Tag Archives: lgbt

Immeasurable Loss

Turn in Your Pre-Conference Journal to page…

Is there a statistic anywhere of LGBTQ+ clergy who have fled the UMC for other denominations or other fields of service? I suspect not. I further suspect that there is no accounting for the LGBTQ+ laity we have lost to other denominations as a result of the ongoing consternation over including LGBTQ+ people in the denomination.

I ask this because of a notable phrase by Rev. Rob Renfroe on the Good News Magazine website. In responding to the Council of Bishops’ recommendation to General Conference 2019, Renfroe says: “We believe the Traditionalist Plan holds the most hope for a fruitful future for The United Methodist Church.” In thinking about the term fruitful, I became more aware of a gaping hole in the debate.

We know, to a certain extent, how fruitful I am as a clergyperson. You can check the statistical reports, journals and even interview parishioners past and present as to my effectiveness as a minister. Likewise, I can attest to the fruitfulness of many lay people in the church. Three lay people at my congregation fed 30 middle schoolers just this past week.

Not accounted for are the contributions from LGBTQ+ United Methodists who never got a chance to serve or whose service was hampered by marginalization or discrimination. It doesn’t even get to go down as a deficit in our column. The best we can do is surmise from LGBTQ+ United Methodists who stayed in the church. Or we can observe LGBTQ+ Christians who joined other denominations. But just as the accounting on the statistical reports is flimsy, we really don’t know what we’ve missed out on.

A personal angle

I know of one such person. She began as a missionary in our denomination. It was through her service to the church that her orientation came to light. She fell in love, which is no small thing! In order for her to serve God through the church, she had to leave United Methodism. Now she’s legally married and is legally marrying others. And I rejoice in her ministry and her family. But I mourn that there is a divide between her and me…and I’m on the wrong side.

In my old conference, there is a traditional memorial service at Annual Conference grieving and remembering clergy and clergy spouses who have passed away in the past year. It is a beautiful simple ceremony. I first became aware of the loss of a LGBTQ+ clergy colleague when I realized that she and I will not stand for each other at the Annual Conference Memorial service back home. Through the beauty of social media, I have seen her stand up for justice, rejoice with her congregation and bring beautiful children into this scary world. How many more like her have we missed out on?

So as General Conference 2019 approaches, I will be watching with great consternation. She has moved on, buoyed by a loss from her past and free to serve God with all that she is. I hope all of us in United Methodism can enjoy the same freedom to serve.

On Trans

I had a trans woman in a previous congregation. Before transitioning, she had served in the military, reaching a high rank. She lost everything in the transition: job, military benefits, spouse, and was more-or-less homeless when I knew her. What she did gain by transitioning was a sense of freedom to be who she wanted to be.

You don’t lose your sense of hearing when you transition. Nor your sight. Nor your feelings. You hear what people say. You see the looks of confusion and disdain. You feel the rejection and the condemnation. There are both subtle and direct rejections.

When I think about trans people, I go back to a forum on trans hosted at Sunnyside and sponsored by Oregon-Idaho Reconciling United Methodists. That forum allowed me to hear directly from several trans persons about their experiences. I can’t say that I understood it all.

That seems to be the biggest barrier between the trans world and the mainstream world: confusion that feels threatening. It is common to fear that which we don’t understand. It is common to try to suppress that which we fear. It is also historically true that getting informed is the peaceful way to negotiate things we fear or don’t understand. Learning from the people: hearing their stories, allowing their experiences to change our minds is the pathway to peace.

There are experiences particular to trans people and the trans community that I will never have. On one hand that creates space between me and my trans co-humanoids. On the other hand, I don’t have to have had a heart attack to care for the people with heart disease. I can navigate the deeper, more basic feelings: I may not have been lonely the way many trans people have been lonely. But I’ve been lonely in my own way and am self-aware enough to know that lonely sucks.

In the way that we cross boundaries all the time-befriending people of another color, welcoming non-English speakers-we can get to the boundary and extend the hand of fellowship. That’s what Jesus wants. Of this I am sure.

So, we’re here because the president made a pronouncement out of ignorance and fear. The people of the Way of Jesus know better. We know that fear kills: too often the people objectified by the fear. It also kills the souls of those perpetuating the myths and fears. If only the president would sit down and listen to trans people: truly listen without prejudice. He would learn of the struggle and the freedom. I am sorry that he will not go to the boundary and extend the hand of fellowship. The people of God have no such qualms and a moral mandate to go to that boundary to protect and welcome our trans friends.

