How Now Shall We Live Together?

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?’

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4 thoughts on “How Now Shall We Live Together?

  1. Well, one thing I think it looks like is what you said here: 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 It looks like ‘not making it an issue of prime importance in the scheme of salvation’.

    Of course, I understand that whether or not XYZ action is sinful is an ‘important’ issue in the scheme of discipleship, but then I think we are faced with some very hard questions about how we as a church deal with sin and what we name as sin.

    I don’t believe that holding the traditional view makes a person a homophobe. I don’t believe that holding a non-traditional view makes a person someone who doesn’t care about scripture. I believe that, like many things Christians disagree about, it’s a different approach to or different emphasis within biblical interpretation that leads people to different views.

    To me personally, how we stick together seems simple. We see individuals as holding legitimately different views and we respect their discipleship and we don’t throw negative adjectives at them. This is probably a lot easier to do when you know someone in person than when you simply hear of them or you converse with them on the internet.

  2. Pam, thanks for your comment. Still, it’s getting those with a traditionalist stance to live alongside those who will identify as homosexual (and vice versa). That’s where I wonder if it can go any further. Then I think about your original post on the issue and then the one before it (cafe worship) and I think, Does the church welcome anyone? Is the problem much deeper.

    I don’t believe that holding the traditional view makes a person a homophobe. I don’t believe that holding a non-traditional view makes a person someone who doesn’t care about scripture. I believe that, like many things Christians disagree about, it’s a different approach to or different emphasis within biblical interpretation that leads people to different views.

    I think you’re spot on here. I can only speak from the ‘traditionalist’ side and say that I have long given up using ‘homosexuality’ as a litmus test (yes, there was a time when I used to). But, I have friends who are much more ‘conservative’ than me on every issue but this one!

    I have to say that overall I am much more impressed with the way British Methodism has handled this than the Church of England or American Methodism. I think the vision you lay out can come about much closer here if we continue the way we have been going.

  3. I too like the Derby resolutions and see them as a bridge to grace. It is too easy to get drawn itno heated debates. I am personally an inclusivist, but like you I am willing to admit I am wrong!

  4. Thanks, Sally, for your comment. I see Derby as a bridge to grace, too. I would rather stay in conversation with people, especially hearing their experiences and how they read the texts. Maybe I won’t always agree, but I don’t see the need to kick anyone out over this.

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