I have been reading the threads on three different blogs regarding the question of the church’s welcome to homosexuals (PamBG with “A Challenge of Tolerance?“, Richard Hall at connexions with “Open Door?“, and David at Methodist Preacher with “Welcoming homosexuals…and others“). I typically stay away from this debate. Years of having it be the major issue in the United Methodist Church, I have enjoyed the relative absence of the debate in the British Methodist Church.
For me the ‘issue’ of homosexuality has become a situation like that described by a friend of mine in seminary who was a teaching assistant. He used to worry the day after the first exam grades went out because up to that point everyone liked him and all thought he was really good. When the grades came out, it all changed. I guess I feel the same way: everyone is fine as long as the ‘issue’ stays out of the way, but once it comes out, it brands me and people don’t look at me the same way. While I clearly land on the ‘traditional’ understanding of sexuality (I usually point to Richard B. Hays’s article [shortened version here] to describe my understanding), I am sometimes uncomfortable with it, and I will admit that I am open to the possibility I am wrong. Or on the days when I feel I’m not wrong, I still don’t want to make that big a deal of it, nor do I want to somehow say that Paul felt that homosexuals were the poster children of depravity (I agree with Bishop Willimon when he said something to the effect of ‘Let’s face it: homosexuals are not responsible for the breakdown of the American family. Heterosexuals have been doing that on their own’). That usually leaves me in the middle to make no one on either side happy. [By the way, I have put ‘issue’ in quotes or inverted commas because we will us ‘issue’ to guard us against admitting that there are real people who have been hurt behind this so-called issue. This in part leads to my discomfort with my own position!]
But at this point, the ‘issue’ I want to talk about is no longer homosexuality as such. Actually, it didn’t begin there either, but we always seem to find ourselves digressing back into the argument over the ‘issue’. Pam started the current discussion by asking where we are as a denomination (i.e., The Methodist Church of Great Britain) in welcoming all people. She writes:
I’m deeply saddened by the knowledge that gay people feel that they have to leave our churches. My understanding was that, as a denomination, we were working toward taking the position that all people were welcome in our church, whatever their views on homosexuality. My understanding was that we were trying to accommodate people of all views as being valued in our churches.
So my question is, what does that look like? How do we live together despite our differences? So far, I see that happening only when we don’t talk about it. One of the places where it did arise, was at a District meeting where we gathered to discuss what is commonly called the ‘Derby Resolutions‘. I found myself in a group where one person was using the word ‘homophobia’ and I asked her to define what she meant. While she was very polite and I knew she didn’t want to be antagonistic, she honestly said that in a thorough discussion we would likely disagree over whether I could be called one. Everybody likely has a story where they felt pushed aside once it came out and we found ourselves in the minority position (like kim fabricius, I refuse to call what traditionalists experience as ‘persecution’). But, if we are to have a church where all are welcome, then we need to watch our language and our behaviour. (Traditionalists need to rethink the ‘The bible says’ argument – Paul didn’t always use that argument. I am sure many argued against him on the issue of circumcision and food sacrificed to idols with the argument, ‘The Bible says…’)
I quite like the Derby Resolutions. As a friend of mine said, they were created for a purpose and not just because some people were bored one afternoon. But, perhaps the document that kept The Methodist Church from the tumult experienced in the Church of England has now outlived its useful life. Where do we go from here? I want a conversation that focuses on how we can trust each other enough to stick together. More than that, stay in fellowship with each other. Where can we have a conversation that attempts to work out how we will be a community of grace without digressing back into old arguments. How can we start to ask the question, ‘How can we live together?’