I’ve written before, the church needs to take account of the shame and spiritual suffering that we are causing LGBT people. The cost is measured in lives: lives deliberately ended due to shame-based inner turmoil. The main author of rejection of LGBT people is the church. We cite a few of our verses and create a whole agenda of exclusion. We tell people that the way they love–even if it is marked by compassion, mutuality, etc.–is incompatible with Christian teaching. We preach on sexual shame. Moms and Dads take that shame home and bestow it (directly or indirectly) on their children. Then the unthinkable happens. That beloved child exits the closet looking for Mom and Dads embrace. What then?
I’ve decided that there is nothing that can keep my kids from the love of their father. Where did I read something like that? Is it the case that sexual orientation can keep people from the love of their creator? That creator seems kinda weak and petulant, if you ask me. And what loving father would turn away from a hurting child? The suicide rate among LGBT is the crux of the issue…when we embrace them, they overwhelmingly choose to live. Those are the facts. When we reject them, it’s like God rejects them and we risk sucking the life right out of them. Woe to the one through whom that sin comes.
This odd moment where Jesus talks about eunuchs
In Matthew 19 Jesus is battling with Pharisees over the issue of divorce. Jesus gives a clear ruling different and stricter than Moses, earning some measure of ire from the Pharisees. The disciples hearing this proclaim that it is better not to marry. Jesus affirms their instinct on the matter and begins speaking about eunuchs:
His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife [concerning divorce], it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’ (Matthew 19:10-12)
I understand that eunuchs are males incapable of procreation, either through birth defect, injury, disease or choice. I understand that the context is about marriage versus chastity and that celibacy is still the highest standard of human sexuality according to Jesus. But this moment where Jesus recognizes that some eunuchs are born this way is crucial in that it reveals Jesus’ reasoning on matters of both sexuality and identity. Jesus recognizes that some eunuchs are simply born that way: they can’t help it, but they must make the most of their circumstances. That Jesus honors this distinction without judgement is remarkable to me.
Those who have “made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” is a most controversial stance. Jesus clearly takes a stance of inclusion and even honor. This stance is in direct contrast to Josephus who, in his Antiquities of the Jews writes the following:
Let those who have made themselves eunuchs be held in detestation; and do you avoid any conversation with them who have deprived themselves of their manhood…let such be driven away, as if they had killed their children (Antiquities, 4.81.40)
Josephus would exile transgendered people. Jesus would honor them and say: let anyone accept this who can. Even with my murky understanding of human sexuality, I have chosen to accept LGBT people in the church. And insofar as they honor God and uplift their neighbor I am happy to call them equals and support their full inclusion in the church.
My Personal Inroads to LGBT Inclusion
LGBT people in the Mission Field
When I was a US-2, I entered the program with a very dismissive attitude of homosexuality. I also entered with almost no knowledge or experience and less understanding. Yes, I graduated from college in 1997 having never talked about homosexuality. I did not understand that one of the men who welcomed me into the US-2 program was a gay man working for the church. The concept was foreign to me.
As I trained for the program, I had a heavy of dose of confrontation with my own biases. I don’t mean that we argued about the matter. Just that the reality of LGBT presence in the church was revealed to me. I just wanted to serve God’s people. As it turned out, serving God’s people required learning what it meant to love my LGBT neighbors.
The face of the issue confronted me while working in a children’s home for at risk youth. One day an agitated youth picked up a pencil and threatened to stab me if I didn’t tell him it was okay to be gay. I told him I had no problem with it. I wasn’t really sure what I thought, to be honest. But I was certainly unwilling to condemn this boy who clearly had a lot of inner conflict.
At the end of my time as a US-2 I gathered with my classmates for a final retreat. Our retreat leader was a gay former clergy who was a campus minister. Norm was gentle, authoritative and kind. I remember thinking he was too much of a universalist for my taste, but I couldn’t deny his kindness. His kindness made the difference. Literally, with our bags in the room and airport shuttles waiting outside we received Holy Communion from Norm. I felt the deep change in me that the US-2 program had borne. Many changes wouldn’t be revealed for years. But at that moment, I knew I was okay–blessed even– with Norm giving me communion.
LGBT people in the Pew
I have been pastoring for 10 years. For the entirety of those ten years, I have either been pastor to LGBT people or their parents or their siblings. This is over the course of 7 congregations in 5 towns in 3 states and 3 Annual Conferences. This is a matter by which every church I have served has had direct connection.
I have learned about the LGBT community from each of those connections: from siblings ashamed of their brothers & sisters, to parents scared for their children, to children of parents who used to be straight, to trans persons struggling with almost all aspects of their lives. A previous congregation hosted a conversation with several trans persons who shared about their lives. All sorts of discomfort were upon me. But sustaining me throughout that conversation were the principles of my faith: the goodness of God’s creation and the ever-flowing grace of God. Does not God’s grace fall upon all? And what do we make of it when God’s grace falls upon LGBT people and they respond with praise and service? It is clear to me that good fruit cannot come from bad trees. And I see the fruit our LGBT Christian friends all over God’s church and all over God’s creation.
LGBT people and the United Methodist Church
I began this post weeks ago. Now I am completing it amidst a cloud of schism as General Conference is taking place in Portland. Last night, an LGBT advocacy group (LYNC) tweeted out a rumor that we are splitting. This morning Rev. Adam Hamilton seemed to be saying a lot to his seminary breakfast about 3 Methodist denominations. The Council of Bishops has given a statement relating their own commitment to unity and sharing their own inability to lead the church through this moment. There are rumors of more meetings taking place at lunch and later today. My wife decided to be there to witness the proceedings and says its quite surreal. I decided to go have a normal, productive church day. I’ve received a homeless veteran who needs a food option for this side of Vancouver and a member who is grieving the loss of her daughter recently.
In all, everything that I have learned about LGBT people and issues I have learned through the United Methodist Church. And I am a much better person and Christian as a result. LGBT United Methodists have blessed me with a better understanding of mercy and justice, they have invited me to experience the joy of Christian service, they have taught me how to sing and lead worship, they have taught me how to pray and journal, they have taught me how to be more authentic and courageous. I await with great anticipation the time to welcome my LGBT Methodist Christian friends into full connection. I want them. I need them. I am indebted to them. Whether this welcome happens in a healed UMC or in a new entity remains to be seen.