Diary of a Delegate: Homophobia and the sin of commission

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When speaking of sin, we often separate into two categories: sins of commission (what we have done) and sins of omission (what we have left undone).

It’s about to get real frank up in here.

I asked to be placed on the Church and Society 2 legislative committee for the United Methodist Church General Conference this year. This committee deals with all petitions and resolutions that refer to a very limited portion of the Book of Discipline, mainly the section entitled “Human Sexuality.” Packed into this little section are some of the most controversial and difficult passages of our church polity: our stances on family, marriage, sex outside marriage, health care (yeah, I don’t know how that got in there), pornography, abortion, and homosexuality.

Yep, we’re the sex committee. And I asked to be placed here.

Why? Simply stated, I believe that these little sections contain the worst of our church, and are in the greatest need of reform. There are many places where the United Methodist Church commits sins of omission: we should take a stronger stance on defense of the environment, or in support of more just economic systems. We could better articulate how we live and serve in diversity and discord. We must embrace the 21st century (maybe even the 20th) to remain– or become again– relevant and faithful. But here, in paragraphs 161 and 162 (and select other places), we institute words that wound.

“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Based on that once sentence, we extrapolate further in these and other sections, calling for legislation to define marriage as between a man and a woman, prohibiting UM churches or clergy from hosting and officiating marriages for gay and lesbian couples, and excluding individuals who are “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from serving as pastors or being ordained as clergy. Just the words make my skin crawl. I can’t believe I just typed them. They ooze icky.

yep, you get another Glee screencap.

Why serve on this committee instead of, say, the “Ministry of the Ordained” section, where I could combat the ordination of all people called to service and the ability to officiate at weddings and holy unions for same gender couples? After all, those places effect me and my colleagues more directly. But it all comes back to here, to a (false) theological assumption, buried in polity. And it all comes back to what I see as our fear and discomfort with sexuality in general. We think sex is dirty or embarrassing. We think sexuality has nothing to do with spirituality.

I believe that if you think sexuality and spirituality are not related and interwoven as the most vulnerable, intimate parts of ourselves, then no matter who your partner in either arena is and no matter how you practice either aspect of your being, at least one of those relationships needs work.

Brief (ha!) points:

  • I do not believe it is a sin to be gay, or to live out one’s sexual orientation in loving, mutual, faithful ways.

My “quadrilateral” rationale: My reading of scripture reveals a different place and time and culture, where, just for example, women’s bodies were feared and considered unclean for natural things like menstruation, and where being gay, like being a menstruating woman, rendered one unfit to enter the presence of the Arc of the Covenant, something none of us are about to do anyway, unless Indiana Jones has found it again. Delving into the context of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, we find the practice of homosexuality in Greco-Roman culture to be used primarily for cultic practice (normally heterosexual men engaging in homosexual activity in attempt to sway the will of the gods), or the use and abuse of young boys by older men in relationships that were neither mutual nor consensual. I’d agree with Paul that these forms of sexuality are indeed sinful and abomination.  My position stands in opposition to the current “tradition” of the church, but that tradition is only 40 years old or so; prior to that, our tradition is silent. Current scientific research and reason confirms what we have long suspected, that in nearly all cases, a person’s sexual orientation– regardless on where it falls on the continuum of gay to bisexual to straight– is an inborn characteristic, determined by the mix of hormones in fetal development. My own experience confirms this, as I at no time chose to be attracted to men, and listening to the experience of others yields similar responses.

  • I do believe it is a sin to revile what God has made, to force or coerce people into acting counter to their nature, shaming or despising themselves, lying and omitting and denying parts of the beautiful creation that they are (made in God’s image!), inflicting or justifying violence in word and deed in the guise of theological language. It is not a sin to be gay. But it is, I believe, a sin to teach people– children and youths particularly– who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender… that they are wrong or shameful or evil. That sin is compounded by throwing the weight of Christ’s teaching behind it– a teaching that has nothing to say about homosexuality, and everything to say about the outcast, the marginalized, the despised and what our responsibilities are.
  • I believe that it is a vital part of my ministry to officiate for couples at the sacred moments of their lives when I have the honor of being asked. I have said no to couples before based on the gender of the partners, and I regret it deeply. I have pledged that I will marry loving, faithful, committed couples regardless of their genders, and I will not repeat the mistake of my past. By officiating for a same-gender couple, I may lose the paper that says I’m clergy, but by refusing out of fear I lose what it means to be a pastor.
  • I know for a fact that God works powerfully through the lives and ministries of clergy and lay people who are glbt. We hinder that ministry at our own detriment.
  • I believe we are all created in the image of God, the imago dei, or as it says in the Gospel according to Gaga, God makes no mistakes… I was born this way.

