Living a Lie?
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
April 8, 2018
Scriptures: Psalm 133 and 1 John 1:1-2:6
I have put off preaching this sermon for a couple of years because we don’t know how the story will end, but Bishop Bard has encouraged every pastor and congregation to talk openly about the United Methodist Church being on the verge of a possible schism. The church’s official stance on LGBTQ person’s place in the church, our clergy officiating same-sex marriages and the appointment of gay pastors who are married are big questions that the Council of Bishops have appointed a special team to help us sort out before the next regular General Conference in 2020.
At General Conference in 2016 there was such an impasse over those issues that it nearly derailed all their work. The Council developed a plan to organize the Commission on a Way Forward, a 32-member commission that is helping them find a way through this decades-long division around how the church ministers with gay and transgender people. This Commission has been meeting, with members chosen to represent all sides of the issue, and there will be a specially called General Conference in February of 2019 to announce their official recommendations for our denomination’s way forward. They have been meeting faithfully, and in private, updating the Council of Bishops and nothing is final at this point.
At present, the Book of Discipline say that while all people are of sacred worth, the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The book bans the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and same-sex weddings performed by UM clergy. However, some individual pastors and conferences are publicly disregarding those policies. This is forcing the issue, especially in the United States, where same-sex marriage was legalized three years ago. The whole thing is complicated by the fact that the United Methodist denomination is an international body, not just American. We have members who live in countries where acceptance of homosexuality is non-existent, and even punishable by death.
The status quo is being fought hard by those who want to see a more progressive stance taken by the church, as a justice issue and on behalf of people who have grown up in our churches as baptized members and are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gender, or queer/questioning.
The Commission has been instructed that maintaining the status quo is not really an option. What we are being told is that there are a couple of options on the table. As I say, nothing is set in stone. These are just the talking points that have been released, to give us something to think and pray about.
The two options currently being considered are:
Option One – “The One-Church model: Under this plan, each conference would be able to decide whether to ordain LGBTQ individuals as clergy. Each pastor would be able to decide whether to perform same-sex weddings or unions. Each local church would be able to decide whether to allow same-sex weddings in its sanctuary or receive an openly gay pastor. Those who could not in good conscience participate in same-sex weddings or ordination of LGBTQ clergy would not be required to do so. Central conferences – church regions in Africa, Europe and Philippines – could maintain their own standards on ordination and marriage. The model would essentially make legal what is already happening in some parts of the connection.
Option Two – The multi-branch model: Under this plan, United Methodists would share doctrine, services and one Council of Bishops, while also creating different branches. The five U.S. jurisdictions would be replaced by three connectional conferences, each covering the whole country, based on theology and perspective on LGBTQ ministry – progressive, contextual and traditional branches. In this case, contextual means allowing churches flexibility in ministry with LGBTQ people as best fits their mission field. Annual conferences would decide with which connectional conference to affiliate. Central conferences would remain as they are or could choose to affiliate with one of the three connectional conferences. This model would likely require amendments to the denomination’s constitution.”
Some of you have asked me what I believe, and one-on-one I have shared my story. I am a progressive. This means I think it is time to open the door – really open the door, not just proclaim we have Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors, but then do a bait and switch. Churches that do that are living a lie. Forcing people to live in the closet, in fear of being discovered, judged and rejected, is to lie when we say that we love our neighbors.
I believe that being homosexual is not a choice. Who people are is what God made them to be, and I truly believe that every single person is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image.
Science has showed us in recent years that some bodies are different. Some people’s chromosomes are not clearly male or female. Some bodies are not clearly male or female. I am not a scientist, so I will refer you to those who are to unpack what has been learned about human sexuality in the last decade.
“Scientific findings do not support the notion that sexual orientation can be taught or learned through social means. And there is little evidence to suggest that non-heterosexual orientations become more common with increased social tolerance.” We don’t need to protect our children, for fear that they will “catch” this.
