Sunday, Feb 9th, Rachel Zoll posted an article on the Associated Press a very good historical summary of the issue of gay marriage and the controversy within the United Methodist Church. She noted that while other mainline Protestant denominations slowly have been moving to accept gays into the clergy as well as offer rites to same sex couples, the Methodist Church for 40 years has continued to be divided on this issue.
She quoted from the Book of Discipline and its restrictions on gays and outlined some of the recent trials of pastors who have not observed those restrictions. She draws the battle lines between the Reconciling Ministries Network, The Good News, and the Wesleyan Covenant Network with their opposing views on the issue.
She gave a good and brief explanation of how the Methodist General Conference works as the legislative body of the denomination but skipped over the details of how the Judicial Council and the local bishops decide who and when to prosecute for violations of the restrictions. In fact, the church trials are highly arbitrary and depend on many factors. The divisiveness is not just between the delegates to the General Conference but also among the Council of Bishops and among the clergy, 1,100 of whom signed on to a resolution to support gay marriage. Many retired bishops and clergy have supported removing the restrictions as a matter of “biblical conscience”, and also because of the fact that they’re no longer subject to the church politics and trying to keep their jobs.
In addition to loss of credentials for clergy who are found guilty in church trials (which prevents them from serving as elders but does not prevent them from serving as local staff), they also lose their retirement and insurance benefits that many worked for years to receive. So it is a very severe penalty and not just a slap on the wrist.
Rev. Frank Schaefer was “ex-communicated” at his trial last year and has since preached as a guest pastor at Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, and at the UCC Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX. His trial and subsequent appearances have received national publicity. A much earlier trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech resulted in the publication last year of his book: Adams’Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays that not only challenges the church’s position on the issue but also on the highly arbitrary and inconsistent manner in which it is applied to both clergy and lay people. He toured around the nation in 2013 promoting the book and speaking in many pulpits.
Some are calling for an open split in the denomination similar to what occurred prior to the Civil War over the issue of slavery. The denomination was not re-united until 1939, and in 1969 joined with the United Brethren to become the United Methodist Church. The next General Conference will be held in 2016 and probably will again consider this issue.
Most people think of the new year as the time for resolutions to do things differently. They start diet plans, promise to form new and healthier habits, and generally live a more conscientious lifestyle. I’m doing things a little differently this year. First, after 12 years I’m moving to a new apartment. So I’m cleaning out the closets, selling or giving away tons of stuff, and re-orienting myself as well as my furniture. Since I am retired, I expect to have only a slight change in my daily routine, but I am hopeful of a fresh start with putting a little more energy into my life.
When I published my memoir last spring I was focused on looking back at my life, especially the many regrets for some of the choices that I had made. I, in a way, re-lived my life vicariously and analyzed the steps along the way. I think that introspection served me at the time, but now it’s time to move on and focus on today and its challenges. My primary issues at this time are health challenges as I age, and I’ve spent three years going from doctor to doctor without much success. So I guess that I’m just going to have to learn to live with these challenges and quit wasting so much time hoping for a cure.
So much emphasis in the LGBTI world is placed on the benefits of coming out that not much is written about the need of coming inside oneself to really get to know who you are and your values rather than simply reflecting on the conditions society may have imposed upon you. I’m no longer afraid of being discovered or what people might think, especially at church. I have no family left, and most of my friends are gay. My straight friends don’t care so the “gay” issue and especially the drive for sex are less important than they used to be. After 27 years, it is highly unlikely that I ever will have another partner nor even really much prospect for romance, and I have to face that fact and quit day-dreaming. I have a stable social life with friends and a busy schedule so I have much for which to be grateful. I’ve always been too reluctant to be thankful and more inclined to wish for things I didn’t have. I think I’m finally more content now.
I don’t have any plans this year for writing another book or working as hard at promoting the two books I have. That was exhausting both financially and emotionally with few results. I probably will continue with social media because I value the opportunities to keep in contact with old friends and with the world beyond the murder and mayhem of the mass media.
