The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Marriage - all you need to know

We knew that our upcoming Holy Wedding Ceremony would start a discussion in our conference and outside of our conference in the United Methodist Church.

Reconciling Ministries Network has published an article about Bobby and me,  and they have published a press release about the upcoming event. Bishop Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference also published a press release two press releases. Several conservative United Methodist blogs have published articles and links are on Facebook and Twitter. The United Methodist Church web site has an article. The usual arguments; sin versus love, legalism versus mercy, incompatibility versus sacred worth, have been laid out across the web.

On Bishop Wallace-Padgett’s blog, smart, well-informed people who are commenting urging change and inclusion. Others are leaving different types of comments. The same is taking place on the UMC web site. 

Some of the comments rely on a narrow, literal interpretation of Scripture. To those people I have two suggestions.

First, review what it means to be a Methodist. Review the life and teachings of our founder, John Wesley.

Accept that Wesley himself did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and while giving Scripture priority, he also relied on Reason (including science), Experience (which could be the stories of LGBT persons) and Tradition (look at how the United Methodist Church has responded in the past to social issues and don’t repeat the same mistakes) before coming to a conclusion.

Second, if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, are you willing to stone to death women who are not virgins when they marry?  Are you ready to give up fried shrimp and crab claws? Are you ready to deny the sacrament of marriage to divorced United Methodists? Are you willing to allow slavery so that masters can treat them properly?

 I thought I would answer a few of the questions that have been floating around.

“You are already legally married (although it isn’t recognized in Alabama). This will do nothing to help your marriage become recognized by our state. So why do it?”

We want to make a statement about our love and our commitment in front of our friends and families, just like other people who are marrying do. 

Also,I have been raised in the Methodist Church, and all around me I see families in our church with children whose sexual orientation is unknown. I don’t want these children, and I’ve heard parents of these children say this as well, to grow up and suddenly feel rejection by their church (as I did) when they discover that they are gay. You grow up loving the church, and then suddenly the church turns on you? That messes with your spiritual well-being. That happened to me. This is happening every day in the United Methodist Church.

“This issue is resulting in legal proceedings and trials that cost the United Methodist Church money; money that could be spent helping the poor and providing disaster relief.”

The simple response for that is to change the law, remove the harmful words, from the book of discipline so that United Methodist clergy are not charged when they offer their ministries to lesbian and gay couples. Then no money would be used trying to uphold unjust law.

But the more realistic answer is that defending unjust law is an expensive proposition. The United Methodist Church chooses to spend its resources trying to keep its LGBT members in the closet of inequality. They want gay people, they want our talents, they want our money, they want our connections, they want our skills; but they do not want to hold a conversation about the harm they have done to young people. They don’t want gay couples who attend to have their relationship identified, regardless of how long the couple has been together, or what the couple is able to contribute jointly.

Recently at our church we had a guest speaker on a Sunday morning. He was the founding pastor of the church 20 years ago. Also in attendance was our District Superintendent. The DS was asked to close the service in prayer, and he lifted a chair above his head as he prayed, and in his prayer/statement he emphasized the filling of the empty chairs. The visiting pastor had spoken of inclusion of LGBT persons.
The messages came across so differently. The DS wants the chairs filled with people, regardless of what the Book of Discipline says about them. He thinks LGBT people should feel comfortable in a chair that could be yanked out from under them when they seek pastoral care.

The visiting pastor wanted to treat the LGBT people with respect and dignity and recognize their sacred worth, also based on the Book of Discipline.

I recognize hypocrisy in the United Methodist Church. They have a policy: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. They will let you in if you are gay, but they will not treat you fairly.

“Why don’t you just leave the church and find one that fits your views?”

I like the United Methodist Church. I fit in at my local church. I feel comfortable there. I can serve there. I like most of what the Book of Discipline and Social Principles say.  I like our position on war, the death penalty, immigration, women’s rights, the environment, science and other issues.

