Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Better Way

{Author's Note:  After posting my previous piece (A Reason for Separation?) it seemed important to me to share my thoughts regarding the worth and value of people along the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and what ministry with persons along this spectrum might look like in traditionalist settings.  This was published in the South Carolina Advocate early in 2019.}

            As we approach the called General Conference in February 2019, I find myself reflecting on the differences between traditionalists like myself and the progressives who wish to alter our current standards.  I freely admit right up front that I am in the words of Tom Berlin et al a traditional non-compatibilist.  I stand on our Discipline the way it is currently written.  The standards regarding sexuality were the same when I was certified, licensed, commissioned and finally ordained.   At each point along the way I agreed to uphold those standards, and I freely admit now that those are the standards I will continue to live by regardless of what happens at the 2019 General Conference.  But according to many of my progressive friends there is no problem here.  Under the One Church Plan I can continue to live by those standards, and they can choose to live by a separate set of standards.  So it seemed wise to me to try and articulate for my progressive friends some of the differences we have as I see it, and perhaps to help them see why I can’t agree to live by a separate set of standards regarding human sexuality and still say we exist under the same umbrella of authority.
Let me begin by saying I think many progressives are right in thinking a lot of traditionalists just don’t want anything to do with the LGBTQ+ community.  I have always thought this.  I fear many traditionalists write off the possibility of transformation in the life of homosexuals to the same degree the progressives do.  And in this I will admit the progressives have us beat.  They do care about the homosexual.  I wonder if they are really helping this community, but I do think they care.  And for that they must all be commended. 
But I also think there are still a lot of traditionalists who believe there is a better way to engage this community than simply saying, “It is okay.  You were made this way.”  We believe God has a better way.  We believe God’s call regarding sexuality is straightforward and clear in Scripture.  We believe people struggle with all manner of issues regarding sexuality and identity and the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community are not to be treated as some kind of especially heinous or gross sin.  We believe homosexuals, and those dealing with questions of gender identity, need a loving supportive community of faith where they can be loved and belong and not inappropriately judged.  We believe their questions and struggles will not automatically or instantaneously go away by submitting to Scripture’s prescribed means of sexual expression.  We believe they will fall into temptation and will need the community of believers to help them trust in God’s forgiveness and move forward with a new resolution, strength and will to live victoriously in Christ.  We believe having faith in Jesus brings justification; that they are fully accepted and justified before God by simply believing in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  We believe they will spend a lifetime being sanctified and growing in their understanding of grace.  We believe these are people who have something valuable to share and teach us about the grace of God.  We believe that the grace of Jesus Christ, found in the loving community of the church ought to bring about transformation in the life of the person who currently identifies as LGBTQ+, in the same way we believe it for every person who turns to Christ for salvation.  These are some of the things we believe.  But perhaps it might also be helpful to share some things we traditionalists don’t believe about life as a LGBTQ+ person.
We don’t believe LGBTQ+ persons are just willingly living sinful lives.  In other words we do believe orientation, as a way to describe what one feels inside, is a real thing.  But we don’t believe orientation is the defining factor in anyone’s life.  We don’t believe this struggle is solved by simply “committing to a life-long monogamous relationship.”  I know some will think me crass for bringing it up, but I think progressives need to understand this.  To many traditionalists the idea of a committed monogamous relationship for the LGBTQ+ person sounds like arguing for polygamy for those who have committed adultery and will not be faithful to their spouse.  To us it really just sounds like using the grace of God as a license to do what you want as long as you can rationalize it in a way that seems acceptable in your own eyes.  We don’t believe the LGBTQ+ community ought to be kicked out of the church.  And we don’t believe that being born that way means that it is God’s best for anyone.
Because we do see issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community in this way, we do find it hard to understand why we would be encouraged to ignore our conscience regarding the practices of those who will lead our churches and ministries, and hence we wonder if the United Methodist Church cares about our concerns anymore.  We wonder if you want us around to talk about these things, or if you just want us to give up the ghost so to speak and accept and believe what you’ve come to believe.  We wonder if after all the years we’ve spent listening and debating these things and seeing the value of your care and concern if you can even begin to see the value in our concerns?  What we hear you telling us is that God doesn’t have a better way, and we just can’t accept or tolerate that.