The on-going conflict in our UMC over the ordination and marriage services for members of the LGBTQ community continues to divide us. With a regular General Conference coming next May the discussion continues to be intense. I am deeply saddened by the conflict and threats of division of our church. I firmly believe this conflict deeply saddens God. It’s not that Jesus thought the church would be conflict free. One only has to read the New Testament and the squabbling and conflict in places like Corinth or the churches mentioned in Revelation. It is easy, as some have done, to assign such behavior to their opponents today. The basic issue, I believe, is deeper than whether or not one is a member of the LGBTQ community or supports or opposes gay persons’ full participation in our UMC. It is who is to be accepted as a member of the body of Christ. None of us is a member because we are perfect or morally superior. We are all forgiven and set free to follow Jesus as a member of the Church.
In preparation for our celebration of John Wesley’s 316th birthday, I came across a quote by Wesley that I believe speaks to our use of Scripture. Wesley said, “The Church does not stand in judgment of Scripture, but Scripture stands in judgment of the Church.” I find that helpful when I think about the use of Scripture in our debates. We assume the Bible is about the past, ancient words and traditions, mysterious revelations waiting to be interpreted. I find such assumptions problematic. As Peter Marty reminds us, the women at the Empty Tomb were told that Jesus was “going on ahead of them to Galilee.” This suggests that while looking back is important for it helps us remember what God has done, it is also critically important that we not linger in the past but follow the One who “goes on ahead of us.” Faith can become captive to “what was” and never come to grips with “what is” and “what is to be.” The past serves us best and, I believe, faithfully, by enabling to translate what God in Christ is doing now. Some teachings are culturally conditioned, like the dietary laws, instruction to slaves, and to women. Others are meant to be interpreted for the historical situation. When Paul wrote in Romans 13:9-10 “…and any other commandments are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law,’” he gave us the foundation of our ethical decision-making. Here we find the basic teaching of Jesus and Paul. Something that should inform us.
Likewise when the disciples on the road to Emmaus focused on looking backward, the resurrected Lord kept pulling them forward. Fundamentalism in its most rigid form, always wants to pull us back in attempts to focus our attention and our thinking in the past, real or imagined. Jesus, however, turns our attention to the future, where God is leading us. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.” As Peter Marty suggests, we might keep in mind the words of poet E. E. Cummings, that “tomorrow is (their) permanent address.”
Let me close with a word of gratitude to you as a congregation. I am so very proud of how we handled our response to the Special General Conference’s decisions on marriage and ordination of gay persons. We anchored our comments in our vision statement and called the wider church into account on its mission statement. We discussed the matters openly and respectfully. I learned from your courage and honesty. Thank you. Now let’s keep in mind, “tomorrow is our permanent address” and walk into our tomorrow trusting in the grace of Christ Jesus to be sufficient.
Grace and peace,