The Raleigh Rant
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.
I don’t know if there is any interest in yet another book review, but I’ve been surprised that since I wrote my memoir this spring I’ve come across several books about being gay and Christian. Each author wrote from a different perspective and so gives a different view of reconciliation. I also found a variety of writing styles that reflected their different personalities and objectives. One simply summarized the interviews with a variety of people with different opinions on the issue and then commented on his own perspective. I recently finished Hounded by God by Joseph Gentilini that is an edited excerpt of his journals.
He is the only author I’ve read who wrote from the perspective of a practicing Catholic. His journal entries are organized by subject and then by chronology, but I found several repetitive in that they kept dealing with the same issue over and over without any resolution. Admittedly, he took on a strong opponent in challenging the church hierarchy, but I think the clash between organized religion and the LGBTQ community is more universal just the Catholic church.
I struggled with his assertion that his relationship with Christ is partially revealed through the loving relationship with his partner. I agree that their relationship is not sinful, but I believe that we first experience our love from Christ and then share it with others. He first loved us, and when we learn finally to accept and love ourselves, then we can share that love.
I have been involved for several years with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which is one of several organizations trying to reconcile the established denominations with the fact that many of their members are gay and have been discriminated against. By continuing to preach the dogma that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful, they are directly damaging the lives of millions of people that unfortunately end in suicide because they cannot reconcile those teachings with their own experience. Joseph has been active in Dignity, which is an organization of Catholics similar to the RMN that is active politically in the United Methodist Church. Change is going to come only when we enjoy the support of our “straight” allies.
If I could summarize the theme of the books I’ve read recently is the fact that each of the authors has struggled with the doctrines of his church and has come to more or less overlook them (or in spite of them) in developing his relationship with God and Jesus. Sorry, but I’ve not read anything from Jews or Muslims on this issue, but I think it would present an even more difficult conflict. The churches are 30 years behind corporations in coming to terms with the diversity of life in America. We all grow when we embrace each other rather than continue to haggle with rancor on what are essentially minor theological issues. This issue has been co-opted by the politicians for their advantage, but they are increasing discovering that homophobia is not only unpopular but also damaging to their careers. We must stop them using us as their “bogey-man.”
This weekend I attended a couple of workshops conducted by a prolific author. Chris Glaser lives in Atlanta and has written twelve books as well as having conducted numerous workshops and seminars. Rev. Glaser has been an activist in the movement for full inclusion of LBGT Christians in the Presbyterian Church, or PCUSA, for more 30 years. He is currently a minister in the Metropolitan Christian Church (MCC). He has a web site Chris Glaser.com and a blog Chris's blog.
Chris got his Mdiv degree from Yale Divinity School in 1977 but wasn’t ordained by the Presbyterian Church even while serving in numerous official capacities. He was ordained by the Metropolitan Christian Church in 1995. He is a Christian theologian and has published a book about the theologian Henri Nouwen. He has incredible energy and insight, and I wish I had half the drive he does.
You can read his full biography on his web site, but he is well documented as someone who has thought through many of the most controversial issues of our day and how the church has responded to them. I won’t try to summarize his presentations that he taught from just a few notes (no boring Powerpoints) and a couple of handouts. Obviously he is experienced in conducting workshops and seminars, particularly in interacting with his audience.
I didn’t get a chance to interview him about how he works as a writer, particularly considering his busy schedule. Although all of his books are on Amazon.com, he obviously markets them via his many public appearances. His appearances are carefully directed to the specific topic he is addressing and are not generic stump speeches. He admits that he can’t immediately recall some of the names or people of projects he’s working with over the years, but he has complete command of the fruits of all his education and both the theological concepts and religious issues across many generations. He expresses himself not as an academic but as a scholar with knowledge and skills to use simple language. He says, “I just love all the stories in the Bible.” He states that the fundamentalist/evangelical approach to the Bible is a relatively recent 19th Century version of the scriptures.
The second local authors’ reading and book signing was held at the Raleigh LGBT Center on Sunday afternoon October 13th. I participated in the first one in August. This event included three very different authors. Jimmy Creech’s book “Adam’s Gift” recounts his experience as a former United Methodist Church pastor and his crusade to change the official doctrine of the church that classifies the LGBT community as second-class members who are restricted in many opportunities for membership and service and specifically prohibited from marriage in the church. He has done many book tours all across the country and is well known for his position as a martyr because he was forced to give up his credentials after many years of service.
“AD 2040” is the work of a pen name author Grantham West, who wrote a science fiction novel speculating on the take-over of the United States by the radical right in a theocracy. The American Economy has suffered its second depression, gone through bankruptcy and the collapse of the Federal Government. The long-neglected HIV/AIDS epidemic is ravaging the country. The religious right fundamentalists have dictated mandatory testing and proposed a shocking solution to the problem in the police state of America. The situation in the 2007 book seems strikingly similar to today’s headlines. The author has worked as a volunteer with the local AIDS Service Alliance.
Melody Moezzi was perhaps the most surprising selection since she is a straight Iranian-American Muslim woman who also is a lawyer. She also suffers from the BiPolar disorder, and her memoir “Haldol and Hyacinths: a Bipolar Life” describes the many forms of discrimination she has faced. Even her personal appearance defies the passive stereotype since she looks more like a rock star than a lawyer.
Authors, Librarian, and leader of Affirming Faith Forum at LGBT Center