Church

Two Misconceptions Blocking A Way Forward

Times are rocky in the United Methodist Church. We’re not so united anymore. We had yet another General Conference where nothing was decided on the issues of sexuality that divide us, aside from commissioning our bishops to develop A Way Forward. Since then , several annual conferences have issued declarations of non-compliance. And on July 16, the Western Jurisdiction consecrated Karen Oliveto as our first openly gay bishop.

So things are dicey now as to whether we can remain one denomination any longer. And I am personally conflicted on it. On one hand, we’ve been arguing about this for forty-four years, ever since the “incompatible with Christian teaching” clause was inserted into the Book of Discipline. And it’s not getting better. If anything, as the United States grows more tolerant of same-gender relationships, and the denomination grows more global, the arguments have gotten more heated.

I do believe there comes a time when conflict becomes so severe that, like Paul and Barnabas, it is better to part ways. On the other hand, we are called to be one by our Lord. That’s pretty clear regardless of which end of the liberal/conservative theological spectrum you find yourself. Jesus just don’t like division and infighting. Jesus likes unity. It was his prayer for us. So it is incumbent upon all of us to do all in our power to reconcile these differences if at all possible.

To do that, both “sides” are going to have to let go of a misconception.

Believing gay sex is sinful does not mean you are a bigot

Look, there’s no denying that some people use their religious beliefs to prop up their prejudices. But I firmly believe that most people aren’t doing this. Most people are just trying to live out faithfully their interpretation of Scripture.

I say this because, for a long time, I was one of those people. Was I wrong? Looking back now, I believe so. But was I motivated by hate or maliciousness? Not at all. In fact, I hated that the Bible seemed to speak so clearly on the subject. It didn’t seem fair, and I felt trapped. But what else was I going to do? It looked to be right there in black and white.

So progressives need to reign in the rhetoric. Even when the words from the other side are hurtful. Especially when the words from the other side are hurtful. Because you don’t change minds with insult and snark. You change minds with love and personal interaction. With dialogue instead of lecturing. You change minds with patient endurance.

And sometimes, you don’t change minds at all. Sometimes you just have to love them anyway.

Is it easy? Is it fair? Of course not. But following Jesus isn’t supposed to be easy or fair.

Believing gay sex is not sinful does not mean you’ve rejected the faith.

There’s no denying that some liberals don’t give a hoot for the Bible. But most of us do. Really. We just interpret it differently. And if we are to stay one body, there is one one invective that has to die: Brother and Sisters on the right, you have got to stop questioning the faith and salvation of those who don’t agree with you.

I understand you believe you are being faithful to Scripture. But there are other ways to interpret Scripture that are just as faithful. Research them if you doubt me. Google is your friend. (As a primer, I even wrote one about Romans 1 for this very blog.)

Our Wesleyan heritage is pretty clear on this: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” And I’m just gonna be blunt: sexual mechanics is not an essential. There should be lots of liberty allowed here. And there should certainly be more charity. A lot more charity. Even if you are certain you are right. Especially if you are certain you are right. Because you don’t change minds with condemnation and judgment. You change minds with love and personal interaction. With dialogue instead of lecturing. You change minds with patient endurance.

And sometimes, you don’t change minds at all. Sometimes you just have to love them anyway.

Is it easy? Is it fair? Of course not. But following Jesus isn’t supposed to be easy or fair.

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