I’m hoping finally to simplify my life and enjoy each day and become more mindful of my blessings.
The Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus had a limp little skit as part of their recent Christmas concert about a queen who is left alone on Christmas Day and looks back on all of the relationships that didn’t work out. The tag line apparently was that it didn’t matter because he was Jewish anyway. I never got the point of the story or how it tied in with the Christian carols they sang. I guess it was supposed to be funny, but it fell flat.
But it fit the stereotype of what most people think gay life is like —a series of sexual adventures that end in emptiness and loneliness in a bar grousing about the holidays. But that cliché ignores the many happy couples, and the numbers keep growing. Gays and lesbians are having families now, and not just children from former straight marriages. The heart of the issue is the definition of what constitutes a family, and is it limited only to blood relatives. But I drift from the point of how gays spend their holidays, including Christmas.
The most significant misconception is that all LGBT people are anti-religion and live totally outside of the church or any established religion. The term Gay Christians is considered an oxymoron. It’s true that many gays have been rejected by the church and have left in disgust. But there are many organizations and individual congregations or synagogues that are welcoming and accepting of the LGBT community. Just check out the HRC web site of affiliated religious groups: http://www.hrc.org/resources/category/religion-faith
A list of affirming denominations and local congregations can be found at:
American Society has changed to where the ways in which you celebrate Christmas are more related to your ethnic, religious, and cultural background rather than whether you are gay or straight. Even Christians around the world don’t celebrate Christmas in the same way. I discovered that the church was very late in adopting Christmas as a holiday. I was enlightened recently by a little book by Ace Collins
Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas that revealed the origins of the traditions, customs, and myths surrounding Christmas:
And finally I would close with a link to Chris Glaser’s blog:
The recent news about the Methodist pastor who lost his credentials for defying the Book of Discipline by marrying his gay son is not only a sad commentary about the rigidity of the United Methodist Church polity, but it is another story in a long saga of discrimination and hypocrisy by church officials. They haven’t followed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; they have said it is acceptable to lie and ignore your conscience but not to tell the truth. It seems a strange irony that the new Pope appears to be assuming a more charitable and rationale approach to this ecclesiastical controversy, while the leaders of this Protestant denomination continue to insist on compliance with the letter of the law. Didn’t Jesus free us from the Pharisees?
It seems to me to be more an issue of church politics than addressing a moral dilemma. Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality even though he condemned divorce, which is acceptable in the United Methodist Church. Those who choose to proof text a few verses of scripture to support their position of hatred and discrimination risk penalty themselves for not loving the poor and the needy as the Bible tells us to do. “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” is a cop-out in that it presupposes that what God has created is sinful. It really doesn’t matter whether homosexuality is a question of choice or not. Our response to homosexuals in the church is an issue of evangelism in that Jesus commanded that we love one another without conditions and that we bring the good news of salvation to the entire world— not just to some who meet our criteria.
Our government is coming to see homosexuals as having the same civil rights as others and that discrimination against a persecuted minority is wrong. During the Inquisition the church killed people in the name of preserving dogma. Today we are again seeing a human power play to persecute those who might challenge their episcopal authority. It is not merely a difference in how to interpret the Bible. The church went through that regarding slavery. Today we face the question of fulfilling the promise of making this earth more like the Kingdom of God and thereby following the commandment of Jesus to make fellowship with him available to all—not just to some. The Jewish Christians had to struggle with including the Gentiles; we are struggling with the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity. Those psychological terms were not a part of the 1st Century vocabulary.
The real tragedy is this: we are responsible for those who have been lost to Christ because of the church’s condemnation and unwillingness to include them in the good news and mercy of Jesus. We may not have directly killed those who chose to take their own lives because they could not reconcile their core inner selves with the judgment of some church officials, but we certainly bear some responsibility. Let God be the judge—not me.
