Saturday, January 10, 2015

Different United Methodist Responses to Marriage Equality and LGBTQ Persons

Different United Methodist Responses to Marriage Equality and LGBTQ Persons
            Where do you stand? Which of the following five responses reflect your understanding of God’s will in our day for the people called United Methodists?
1.      Severely Exclusive - LGBTQ persons are condemned by God to hell. Homosexuality in any form is an “abomination” in the eyes of God.  
2.      Exclusive – LGBTQ persons are valued by God, but homosexual practice is condemned as sinful. Same gender ceremonies are not ordained by God.
3.      Mildly Exclusive – LGBTQ persons do not represent God’s original intention in creation. But God can redeem the brokenness. In the difficult choices of our fallen world, monogamous same gender relationships can often represent the best Christian response. 
4.      Diversity – Since our church is not of one mind in responding to LGBTQ persons and marriage equality, we should respect the diversity of understandings.
5.      Inclusive – LGBTQ persons are created by God with unique gifts. Homosexuality is not considered by God to be a sin. Faithful, monogamous, loving relationships between any two persons are ordained by God.
I had the privilege of signing the marriage license for my daughter’s same gender wedding in August of 2014. A complaint was filed against me the next day because this is a “chargeable offense” in the United Methodist Church. The complainant and the Bishop met with me on four occasions and we settled “out of court” with a Just Resolution.
 Item four of the Just Resolution statement says, “Rev. Tupper will develop a written theological statement which accurately presents the several theological positions within the context of the West Michigan Conference and includes his personal theological conclusions about the position he has chosen for himself.” This document reflects that work.