Christians and Methodists of good faith will disagree with me, and I commit to being in dialogue and to lovingly conferencing with you. I look forward to committee work for just that reason. But know that this is where I come from, what I see as at stake in this conversation. I will listen to you and pray with you, ask you what you believe. This is what I believe.

Why Church and Society 2? Why start here? It’s simple.

When we say that United Methodist clergy cannot officiate at weddings and holy unions for gay and lesbian couples, we deny some aspects of pastoral ministry to all men and women called by God to serve as UM clergy.

When we say that persons who openly and honestly practice their sexual orientation cannot be pastors on the basis of that sexual orientation, we deny all aspects of pastoral ministry to some men and women called by God to serve as UM clergy.

But when we say that who a person is can be called “incompatible,” that one’s most vulnerable and intimate interpersonal relationship conflicts directly with one’s most vulnerable and intimate spiritual relationship, when we say that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, we deny the imago dei itself.

Sermon: De-construction


(February 19, 2012) Like so many of us, Peter is quick to build structure and ritual around the fleeting but powerful experience of God in Christ. Where do our structures– our buildings, yes, but also our denominational systems and preoccupations with statistics– get in the way of the uncontainable experience of Christ, and where are we called to move beyond them to a journey with Jesus? (Mark 9:2-9)

I quote from passages of the “Call to Action” report in this sermon, and quite liberally from an excellent recent article in the Huffington Post by Diana Butler Bass.

Diary of a Delegate: There’s prayer in my politics!

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

As part of our preparation for General and Jurisdictional Conferences, the New England group of delegates and reserve delegates have been meeting together regularly and conversing over email. I think it’s impossible– or at least I hope it is– for a group of thirty United Methodist lay and clergy people to meet regularly and not become a covenant group of sorts.

It happened officially this week.

In the midst of discussions about the legislation coming before General Conference, and the struggles for the future of the denomination, and discernment around who might be called to serve as Bishop, one delegate emailed the group, expressing a felt need for deep prayer in preparation for General Conference. Quickly, the rest of the delegation agreed, and beginning today, we committed to pause for prayer each day at or around noon EST. We will pray for one another, for our denomination, for God’s church and God’s world, and that we strive after God’s direction for the life of the church and the ministry we do in Christ’s name.

I set an alarm on my phone for noon each day. I invite you to do the same. Some days, every day. At noon. At midnight. Whenever. Will you pause and pray with us, however you are moved?

In conjunction with this prayerful work, we have also been in discernment with people whose names were lifted up as possible candidates for Bishop. In the Methodist system, Bishops are elected at the Jurisdictional Conference (which is in July), from a pool of candidates who have been nominated and endorsed by their annual conference and/or by a caucus group. While it is forbidden to campaign for candidates, and it is the responsibility of the annual conference as the whole, not the delegation, to put forth nominees, there is no place for those who may be feeling called to process or practice their interviewing or pull together their thoughts. Our delegation solicited names of potential nominees from members of the delegation and from the annual conference as a whole. From that pool, people whose names were lifted up by three or more individuals were invited to consider a calling to be nominated for Bishop, and to respond in writing and in an interview to some questions with our delegation.

We heard back from six people, and sat with them in interviews and read their written answers to questions.

What a profound privilege.

Now, the election of Bishops, because it is an election, is at least partially political in nature. Although campaigns are forbidden, many conferences already “know” who their nominees will be, and are floating those names and introducing those individuals to make connections. There is much that can be sham and show and networking and politicizing in this process.

But what I have learned is that there is much that can be prayerful as well.

All six people we talked with are persons of deep faith, profoundly committed to God in Christ, and to the witness of justice, love, and transformation that God works in our lives. All six believe in the future of the UMC as a denomination, so long as we keep Jesus before us, and so long as we engage our differences rather than let them pull us apart. All six spoke of a need to break out of the boxes and molds of expectations, and do a new thing in the church and in the world. Some of them embody just that sort of change and vision. Reading their reflections on lay leadership and clergy development, on the role of a Bishop and on the Book of Discipline, and their honest reflection on strengths and areas of growth in themselves and in the church, reveals much to be grateful for, much to have hope about.