Pulse and the Church

Being the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting which claimed 29 lives, I am thinking of the environment in which that tragedy occurred. It would be easy for me to say, ‘I wasn’t a part of that’. I live nowhere near Orlando. I am not gay. I hate dancing. The communities and people involved are quite removed from me. It doesn’t pertain to me. I have enough issues of my own over here.

Technically, all of that is true. Morally, that is quite far from the truth. The shooter is alleged to have targeted the club because it was a social center for the LGBTQ community of Orlando. The shooter is said to have been pledged to ISIS. Pull back a bit and the Pulse shooting happened in a context of multiple incidences targeting the LGBTQ community. Just last month, two men in Indonesia were publicly flogged for being gay. I had two thoughts in quick succession: 1) how medieval to deal with an issue in that way and 2) the ideology of my church is the same as the flogger’s. The United Methodist Church doesn’t condone flogging, but it does condemn homosexuality and treat LGBT people as less-than their straight peers. Actually, the second realization has stuck with me. Even as we remember Pulse, the ideology of the shooter is perpetuated by my own church.

This same church has taught me everything I know about loving my LGBTQ neighbors as myself. The church really is an enigma.

The church tries to be two heroic things at once. We try to be a community of people trying to be as much like Jesus as possible. Forgetting for a moment all the miracles and supernatural stuff, just following the teachings of Jesus is a tall task. Ever tried loving your enemy? We also claim to be a healing ground for broken people. People are broken by greed, strife, warfare, anger, grief…nearly all aspects of life. Our book even includes poetry beautifully describing how God loves the broken-hearted. Whole books are dedicated to various processes for dealing with wrongdoing and suffering. Our heroes are murderers, adulterers, war mongers, rapists, mobsters and thieves.

The process for the church dealing with heroic thing #2 (healing broken people) is to invite people in “as-is”. Ever bought a used car as-is? It’s a pain in the ass! In the church, we say “come as you are”. Well…people can be pretty effed-up. We invite them to pay their issues at the feet of Jesus. That’s not easy: we fake it, we fool ourselves, we miss our own blind spots. And so it is instead of everyone leaving their bigotry at the feet of Jesus, sometimes they arise to positions of power. Once he becomes Bishop, it becomes really tough to curb the damage. And so it is that the church, while genuinely striving to become more like Jesus, has a sorry track record in dealing with our own baggage. We have certainly been as much a part of the problem as the solution.

What else can we do? One popular alternative is to eschew church altogether. When then do bigots give up their bigotry? We are already seeing the encampment of extreme ideologies, where people retreat to like-minded people and even increase in their extremism via the echo chamber of their group. Where do different-minded people get together and work out differences? The only place I see this is at church. Retreating to our twitter feeds is a recipe for disaster. Church doesn’t necessarily do this well. But we are also better positioned than most to offer this remedy.

I grieve my church. I love my church. It gives me great opportunity to learn and it gives me immense frustration. I’ve learned everything good and redemptive about humanity, including the LGBTQ community through the church. And the gravest atrocities seem way to close to remain comfortable. I understand why people need to leave church. I’ve seen amazing people have to leave to protect their dignity and their families. But to give over this historic and powerful entity to the powers of bigotry seems foolish and counter-productive. The remaining best choice is to stay engaged and work for a church that has a place for the bigot and an exit strategy for his bigotry. The grace of God, relentlessly pursued and revealed remains the best strategy to help heal the world from this particular brokenness.

Tradition as a Spiritual Foundation

Since marrying almost 11 years ago, I have entered the realm of another family’s traditions. It’s nothing new. Ever since Cain met that girl from somewhere else, family traditions have always come and gone and evolved. As a child, I never thought much of the traditions of my family. They seemed plain and were less taught than assumed. During holy seasons, you went home, gathered around the table and talked about life. The food was good, the company was quiet but dependable, the conversation polite, the mood warm.

Now I live out west and the holidays are spent elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. The food is still good, the company is less quiet but still dependable. But the people are different, and my people are “back home”. The routines that feel familiar out here are not illogical…they’re just not my routines. As our family grows, the tradition changes and all of that is okay.

But I feel foreign. And I am foreign. Even if someone were to ask me about my traditions…well part of my traditions were the unspoken-ness of them all.

As it stands, the only tradition I have left is my religion.

What is Tradition?

Tradition binds us to space and time. Tradition recognizes my connection to my ancestors. Tradition also is my gift to give to people who will come after me. Tradition is the community of time. It is the wisdom database that is stored within my bones containing all the lessons and tendencies of those who have gone before me. And I am contributing to that wisdom database by simply living. I reinforce the wisdom that I understand to be true by practicing the traditions of my ancestors. I also correct the wisdom database by exposing the falsehood within it. Finally, I add new practices and tendencies for my offspring based on my living in my environment in my time. Hopefully, my descendants will inherit a more true and fulfilling wisdom database because I contributed.