The only thing our children have caught in the last eight years is the belief that this is not an issue for them. Many young people have moved past this and see the church as stuck and homophobic at best, hypocritical at worst as we call ourselves welcoming and friendly.
My first real need to come to grips with this issue was when a student I had taught since he was in 6th grade came out just after high school. I had known and loved this young man since he was just a boy, prior to even his own awareness of his sexuality, whatever it would be. Music had become his refuge after his mother was tragically killed in a car accident. I could not reconcile myself to an imposed sense that somehow, now, I should not love him as I had. I still hoped for him to find love, acceptance, and peace in his life. That he was gay, didn’t change how I felt about him and never would. I also knew that this fine young violinist had grown up in his church, been baptized and participated in the life of that congregation. God loved him just as much, and more perfectly than I and I don’t believe that ever changes. My care for him only changed in that now I worried what the world would do to him as a gay man.
Not long after my former student came out, Tom’s youngest daughter did the same. That sealed the deal for me. She was the same intelligent, loving person she had been as a child, and there was no way we were going to stop loving her when she grew up and came to realize who she had been created to be.
Yes, I know there are scriptures that speak against same-gender unions, and I also know that there were pagan practices of idol worship that were being decried. The scriptures that speak truth loudest to me is what Jesus said and did. On this issue Jesus said nothing and I don’t think it was because he agreed with homophobia. We see how he was with other people on the fringe of society and how he loved them. I believe he meant what he said when he told us not to judge, but to love and let God’s grace be our guide.
I am a believer in monogamy, fidelity, and love. I don’t think it is reasonable to impose a double standard of celibacy upon persons who are attracted to persons of the same gender.
We know that there are many points of scripture that have been used to justify slavery, demean divorced persons and prevent women from speaking in church. Using the Bible to justify one’s point of view is not helpful. Letting the truth of scripture – that God created and is still creating human-kind and calls us “very good” and loves us, speaks volumes. That we are cautioned against judging one another and advised to love even our enemies matters more to me. I don’t believe homophobia belongs in the church any more than sexism or racism. We are all God’s people, flawed by human nature, and offered grace that is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins. I don’t believe sexuality is inherently sinful, either way. It is one of God’s gifts to us. How we use it is what matters. Whether we make it an idol in our lives matters. Whether we are faithful to our spouses matters.
You probably have guessed by now that I wish I could perform weddings for gay couples, but I am a rule follower, so I never have. But I wish I could. Some of the most faithful, loving couples I’ve known share their gender.
I also wish that gay clergy didn’t have to give up their ordination. In my first appointment as a pastor, I followed a woman who left ministry because she fell in love and wanted to be with her partner. What I came to see was that she had been a wonderful pastor. We have lost many wonderful pastors because of this rule.
You may disagree with my stance. I respect that. I don’t expect everyone to agree 100% with my worldview. But what we need to be thinking about and prepared for is the day when this congregation may have to choose which way it will go. Will this church be progressive and in favor of having a pastor that may be gay and married or one that is allowed to perform same-sex weddings?
If either of the options mentioned early go into effect, it will mean that our conference has to vote where our hearts are. Being a democratically organized entity, it means your representatives, your Lay Members to Annual Conference will vote on your behalf. That may not happen for several years, but we need to think about it and be ready.
The last thing we want to do is fracture the church with quarrels and fights. This is what happens in church splits. The denomination may say one thing, but the congregation may disagree and want to go another way.
We have United Methodists that have already formed a traditional-thinking group called the Wesleyan Covenant Association. They not only want the current wording maintained but they also want to see greater enforcement of the rules, seeing those who break them thrown out of the church. That they have already organized for a split causes concern.
Many United Methodists wish we could remain united, able to worship and love people with whom we disagree all under one roof. Others see that as kicking the can down the road, as we’ve done for decades, and want us to make progress in becoming more open.
My hope is that we can engage in civil conversation as we discern the way ahead, loving one another the way Jesus asks us to. As his followers, the last thing we need is division and quarreling. A house divided cannot stand, so we stand for justice, compassion and love of God and neighbor. Amen.