The church is alive! God is still calling women and men to lead us in an ever-changing world.

I’m in prayer for them and for us, for you and for me, for the planet we call home, for the church that has nurtured many of us, and for all that will be as God leads us into new life again and again.

Love, Norms, and Heterosexual Priveledge

Kurt and Blaine in "The Purple Piano Project" (screencap). I admit I chose this picture mainly for the bicep.

I don’t think it’s any big secret that I am an enormous fan of the Fox show “Glee.”

While the show contains much that is campy, cheesy, and cartooney, it also has several wonderful factors, which I early on decided were 1. Sue Sylvester (such incredibly snarky, wonderful, sarcastic writing), 2. Will Schuester (a character and actor who is my age so I could feel less creepy, and the best-looking man in the cast– or at least he was until part way into season two when the guy I’d started crushing on the moment I saw his viral YouTube Harry Potter fan musical joined the cast and introduced me to my mantra of “he’s 25, he’s 25, he’s 25”), and 3. Kurt Hummel, whose story of finding his voice and coming into his own as the tormented outcast with the single parent who is an absolute saint both moves me and conjures up memories of middle school.

But the best part about “Glee” is the way, in the midst of all the silliness and drama and total lack of realistic high school portrayals, they manage to make the audience push edges and question assumptions. In little glimpses of poignant, honest moments, viewers are stretched. Sure, there are the obvious ones about teenage drinking and sexual activity and gay and lesbian characters. But here in my liberal, progressive tower, I was sure I was above such things. So the writers throw me for a loop with “Born This Way,” when characters don’t self-identify the characteristics I’d have named as their biggest hurdles, or with doses of sympathy toward characters like Sue and Karofsky (but never Sebastian, I swear it!), or as early as the fourth episode, forcing me to confront my assumption that the man who wore flannel and a baseball cap and changed tires for a living was going to freak when his son came out to him. Think again.

Blaine and Kurt are the model couple in "I Kissed a Girl" (screencap)

And now the show has me thinking about heterosexual privilege.

For years, my gay and lesbian friends have bemoaned the difficulty of watching movies and television shows where the principle (or only) couples portrayed were straight. While I effortlessly lost myself in the romance, my friends lifted challenges. With whom does one identify? How weird it feels to simultaneously want to be the leading lady and want to be the man romantically involved with her. How demeaning that gay characters, if presented at all, are caricatures or exaggerations, often intended for comic relief, with relationships to be pitied or analyzed rather than emulated.

But in “Glee,” Kurt and Blaine present an alternative.

One of–  if not *the*– strongest couples on the show, Kurt and Blaine (or “Klaine” for the die-hard fans) have a relationship based in friendship and mutual respect, honesty and walking side by side through challenges (from haters and would-be lovers to competition to the tribulations of high school), frank conversations about sex and sexuality, and deep commitment to living and loving exactly as they are. They are often the ideal couple, modeling stability and integrity to other couples and singles on the show. In fact, compared to Klaine, the heterosexual couples in the show are a mess, a constant jumble of drama. The next-most committed and established couple I would argue are Brittany and Santana, two girls (only kept apart for so long because of Santana’s reticence to come out). Finn and Rachel, the “power couple” of the show, have more bumps than a Vermont road in March, and frankly, it’s pretty annoying to watch.

Hosting the holiday spectacular at their "bachelor pad" in "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" (screencap)

But Kurt and Blaine are magic. And it’s not because Kurt addresses and heals my inner middle school reject (although he does), and it’s not because Blaine is simply drool worthy (Darren Criss is 25, he’s 25, he’s a young but totally legal 25…). It’s because they have a relationship that is beautiful, and fun to watch, that I want to root for and be a part of, just like any other time I snuggle up in front of a romantic comedy and dreamily lose myself in the eyes of the leading man, placing myself in his paramour’s place.

In short, watching “Glee” makes me dream of being Kurt.

A gay man.

This is a rather new and somewhat disconcerting feeling, if I’m honest.

And knowing and naming that makes me realize quite clearly how awkward and strange it must be for glbt individuals to watch just about anything else, where the assumptions about normal and happily ever after never look anything like them, only and always like me. That’s not okay.

So for all its silliness and hype and despite the very real issue I take with inappropriate student-teacher boundaries (or lack thereof) presented in “Glee,” I love it, because it challenges me and invites me to step out of my comfort zone and walk a mile in Kurt’s (often fabulous) shoes, or the shoes of any other person who doesn’t live inside the comfortable bubble of my heterosexual privilege.