It seems to me that the sources of tradition are family, location, culture, religion (both formal and folklore) and history.

Rootless Society

I wonder about a populace that is maniacally mobile. I wonder if our mobility is the cause or the result of our societal restlessness. I wonder if our mobility contributes to the ideological silo-ing of America. I know that I moved because my ideas and beliefs were not welcome where I was. And neither party was interested in further conversations to work out differences. So that population of uprooted people includes me.

But rootedness feels good. It feels safe. It gives me guidelines for how to act and what to decide. Of all the things lost in my various moves, gained is a surer rootedness in my religious tradition. Now people want to break that up.

The United Methodist Church, Tradition and Transcendence

In 2017 the momentum within the United Methodist Church will continue toward a showdown over human sexuality. This year will be a bridge year between General Conference 2016 and a specially called session of General Conference in 2018 to address all matters of human sexuality. It is a shadow that hangs over me and my family in a particular way. After bouncing wastefully around the connection for better part of a decade, we both find ourselves in positive and fruitful appointments. We fully expect that in short time, we will have to make very tough decisions about our callings and our appointments. The irony is that we are both skilled enough to lead our congregations through such moments. But we could end up on the outside.

Add to this the emerging uneasiness politically in America and you have a recipe for tremendous upheaval. For any aspect of my tradition to give me wisdom for this particular journey, I’d have to go back to my ancestors who fled the homeland to come to the New World. That is a very murky time to me now. More apropos is going back to the very roots of my faith: to Jesus touching the leper and eating at Zacchaeus’s house.

I’ve been working on this idea of ‘sectlessness’ for a while now. It is a feeling that all the divisions between humanity are ultimately arbitrary and meaningless. That among the lessons of Christ is the oneness of earthly life. We all need each other and we’re built to be bound as one. Jesus transcended the divisions of his day and joined humanity together through his life, death and resurrection. Trying to be like Jesus means also transcending these divisions.

[My hesitation is that this feels very easy given my privilege. I am aware that people in minority groups often cannot and do not want to escape their distinctions. I know many embrace their distinctions as a matter of pride and identity and I see nothing inherently wrong with that. I think for me, my desire to transcend may actually arise out of my place of privilege. I often feel entrapped and minimized by the privileges assigned to me. This is an unresolved dilemma for me.]

So What?

All of this rootlessness, both forced and sought, leads me to the only rootedness that seems trustworthy…my identity as a child of God in a universe of siblings. I give thanks to God that my church tradition has propelled me to this revelation. I also fear that this revelation will outlast my church. The ultimate tradition is that of innovation and growth and why should I not embrace this reality.

Personal and Ideological Inroads to full LGBT Inclusion in the United Methodist Church now that General Conference 2016 is here

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.

Kim Davis: Decent Freedom Fighter, Not-so-Decent Christian

When it comes to Kim Davis, the lady refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky, there is part of the story that remains unsaid.

cc37ab5e473fc427800f6a70670042cfMost of the complaints against her are that she is a hypocrite: refusing marriage licenses while having been divorced three times. The most legally compelling argument says she is violating court orders. That would bring us to religious freedom vs. equality for same-sex couples. I kind of wished the Supreme Court would have heard that argument and ruled. They instead ruled by ignoring the complaint and upholding lower court rulings that she must begin issuing licenses.

Left unsaid is that Ms. Davis’ religious objections aren’t actually very Christian. She may have a few lines from Scripture on her side. And she may very well have a whole culture of religious dogma backing her up. But does her stance actually stand up in light of the teachings and example of Christ?

Jesus clearly articulated that his followers were to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus also clearly stated that his followers were to love their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:37-39). When pressed about what it means to love a neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, defining love as ‘showing mercy’ (Luke 10:37). In Matthew’s gospel Jesus twice chides religious/legal authorities that God “desires mercy not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13 & Matthew 12:7). How many of Jesus’ parables are about mercy? Mercy seems to be the essence of the Christian witness.

Does Ms. Davis love her gay neighbors? She may claim to. Claiming to isn’t enough. Loving in the Christian sense is showing mercy. Where is the mercy in Ms. Davis’ stance? I don’t see it. Ms. Davis allegedly told a gay couple seeking a marriage license that “you all will face your consequences when it comes time for judgment“. This is a real twisting of what it means to be merciful. Warnings of judgement are by their nature coercive. Coercion is a power move, and stands in stark contrast to the teachings and example of Christ.