In preparation for this statement, I desired to learn more about the exclusive perspectives. I contacted Tom Lambrecht from the Good News organization. He directed me to Dr. Chris Bounds. Chris is a United Methodist elder and Professor of Theology at Indiana Wesleyan University. He graciously agreed to meet with me on December 12th, 2014. We enjoyed a warm and fruitful dialogue as we shared about our lives and our perspectives. The following document will include helpful information he shared with me.
The “exclusive” perspectives rest on four pillars.
The first pillar is Scripture. The Bible refers to homosexuality six times. Genesis 19:1-11 tells the story of the homosexual intentions of the men of Sodom. Leviticus 20:13 and 18:22-25 condemn homosexual practice as part of the Purity Code of Moses. Paul includes homosexuality in lists of sinful behavior in Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:8-10. Every reference to homosexuality in the Bible is negative.
The second pillar is church tradition. Christian churches have taken a stand condemning homosexual behavior from the early church up till the present. They have understood the Scriptures to say that homosexuality is sinful.
The third pillar is Creation. God created humans as male and female to be joined together. The second creation story in Genesis 2 tells about the creation of woman to be a suitable partner for the man. Genesis 2:24: “That’s why a man will leave his own father and mother. He marries a woman, and the two of them become like one person.” Men and women were created by God with specific anatomical features that promote their joining together. Homosexual practice is “contrary to nature”.
The fourth pillar is the Fall. Homosexuality is an expression of the brokenness of creation and the fallen state of humanity. It is one way of expressing original sin – our bent to stray from God’s intentions. LGBTQ persons are born with a specific orientation that represents a deviance from God’s original plan. It is a spiritual disability.
Dr. Chris Bounds summarizes the fourth pillar this way: “However the Church has also affirmed that just because people have been born with a homosexual inclination, exacerbated by the fallen order around them, and fully materialized through personal sin, this does not mean they are without hope of healing from this manifestation of corruption. The redemptive work of Christ made available to believers through the sanctifying work of the Spirit can empower people to keep their homosexual inclinations in check and offer hope of healing of their corrupted sexuality.”
The “Inclusive” perspective stands on six pillars.
1.      The Goodness of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-31 and Psalm 139:13-14)
God created humans “in God’s image”. The creation story was written to remind us that all of God’s creation is good. “God doesn’t make junk.” Whether we’re black or white, male or female, Chinese or American, homosexual or straight, left-handed or right-handed – we’re all created good in God’s image. Homosexuality is not a choice. It’s a unique gift given by God to certain people and not others. It is good in God’s sight.
The rest of the Creation story emphasizes the diversity of God’s creation. God could have made things to look and be alike. All plants could have looked alike. There could have been only one insect, only one bird, and only one fish. Instead, God chose to create the world using an amazing diversity. We’re incredibly diverse as human beings as well. We realize there’s diversity in our sexuality as well. God created us both homosexual and heterosexual. We can celebrate that diversity.
2.      God’s Inclusion of the “Impure” (Acts 10:1-36)
Gentiles were considered impure, sinful people to be avoided by Jews. The vision and the visit to Cornelius awaken Peter to his mission to reach out to these people. He realizes Gentiles can be Christian without following all the Jewish purity laws. He discovers that “God treats all people alike”.
 Who are considered by some to be the impure, sinful people in our day? The people in the LGBTQ community. What does Peter’s vision and visit have to do with us today in the church? We are called to reach out to those who are considered impure and sinful. We believe God’s grace and acceptance are for all, not for the ‘chosen’ few (the pure, the Jew, the heterosexual).
3.      Challenging the Rules (Colossian 2:20-22 and 3:14)
The Christians in Colossae have gotten caught up in rules that go beyond God’s intentions. It is similar to the problem some of the Pharisees had during the days of Jesus. The Colossians had rules about what they could and couldn’t eat, rules about what they could and couldn’t touch and detailed rituals and festival practices. They taught that one had to keep all of these rules to be a part of the church.
Paul told them this was wrong. He said that Christ died to set them free from rules like those. Later people referred to the problem in Colossae as the Colossian heresy. It’s been a problem we’ve seen throughout the centuries. We find it in rules that some churches hold on to today such as priests who cannot marry and women who cannot be church leaders. As a youth, I was a part of a church that taught that movie theaters, billiards, alcohol, playing cards and swimming with persons of the same sex were all sinful and forbidden. I’ve read about how intermarriage between the races fits the same category. It’s the Colossian heresy still with us.
One rule that is a part of the Colossian heresy today is the rule against homosexual practice. Paul’s words to us are still helpful: “Why be bothered with the rules that humans have made up?” In the next chapter Paul goes on to tell what it should be about instead of those rules. “Love is more important than anything else.” (Col. 3:14)
4: The Commandments of God (Mark 12:28-31)
The Son of God says love trumps human laws. Love is the essence of God’s true law. Loving a person means we value and respect them and do not treat them as second class Christians. Loving gay people as much as we love ourselves means we allow them as many rights and privileges as heterosexuals. The biblical God loves homosexuals and people in the LGBTQ community. The biblical God calls for everyone to love those in the LGBTQ community as much as they love themselves. We allow them to love a partner and get married just as heterosexuals are able to love a partner and get married. This also means we are compelled to advocate for their equal rights and equal treatment.
5. Jesus’ Inclusion of the Outsider (Luke 14:15-24 and Luke 5:12-16)
Jesus reveals what this love for all looks like by his stories and his life. Jesus has a special passion for those who are not treated as first class citizens. He reaches out to help the outsiders. He welcomes in those who are excluded and oppressed. This can apply today to the LGBTQ community who are often excluded and oppressed and treated as second class outsiders. Lord, help us love.  
6.      Jesus and Marriage (Mark 10:1-12)
Jesus values the joining together of two people in a married relationship. Jesus is clear that breaking this marriage covenant is not God’s perfect will. Divorce is the great danger to our families, not same gender weddings.

Mike Tupper’s Perspective
I am willing to live in a church that holds the “Diversity” position. Diversity has always been a hallmark of the United Methodist Church. We hold diverse understandings about most of the social issues of our time including: war, alcohol use, abortion, and capital punishment. The Book of Discipline states in “Our Theological Task”: “United Methodists as a diverse people continue to strive for consensus in understanding the gospel. In our diversity, we are held together by a shared inheritance and a common desire to participate in the creative and redemptive activity of God…      In the name of Jesus Christ we are called to work within our diversity while exercising patience and forbearance with one another.”
I prefer to serve in a denomination that supports the “Inclusive” position. It’s clear to me that the Scriptures indicating that homosexuality is a sin do not represent God’s will for all time. The trajectory of church tradition in responding to LGBTQ persons and marriage equality is moving toward the inclusive position. This can be seen in the changing position of the other mainline denominations and the perspective of younger Christians. Church tradition is shifting as it did related to slavery and the role of women. LGBTQ persons do not live with a spiritual disability, but are given a unique gift by the God of diversity. They are living according to their “nature”. Marriage is the most faithful arena for expressing sexuality so same gender weddings should be encouraged by the church.
Where do you stand? Which of the five responses reflect your understanding of God’s will in our day for the people called United Methodists?