Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Grace for All

The big news at this year’s Pen-Del Annual Conference was a proposed resolution that would affirm the right of homosexuals to become members of the United Methodist Church. There was a church in another conference, where membership was denied, and this would officially disagree with that decision. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass. This doesn’t mean that gay people can’t join our churches, it just means that they aren’t guaranteed the right.

This really frustrates me, because we don’t generally deny membership for any other reason. I suppose there are churches that don’t allow cohabitating unmarried couples to join, but that isn’t the case in most United Methodist Churches. If we care at all about outreach, we allow addicts and criminals and mean people to join. We don’t (in policy anyway) prohibit people of different ethnic backgrounds from joining, although perhaps we don’t really try hard enough to include them anyway. When it comes down to it, excluding gay people feels like a decision made out of prejudice, and fear or need for control.

When we confirm 12 and 13 year olds, or people of any age for that matter, we don’t know their hearts. We trust that God’s Prevenient Grace has brought them to this point, and pray that God’s Justifying Grace will transform them into the image of Christ. If you believe that homosexuality is a sin, telling a gay person that they can’t join church is like saying that we won’t support them in their spiritual development until they are transformed on their own. Or it is like saying that we don’t trust them to have their own relationship with God; people need to be empowered to discern God’s will for their lives, and too often we try to decide for them.

Personally, I think that if the issue of homosexuality was so important to Jesus, he would have said something about it himself. But he did say a lot about was acceptance. When we make a bunch of rules that exclude people from being part of our community of faith, we are doing exactly what Christ came to abolish. Jesus came so that we would not have to live and die by rules, but that all people would Live together through grace.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” - Galatians 4:4-7

7 Comments:

Anonymous Larry B said...

"This doesn’t mean that gay people can’t join our churches, it just means that they aren’t guaranteed the right."

A strange concept that now church membership has become a "right" to be gauranteed or protected. I didn't understand participation in a religious institution to be a guaranteed right. Being a male, I can't assert a right to join a convent, can I?

"because we don’t generally deny membership for any other reason."

Oh - and I don't suppose Jim Winkler from our General Board of Church and Society's comments about our own country's president don't qualify for excluding people for other reasons?

"When it comes down to it, excluding gay people feels like a decision made out of prejudice, and fear or need for control."

Well, not always. When it came down to it, the case you referred to, the gay man who wanted to become a member acknowledged that he wouldn't view his homosexual behavior as incompatible, and would therefore be forced to knowingly lie during his vows of membership. Thats a horrible policy to have to have to lie in order to become a member of a church.

"Or it is like saying that we don’t trust them to have their own relationship with God"

If they have their own relationship with God, then why do they need the church?

"Personally, I think that if the issue of homosexuality was so important to Jesus, he would have said something about it himself. "

Well he did - he continually upheld the Torah which explicitly states that homosexual behavior is condemned. He continually upheld the creation ideal of man and woman. He called John the Baptist the greatest among men on earth, and John the Baptist was beheaded for his staunch views regarding sexuality as it pertained to the Torah. And secular historians have noted the first century Jewish people (whom Jesus came to deliver) as being separate from their roman and greek societal counterparts specifically for their rejection of homosexuality even in spite of being surrounded by it in the greek and roman cultures. Jesus wouldn't have had occasion to run across a "practicing homosexual" in his culture.

"But he did say a lot about was acceptance"

Really? So gathering a bunch of tax collectors and sinners around and then telling them that there will be great joy in heaven if just one sinner repents is about acceptance? Over 25% of the recorded discussions of Jesus are about the consequences of not repenting of our sins. He continually told those whom he touched and interacted with to "sin no more". Jesus's sermon on the mount as recorded by Matthew showed how Jesus took even the Torah statements and carried them even further. And Jesus is recorded as stating that not one dot will dissapear from the Law (the Torah) until Gods work in history is complete. He set our moral standards until the end. He wasn't ambiguous about it at all.

Matthew and Mark both record Jesus as telling his disciples that he has come to bring division, not peace. That's an "acceptance" message?

Certainly you might argue that I'm overstating my case, but you can't really believe that Jesus only preached acceptance and that it's OK, and even imperative for a church to publicly deny the teachings of the Torah that Jesus held up as our moral standards, just because we want to be "accepting"?

Anyway, thanks for the post, it helps me to clarify my thinking.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Megan Methodist said...

