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.
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.