Ms. Davis may, in reality, be practicing her religion as she refuses to love her LGBT neighbors as herself. But let us not be fooled: Ms. Davis’ religion ought not be confused with Christianity.

The United Methodist Church, Shame and LGBT Suicide

My Wake-Up Call

Suicide. This is the deep, dark, truthful mirror the LGBT community is holding up to the church. LGBT young adults who are rejected by their families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their LGBT counterparts who are accepted (see CDC). The church is the family of God. This is the crux of the issue. It’s time for the church to take a look and take responsibility.

[See this study (PDF) for a better understanding of the statistics.]

The differential in these rates of suicide attempts shows me two things.

First, the shame that leads to suicide is largely external. The coming out process entails a lot of fear. I’ve only witnessed it once, and that in a very safe environment. Even then, it was wrenching for the person involved. When those fears are realized and LGBT persons are rejected, that fear becomes internalized shame, with fatal potential. When those fears are met with grace and acceptance, those fears are cast out. When LGBT persons are welcomed by their families, they are significantly healthier. When LGBT young adults know they are supported, they overwhelmingly choose to live, even in the face of rejection and oppression by others. The church is a family.

The suicide rate statistic shows me something else: this is not a fringe issue. It is a matter of life and death and should be treated as such. God’s heart does not break over denominational schism so much as it breaks over those so distraught that they wish that God had never made them. This is the crucial matter. Those pressing for schism in the church are literally tearing apart a family. Those wishing LGBT persons would either leave or shut up are wishing these things upon brothers and sisters. Who shoves a suffering brother to the curb to fend for themselves? Who tells a frightened sister, “I wish you would leave the family?” These are monstrous things.

And yet a confession: I have been guilty of allowing LGBT issues to be a second or third tier cause. I have allowed my brothers and sisters to wish they were dead so as not to offend other members of the family. Certainly I still have a lot to learn. But as I come to grips with the suicide factor, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility. Perhaps I can’t just let the Tim Schaefers of the world suffer alone.

On Frank and Tim Schaefer

Of course, Frank Schaefer has had to deal with this reality firsthand. His recent trial and defrocking was not only about his actions as a clergyman. They were also about his actions as a dad. The strife confronting LGBT persons is not a fringe issue for him; it is a parental matter. It’s been widely reported that his son, Tim, contemplated suicide due to shame felt about his sexuality (his story here). Where did he learn to be ashamed? Church! The church taught Tim Schaefer to hate himself. Luckily, a loving father intervened. Frank’s affirmation of Tim was a life-preserving matter. Who wouldn’t save their son’s life?

I am so scared for those LGBT persons without the loving support of their parents. Is there a sanctuary for them? Is there a lifeline? Certainly many heal from these deep wounds, but the suicide rate suggests that these are hard to overcome. I keep coming back to the Good Samaritan. The body of Christ cannot walk past these beaten persons any longer. Is it okay for 50%-85% of the Levites to walk past on the other side? Is it okay for 50-85% of the priesthood to say ‘If only you weren’t gay…’ or pretend they aren’t hurting? Or is it worse? Are we the robbers? (See Luke 10:25-37) This is what the suicide rate is showing me.

This past General Conference a substitute resolution was introduced that would allow the United Methodist Church to admit that we are deeply divided on this matter (see text here). We couldn’t even admit that we are deeply divided. In fact the vote was 53% to 47% against. If we are NOT truly divided shouldn’t that vote have been more decisive? Even so, the suicide rate is showing me that even agreeing to disagree is not a palatable solution. This matter is calling into question the entirety of our existence. We have to take responsibility for our views, because we are the source of the shame that is killing many LGBT people. Woe to the one through whom that sin comes!

Let’s Not Split…

This is one of the reasons that schism is so disgusting to me. I don’t just disagree with the view that LGBT persons are not deserving of same treatment, same respect, same access to love and acceptance. I think those trying to shame LGBT persons and their allies out of the church are dangerous. I want this view eradicated. I want it to be as offensive as slavery.  If I take my ball and leave what happens? You get further entrenched in your position and the shaming becomes stronger. I don’t want my church to be a source of shame. I don’t want ANY church to be a source of shame. It’s not Christian.

Let’s Talk About the Bible…

We say we are a people of Scripture. And yet, we pluck certain verses to the ignorance of others. We selectively turn off our brains when something challenges our view. We read it dishonest to the bias we bring to the scripture. What do we do when scripture conflicts with scripture? How do we keep portions that inspire while letting the offensive ones die? Let me suggest a test: does the verse/passage in question hold up to the ‘love standard’?