I believe that Jesus upheld the Torah, in the spirit of the law. In other words, he said that we need to "Love the Lord your God with all your Heart and Mind and Strength." But he also said that we weren't to live by the law alone, and there were certain things he didn't uphold. That's why we eat pork.

As for being accepting, the United Methodist Church's motto is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." If a person has a relationship with Christ, they are still a work in progress no matter what. There are people who gamble (something the UMC is against) or who have premarital sex and are members of the church... we have to have faith that Christ is indeed working within them.

I think it is a problem when we flawed humans begin to think that we are capable of determining without a doubt that a person is "done" preparing for membership in the church.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Larry B said...

"But he also said that we weren't to live by the law alone, and there were certain things he didn't uphold. That's why we eat pork."

Ok, I'll partially agree with that. The actual recorded event that lead gentiles into the faith and released them from the requirements of most of the Torah is talked about in Acts 15. There were only 4 constraints left in, one of those constraints being the Levitical sex laws.

"As for being accepting, the United Methodist Church's motto is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." If a person has a relationship with Christ, they are still a work in progress no matter what. There are people who gamble (something the UMC is against) or who have premarital sex and are members of the church... we have to have faith that Christ is indeed working within them."

I think you make a really good point here, that I would consider a good middle ground for my own understanding. As long as the Methodist Church will continue to treat as sin those things like you mentioned including what we state in our discipline regarding sexual sin, then yes, people should be allowed to join and continue their faith journey without high barriers to joining.

I don't think it's a great idea to erase the idea that homosexuality is sinful though. That would be contrary to scripture.

Incidentally, while I wouldn't necessarily argue that gambling isn't a concern, there is simply nowhere in scripture (that I know of) where gambling is specifically condemned by anyone. Yet we as methodists have no problem taking a stance on that issue. Why then do we have such an argument about our stance on homosexuality where there is specific condemnation of the behavior? Just a thought.

11:29 PM  
Blogger B said...

Not to tie up your discussion here, but I saw this article (http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/6/afa/202006gst.asp) and thought it was interesting because it's: a.) about Ehrlich! and b.) focuses on "homosexual behavior," as in the "love the sinner, hate the sin" angle.

My feeling on this, though -- and the reason why this issue is so complicated -- is that it's pretty easy to intellectualize and moralize homosexuality, but if you ever listen to the stories of actual gay people, they're so wrenching and compelling that it's very difficult to form an opinion that's not rooted in deep compassion for gay people's lives. I remember reading E.M. Forster's "Maurice" back when I was still pretty disgusted by homosexuality, and was seriously moved by how gay people faced early-20th-century English society.

Also, I wanted to note that all "sexual sin" is not created equal. Pedophilia and adultery seriously harm other people, whereas homosexuality does not, per se, involve making others suffer.

11:23 PM  
Blogger B said...

Man, the Web site didn't come out... Here it is: http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/6/afa/202006gst.asp

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Larry B said...

Hi B,

I think you make a good point about how complex the issue really is when you talk to someone who is gay.

One of my dearest friends in the church has been through the roller coaster of coming out, being rejected by christian friends, going through a phase where they demanded the church accept them as they were, and then finally after prayer and study realized that they were called to live a heterosexual lifestyle (no "rescue" groups involved here). They've experienced more emotion in a few short years, than I'll get in my whole lifetime. But, I don't think we can change our definition of sin because there are deep emotional feelings at stake.

When the rich man walked away from Jesus feeling very depressed because all his goodness still didn't get him into the kingdom and he had to sell all that he had to become part of the kingdom, do you really think that Jesus wasn't just racked with sorrow over the rich man's despair? But Jesus didn't say, oh it's really complex for him and he's having a terribly emotional ordeal over this so let's go ahead and overlook things this time. He stands by his teachings. He talked about how people might even have to forsake family to follow him. No guarantees that there won't be tremendous emotional struggles to be part of the faith.

I would also agree that by earthly standards we can discern different levels of sinfulness in terms of how they affect others. But as (we hope) future residents of heaven, we know that no level of sinfulness is amenable to God and thus we would believe no sin is greater or lesser than others in God's eyes.

12:35 AM  
Blogger Megan Methodist said...

Gosh, no one comments when I'm talking about purging spiritual and emotional baggage, or feeding people in Africa, but bring up homosexuality and you get six comments....

that depresses me.

7:48 PM  

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