The Raleigh Rant

Battle for the Methodist Church

Sunday, Feb 9th, Rachel Zoll posted an article on the Associated Press a very good historical summary of the issue of gay marriage and the controversy within the United Methodist Church. She noted that while other mainline Protestant denominations slowly have been moving to accept gays into the clergy as well as offer rites to same sex couples, the Methodist Church for 40 years has continued to be divided on this issue.

She quoted from the Book of Discipline and its restrictions on gays and outlined some of the recent trials of pastors who have not observed those restrictions. She draws the battle lines between the Reconciling Ministries Network, The Good News, and the Wesleyan Covenant Network with their opposing views on the issue.

She gave a good and brief explanation of how the Methodist General Conference works as the legislative body of the denomination but skipped over the details of how the Judicial Council and the local bishops decide who and when to prosecute for violations of the restrictions. In fact, the church trials are highly arbitrary and depend on many factors. The divisiveness is not just between the delegates to the General Conference but also among the Council of Bishops and among the clergy, 1,100 of whom signed on to a resolution to support gay marriage. Many retired bishops and clergy have supported removing the restrictions as a matter of “biblical conscience”, and also because of the fact that they’re no longer subject to the church politics and trying to keep their jobs.

In addition to loss of credentials for clergy who are found guilty in church trials (which prevents them from serving as elders but does not prevent them from serving as local staff), they also lose their retirement and insurance benefits that many worked for years to receive. So it is a very severe penalty and not just a slap on the wrist.

Rev. Frank Schaefer was “ex-communicated” at his trial last year and has since preached as a guest pastor at Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, and at the UCC Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX. His trial and subsequent appearances have received national publicity. A much earlier trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech resulted in the publication last year of his book: Adam's Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays that not only challenges the church’s position on the issue but also on the highly arbitrary and inconsistent manner in which it is applied to both clergy and lay people. He toured around the nation in 2013 promoting the book and speaking in many pulpits.

Some are calling for an open split in the denomination similar to what occurred prior to the Civil War over the issue of slavery. The denomination was not re-united until 1939, and in 1969 joined with the United Brethren to become the United Methodist Church. The next General Conference will be held in 2016 and probably will again consider this issue.

New Year's Resolutions

Most people think of the new year as the time for resolutions to do things differently. They start diet plans, promise to form new and healthier habits, and generally live a more conscientious lifestyle. I’m doing things a little differently this year. First, after 12 years I’m moving to a new apartment. So I’m cleaning out the closets, selling or giving away tons of stuff, and re-orienting myself as well as my furniture. Since I am retired, I expect to have only a slight change in my daily routine, but I am hopeful of a fresh start with putting a little more energy into my life.

When I published my memoir last spring I was focused on looking back at my life, especially the many regrets for some of the choices that I had made. I, in a way, re-lived my life vicariously and analyzed the steps along the way. I think that introspection served me at the time, but now it’s time to move on and focus on today and its challenges. My primary issues at this time are health challenges as I age, and I’ve spent three years going from doctor to doctor without much success. So I guess that I’m just going to have to learn to live with these challenges and quit wasting so much time hoping for a cure.

So much emphasis in the LGBTI world is placed on the benefits of coming out that not much is written about the need of coming inside oneself to really get to know who you are and your values rather than simply reflecting on the conditions society may have imposed upon you. I’m no longer afraid of being discovered or what people might think, especially at church. I have no family left, and most of my friends are gay. My straight friends don’t care so the “gay” issue and especially the drive for sex are less important than they used to be. After 27 years, it is highly unlikely that I ever will have another partner nor even really much prospect for romance, and I have to face that fact and quit day-dreaming. I have a stable social life with friends and a busy schedule so I have much for which to be grateful. I’ve always been too reluctant to be thankful and more inclined to wish for things I didn’t have. I think I’m finally more content now.

I don’t have any plans this year for writing another book or working as hard at promoting the two books I have. That was exhausting both financially and emotionally with few results. I probably will continue with social media because I value the opportunities to keep in contact with old friends and with the world beyond the murder and mayhem of the mass media.

I’m hoping finally to simplify my life and enjoy each day and become more mindful of my blessings.

Friendship

As the year comes to a close, and I’m looking back I’m also looking forward to a new year and a new opportunity for renewal. Christmas was always a family time, and I miss those connections, but their memories still warm me when I’m alone. Now I celebrate holidays with friends who sustain me through out the year. As I look back at the friendships I’ve had, I realize how much they have meant to me in enriching my life and accepting me when much of society rejected me.

I think it’s too easy to drift into sentimentality when thinking about friendship because it isn’t always wonderful. Friends can make demands on our time and expect more than we’re willing to give. We can argue and have disagreements with friends, but we always make up. If we don’t, and the friendship ends then it is a great loss for both of us.

As I’ve moved around the country, I’ve lost contact with many old friends. Social media has been a wonderful medium for renewing those friendships because it goes beyond time or space. I’m not talking about 500 “friends” on Facebook. I only have 37 Facebook friends, and my computer address book only contains 250 names. I’ve known some friends for more than 50 years, and some I just met this year. You can never have too many friends. Acquaintances are shallow and drift away over time as your interests and needs change, but friends just hang on. When I think of the hundreds of people I’ve known in my lifetime, I’m surprised how little impact most of them have had on me or I have had on them. But friends stand out and create relationships that form memories of shared experiences, both sad and joyful.