The Bible is not a flat document. Not all verses are created equal. The scripture itself admits this: When Jesus is asked “What is the greatest commandment?” he had an answer. In a sea of commandments, two float to the top: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself. From here we can judge the other commandments. Does the commandment to stone your disobedient child hold up to the love standard (read it yourself)? Of course not! Humanity has rightly fled from this terrible dictum. Likewise, many commandments do uphold the love standard: rules on gleaning and how to treat aliens are especially gracious (see Leviticus 23:22).

As a church, we cannot do away with scripture. It is our story and our guide. But how we interpret and present the Bible is important. Plucking verses out and saying “I was just quoting the Bible,” is dangerous and unfaithful. So let’s debate the Bible, by all means. But the standard is not debatable: the greatest of these is love.

How Romans Helps Me Love My LGBT Neighbors…

There is a biblical lesson that has stuck with me for years: you can’t learn something and then pretend you don’t know it. This lesson stems from Paul’s understanding of the Law. He explains in Romans that the Law’s value is in exposing sin. Once you are exposed to sin, you are responsible for it. He then goes on to lament how impossible it is to uphold the law and how necessary grace is (Romans 7). What, then, about all the things we have learned about human sexuality and sexual orientation: all those things we didn’t know 2500 year ago? Are we supposed to just ignore the lessons and keep promoting the same primitive perspectives as our ancestors? Should we return to the days when we didn’t know women had eggs? Should we return to the days when we thought that menstruation was unclean when in fact it is a purifying procedure? Would our ancient ancestors be disappointed that we hadn’t learned anything new? Now that I know about the prevalence of suicide in the LGBT community, and now that I understand part of the source, I am responsible for using that knowledge for the benefit of others.

How Deuteronomy Helps Me Love My LGBT Neighbors…

At the end of the Torah, Moses presents the law to the people. Obeying the law brings one to life, he teaches; disobeying it brings death. He then exhorts the people to choose life. The church must begin choosing life for the LGBT community. It is clear that the shaming of LGBT has tragic consequences. We must take responsibility for authoring this shame. And we must reclaim our purpose as a community of grace, love and life.

How Jesus Helps Me Love My LGBT Neighbors…

When Jesus upholds the commandment of love, he is challenged on the extent and nature of that love. Who is my neighbor? Jesus is asked. The question comes with a hidden agenda: which person is my NOT neighbor and therefore unqualified for my love? Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus chooses the character of the Samaritan to shame the characters of the Levite and priest. The Samaritan acts lovingly. The priest and the Levite choose to remain ‘clean’. “Which one of these was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer: “the one who showed him mercy” followed by a COMMAND to go and do likewise. Some are claiming to be loving their LGBT neighbors by shaming them into repentance. In reality, they are shaming them into death. Others say it is an act of obedience to uphold a certain view of marriage. Others claim LGBT persons are unrepentant sinners and have forfeited their place in the kingdom of God and the church. I see no mercy in these views. You cannot claim supremacy of faith or virtue while failing to show mercy to those living in fear, shame and rejection.

Schism Sucks, Building New Churches Doesn’t Suck

If love is our standard, and if love is expressed as mercy, then what do we do with all of these wounded, abandoned LGBT children of God? Firstly, we should apologize. And I firmly believe, one day, we will. Moreover, conferences should open and build up congregations within each community that are welcoming and compassionate towards LGBT persons. (I never thought I would be talking about congregational development, but here we are.) I hate the thought that with this problem we are complacent and uncompassionate. Even if we cannot prevent some congregations from continuing to shame LGBT people, the church can respond in a creative way to embrace LGBT people across the connection. We have experience in just this kind of ministry. Across the connection, we have responded creatively and missionally to the influx of Spanish-speaking migrant workers, even while some blamed the nation’s problems on the influx of immigrants. Likewise, the church should open gay-friendly congregations in every community, as there are gay persons in need of sanctuary in every community. Those suffering from the rejection of their families need a life line, a safe place, a sanctuary from the shame. We should provide this. LGBT Christians suffering from the shame of the church also need a refuge. As crazy as it sounds, we need compassionate, welcoming churches to heal those damaged by our fellow Christians.

This is a life and death matter indeed. But mourn not for a divorcing denomination. Mourn for those dying of shame. Let us confess that we have not heard the cry of the needy. We have indeed failed to be an obedient church. But our disobedience is not to a human book that changes every 4 years, it is a stark disobedience to the eternal law of love. With confession comes pardon, with pardon comes renewed life. With renewed life comes the ending of shame. Now is not the time for schism. It is time for repentance and recommitment to the laws of mercy, compassion and healing…the laws of love.