The United Methodist Church’s General Conference is in Oregon this month, and the hottest of hot button issues will be debated and decided on. Among the petitions to be considered are ordination of gay clergy, whether to continue the ban on gay marriage in our churches and by our clergy, and most importantly, whether to revise the Book Disciple so it no longer states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
I think these changes are long past time, and I’ve written about it a little here, here, and here. So I’m not going to write about why I don’t think gay sex is sinful again. [Thumbnail summary: Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean. ~ Acts 10:15] What I want to write about today is a few misconceptions.
It Doesn’t Mean Anything Goes
Look, there are lots of gay relationships that are unhealthy, destructive, and sinful. But guess what? There are also a ton of straight relationships that are unhealthy, destructive, and sinful. Neither has anything to do with the orientation of the partners. Rather, it has everything to do with how those partners treat one another and how they care for that relationship. Who knows? If we stopped worrying about the sexuality politics and mechanics and started focusing more on whether we were building mutually loving, caring, and compassionate marriages, then maybe the divorce rate in the Church wouldn’t look the same as it does everywhere else.
It Doesn’t Mean the Bible Doesn’t Matter
Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, got to the core of the issue here. (And if you want to go deeper, he also wrote a pretty good book on the topic called Making Sense of the Bible.) Bottom line: No one really takes the Bible literally. We all interpret it. Just like the church in Acts interpreted when they opened the door to the Kingdom to non-Jews. And the church was so much better for it. Just like when the abolitionists found advocacy for freeing slaves in a book that plainly endorses slavery.
What we are called to do is take the Bible seriously, and taking the Bible seriously is hard work. It requires more of us than just memorizing verses to quote. It requires us to see how the heart behind those difficult, hyperbolic, poetic, and sometimes contradictory verses applies to the people and the issues we face today.
It Doesn’t Mean That People Who Disagree With Us Are Evil
I don’t know what the outcome of this General Conference is going to be. I don’t know it is going to cause an irreparable rupture in the Methodist church. If that does happen, it may be a sad necessity. (And let’s remember that when Paul and Barnabas had their falling out in Acts, God ended up with two dynamic missionary teams.)
But here is what I do know: people on the other side of the aisle from me are not evil. They aren’t hateful. They are just trying to follow God in the best way they know how. Just like I am.
Now, I think those people are wrong. Obviously. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But they are not the enemy; they are fellow travelers and children of God, worthy of love and respect. Just like the rest of us. So let’s remember that as we push forward with these dicey and necessary conversations.