Here is a sermon by Rev. Vicki Flippen. In it, she references Paul and Silas and the earthquake that knocked down the walls of the jail that held them. They could have fled. But they stayed.

And (some) LGBT United Methodists are staying also. We are standing up against the jailers that are imprisoning us spiritually. The walls created by church policy are starting to crumble.  And we will stay, and after the walls have been removed, we will welcome the leaders into a more inclusive and more Jesus-like and Wesley-like United Methodist Church.

What about gifts? Are you registered?

We are giving our friends and family members options. We are not seeking gifts, and think that a gift in our names to Reconciling MinistriesNetwork or to AIDS Alabama is a good way to honor our union. But we also know that people like to give to the couple, so we are registered at Macy’s; Belk; Bed, Bath and .Beyond; and Habitation in Homewood.

There may be more to say about this marriage on another day, but for now, this is the 411.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jonah, and the Whale in the room

At Discovery United Methodist Church we are studying the book of Jonah. You know, the guy that got swallowed by the big fish and was then vomited out a few days later.

The sermon series is superb. There is a lot to be learned from a tiny book of the Bible.
But I want to dive just a little bit deeper into what we have learned so far.

Jonah was all torn up because he was trying to avoid doing what was asked of him by God. Our pastor spoke of anxiety, severe stressful anxiety that leaves your stomach tied in knots.

When I heard this I thought of my own experience regarding the United Methodist Church. And I thought of the shared experiences of many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in their churches; many of them Methodist, but from other denominations as well.

I will not reveal names, but I can count numerous friends who will not set foot in the United Methodist Church again because of the anti-gay policies of the church.

If you have not been rejected by your church; if you have not been told you are an abomination; if you have not been told you are doomed to hell because you are gay, then you might not understand the knot in one’s stomach when they try to enter the door of a church.

But imagine being told that your very existence is incompatible with Biblical teaching.  When you hear this, you know that there is no sense in sitting and listening to any message of love or service or neighbors, because you don’t count. You are worthless. You are told you made a choice; a sinful choice.

 A young gay man named Jonah, aptly named for this blog post, from a video he posted a few years ago.

From here you take one of two paths. Path one leads away from the church, but you are a strong person and you do well without the church. You have been taught that God created you as an abomination, only to be condemned for who you are. Who needs a God that made you only to condemn you? The church is no longer a part of your life. God is no longer a part of your life.

Path two is a darker journey. You can’t get over the fact that your God created you to be hated by your fellow man, by your family, and by God himself. You suffer from depression. You may even take your own life.

I know of people from each of these categories.

We often hear at Discovery United Methodist Church that God loves us all. We hear about loving your neighbor as we love ourselves. But do we realize that “all” includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons? Do we realize that our “neighbors” include LGBT as well as straight people that surround us? 

We heard today that the world is broken, as evidenced by the events in the local and world news. I want to suggest that the United Methodist Church is broken as well.

The Hospitality Group is trying to bring others to the realization that LGBT people are not an abomination, that we are not to be hated or shunned because of who we are, and that the Methodist Church (and Discovery UMC) needs to change in order to repair the brokenness that holds us back.

In our group we have studied Martin Luther King Jr.’s book, “Why We Can’t Wait.”  Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

There is a lot of silence at Discovery. We are afraid to talk about it. This whale is swallowing us all.

We should all be working for inclusion of the gay community (and others). We should be a leader in this regard. If you are not sure about this, or are uncomfortable, or would like to learn more, please join our group. It is a place where everyone (and we really mean it) is welcome, and it is a place to learn.

This week in our Wednesday night meeting we will be studying etymology. What this means is we will be studying some words in the Bible, how the words came to be, and how they came to be translated into their current understanding (or misunderstanding). It is part of our understanding of the book we are studying, "God's Gay Agenda" by pastor Sandra Turnbull.

I urge every one of you to join our group on Wednesday night. If you are not familiar with our group, you will be surprised at what we stand for, how open our discussions are, and at what you might learn.