And have I mentioned that I think Blaine is cute HOT? And 25.

Sermon: Annoying Grace

“Annoying Grace”

(Feb 12, 2012) Through humor and satire, the book of Jonah invites us to critique Jonah’s central beliefs: that people deserve punishment, that God’s mercy is a form of weakness or soft-heartedness, and that God’s grace, amazing when applied to us, is not meant to be poured out for everyone (Jonah 3:10-4:11 [included in recording]).

This sermon features melodrama, Facebook viral video and myth references, a Star Wars IV quote, and a description of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. Nerds rejoice.

Secret Diary of a Delegate- overview

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

Not that there’s anything really secret about it. I think I just want to pretend I’m Billie Piper.

I am a clergy delegate to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference. For my non-Methodist friends (I do have a few!), this is the once-every-four-years gathering of clergy and lay members of the United Methodist Church, elected by their home conferences (geographic regions), and meeting together to worship, fellowship, discern, envision, deliberate, and set church polity and position for the global church body. I’m a major church politics nerd, but I think it’s a huge deal, and I’m super excited to attend and honored to be a delegate.

It seems to me that the experience should be recorded somehow, so I will attempt to keep as faithful a record as I can of the proceedings leading up to, during, and after General Conference 2012 (and Jurisdictional Conference 2012 as well– but we’ll get to that later). My entries will be tagged “GC2012”.

There are some nuts and bolts as to how the process goes down, but mostly I’ll probably yammer on about positions, concerns, celebrations, and challenges.

Briefly, my technical experience so far has been interesting. I was elected second to our clergy slate, and am the sole clergy person from the state (and district) of Vermont. Our delegation has been meeting every 4-6 weeks to go over details, begin to look at legislation, and to learn more about people who may be nominated for possible election of bishops (which is another something I’ll get into later). Each delegate is assigned to a committee, dealing with particular topics of legislation; mine is Church and Society 2, and this committee will deal with all petitions regarding human sexuality (typically, specifically, attempts to change the church’s current stance that homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching”). Registering for a room has been a headache, but not worthy of a blog post.

The major themes and positions I am watching are juicier, and I’ll try to tackle each one in its own conversation at some point. Here’s what you (and I!) have to look forward to:

  • Both personally and as a member of the Church and Society 2 committee, I will be working closely with proposed changes to the church’s stance on homosexuality. I support changing our denominational policy to ordain and appoint gay and lesbian clergy, to allow United Methodist clergy to officiate at weddings and holy unions of gay and lesbian couples, and to eliminate the language in our Discipline that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This is why I ran for GC delegate, and where I feel our church is currently committing the gravest errors.
  • However, I think our denomination is in danger of committing even greater errors with the proposed restructuring of our church through several aspects of a proposal known as the Call to Action. These include: replacing boards and agencies with a smaller overseeing board more like a general board of directors, focusing on statistics as measures of church vitality, and changing aspects of our church structure (coming out of the Study of Ministry) to make us less personal and connected.
  • There has been lots of attention around legislation to divest United Methodist funds from companies that benefit from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am very interested to see how this plays out. I would not have expected this legislation to be so controversial, and I support the proposal, which I see as neither toothless nor anti-Israel.
  • I believe it is vital that our church do more to encourage environmental stewardship and protection in churches and in society at large. I am not informed about specific legislation in these areas, but I hope there is some, as I think the future of life of earth is at stake, no joke.
  • An online contact has brought a petition about more equitable pastoral compensation, including recommending a salary cap. I’m interested to see where this goes, as I think the church needs to equip local congregations of all sizes and not pool resources, funding, and talent around mega churches.
  • At heart, the question we are wrestling with has to do with the nature, the heart, of the United Methodist Church. Who are we? What do we value and how? How do we live in difference? How do we measure, celebrate, and inspire toward faithfulness to our call from God?

Sermon: Time Sensitive

photo by Guilherme Silva, accessed at sxc.hu

“Time Sensitive”

(Jan 29, 2012) Some things cannot or should not wait. When God calls us to follow and respond, we can choose to respond like Jonah and run away or put it off, or we can choose to be like the Ninevites to whom Jonah preaches, or like the disciples when Jesus calls: we can drop everything and heed the invitation to turn to God. Let us seize the moment and follow gladly. (Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20)

Near the end of the sermon, I introduced and played a scene from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. The scene I played roughly corresponds with this clip on YouTube.