I know an acquaintance who has a family but no friends, and his life is missing something important because of that. He has a large extended family, and he is close to all of them. But he doesn’t have anyone to “buddy around with” or just share time and interests together so in some ways he is still lonely.

For a few years my father had a group of buddies who used to play golf together every Saturday regardless of the weather year-round. Those were stressful times in his life, and those outings were worth more than any psychologist could ever have provided. When we moved, he lost contact with those friends and never found another such a congenial group so it was a great loss to him.

A cousin has lived in the same town her whole life. She has lived in only two homes: her parents, and her home when she got married. She has friends from elementary school. That has provided a lot of security, but it also has limited her opportunities to meet new and interesting people.

For gays and lesbians, friendship has a special meaning that is unrelated to sexual orientation. I have straight friends and gay friends, and we talk about different subjects but we share similar interests. For years it was my only way out of the gay ghetto.

I’ll close with a link to an Australian web site that has a long number of quotes about friendship: friendship quotes

A Gay Christmas

The Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus had a limp little skit as part of their recent Christmas concert about a queen who is left alone on Christmas Day and looks back on all of the relationships that didn’t work out. The tag line apparently was that it didn’t matter because he was Jewish anyway. I never got the point of the story or how it tied in with the Christian carols they sang. I guess it was supposed to be funny, but it fell flat.

But it fit the stereotype of what most people think gay life is like — a series of sexual adventures that end in emptiness and loneliness in a bar grousing about the holidays. But that cliché ignores the many happy couples, and the numbers keep growing. Gays and lesbians are having families now, and not just children from former straight marriages. The heart of the issue is the definition of what constitutes a family, and is it limited only to blood relatives. But I drift from the point of how gays spend their holidays, including Christmas.

The most significant misconception is that all LGBT people are anti-religion and live totally outside of the church or any established religion. The term Gay Christians is considered an oxymoron. It’s true that many gays have been rejected by the church and have left in disgust. But there are many organizations and individual congregations or synagogues that are welcoming and accepting of the LGBT community. Just check out the HRC web site of affiliated religious groups: www.hrc.org/resources/category/religion-faith

A list of affirming denominations and local congregations can be found at: www.gaychurch.org/affirming-denominations/

American Society has changed to where the ways in which you celebrate Christmas are more related to your ethnic, religious, and cultural background rather than whether you are gay or straight. Even Christians around the world don’t celebrate Christmas in the same way. I discovered that the church was very late in adopting Christmas as a holiday. I was enlightened recently by a little book by Ace Collins

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas that revealed the origins of the traditions, customs, and myths surrounding Christmas: Stories Behind Great Traditions Christmas ebook

And finally I would close with a link to Chris Glaser’s blog: Progressive Christian Reflections By Chris Glaser

The hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church

The recent news about the Methodist pastor who lost his credentials for defying the Book of Discipline by marrying his gay son is not only a sad commentary about the rigidity of the United Methodist Church polity, but it is another story in a long saga of discrimination and hypocrisy by church officials. They haven’t followed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; they have said it is acceptable to lie and ignore your conscience but not to tell the truth. It seems a strange irony that the new Pope appears to be assuming a more charitable and rationale approach to this ecclesiastical controversy, while the leaders of this Protestant denomination continue to insist on compliance with the letter of the law. Didn’t Jesus free us from the Pharisees?

It seems to me to be more an issue of church politics than addressing a moral dilemma. Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality even though he condemned divorce, which is acceptable in the United Methodist Church. Those who choose to proof text a few verses of scripture to support their position of hatred and discrimination risk penalty themselves for not loving the poor and the needy as the Bible tells us to do. “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” is a cop-out in that it presupposes that what God has created is sinful. It really doesn’t matter whether homosexuality is a question of choice or not. Our response to homosexuals in the church is an issue of evangelism in that Jesus commanded that we love one another without conditions and that we bring the good news of salvation to the entire world— not just to some who meet our criteria.

Our government is coming to see homosexuals as having the same civil rights as others and that discrimination against a persecuted minority is wrong. During the Inquisition the church killed people in the name of preserving dogma. Today we are again seeing a human power play to persecute those who might challenge their episcopal authority. It is not merely a difference in how to interpret the Bible. The church went through that regarding slavery. Today we face the question of fulfilling the promise of making this earth more like the Kingdom of God and thereby following the commandment of Jesus to make fellowship with him available to all—not just to some. The Jewish Christians had to struggle with including the Gentiles; we are struggling with the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity. Those psychological terms were not a part of the 1st Century vocabulary.

The real tragedy is this: we are responsible for those who have been lost to Christ because of the church’s condemnation and unwillingness to include them in the good news and mercy of Jesus. We may not have directly killed those who chose to take their own lives because they could not reconcile their core inner selves with the judgment of some church officials, but we certainly bear some responsibility. Let God be the judge—not me.