I don’t know if there is any interest in yet another book review, but I’ve been surprised that since I wrote my memoir this spring I’ve come across several books about being gay and Christian. Each author wrote from a different perspective and so gives a different view of reconciliation. I also found a variety of writing styles that reflected their different personalities and objectives. One simply summarized the interviews with a variety of people with different opinions on the issue and then commented on his own perspective. I recently finished Hounded by God by Joseph Gentilini that is an edited excerpt of his journals.
He is the only author I’ve read who wrote from the perspective of a practicing Catholic. His journal entries are organized by subject and then by chronology, but I found several repetitive in that they kept dealing with the same issue over and over without any resolution. Adminittedly, he took on a strong opponent in challenging the church hierarchy, but I think the clash between organized religion and the LGBTQ community is more universal just the Catholic church.
I struggled with his assertion that his relationship with Christ is partially revealed through the loving relationship with his partner. I agree that their relationship is not sinful, but I believe that we first experience our love from Christ and then share it with others. He first loved us, and when we learn finally to accept and love ourselves, then we can share that love.
I have been involved for several years with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which is one of several organizations trying to reconcile the established denominations with the fact that many of their members are gay and have been discriminated against. By continuing to preach the dogma that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful, they are directly damaging the lives of millions of people that unfortunately end in suicide because they cannot reconcile those teachings with their own experience. Joseph has been active in Dignity, which is an organization of Catholics similar to the RMN that is active politically in the United Methodist Church. Change is going to come only when we enjoy the support of our “straight” allies.
If I could summarize the theme of the books I’ve read recently is the fact that each of the authors has struggled with the doctrines of his church and has come to more or less overlook them (or in spite of them) in developing his relationship with God and Jesus. Sorry, but I’ve not read anything from Jews or Muslims on this issue, but I think it would present an even more difficult conflict. The churches are 30 years behind corporations in coming to terms with the diversity of life in America. We all grow when we embrace each other rather than continue to haggle with rancor on what are essentially minor theological issues. This issue has been co-opted by the politicians for their advantage, but they are increasing discovering that homophobia is not only unpopular but also damaging to their careers. We must stop them using us as their “bogey-man.”
This weekend I attended a couple of workshops conducted by a prolific author. Chris Glaser lives in Atlanta and has written twelve books as well as having conducted numerous workshops and seminars. Rev. Glaser has been an activist in the movement for full inclusion of LBGT Christians in the Presbyterian Church, or PCUSA, for more 30 years. He is currently a minister in the Metropolitan Christian Church (MCC). He has a web site Chris Glaser and a blog Chris’s blog.
Chris got his Mdiv degree from Yale Divinity School in 1977 but wasn’t ordained by the Presbterian Church even while serving in numerous official capacities. He was ordained by the Metropolitian Christian Church in 1995. He is a Christian theologian and has published a book about the theologian Henri Nouwen. He has incredible energy and insight, and I wish I had half the drive he does.
You can read his full biography on his web site, but he is well documented as someone who has thought through many of the most controversial issues of our day and how the church has responded to them. I won’t try to summarize his presentations that he taught from just a few notes (no boring Powerpoints) and a couple of handouts. Obviously he is experienced in conducting workshops and seminars, particularly in interacting with his audience.
I didn’t get a chance to interview him about how he works as a writer, particularly considering his busy schedule. Although all of his books are on Amazon.com, he obviously markets them via his many public appearances. His appearances are carefully directed to the specific topic he is addressing and are not generic stump speeches. He admits that he can’t immediately recall some of the names or people of projects he’s working with over the years, but he has complete command of the fruits of all his education and both the theological concepts and religious issues across many generations. He expresses himself not as an academic but as a scholar with knowledge and skills to use simple language. He says, “I just love all the stories in the Bible.” He states that the fundamentalist/evangelical approach to the Bible is a relatively recent 19th Century version of the scriptures.