June 19, 2015

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Dear Friends, 

I am writing to you in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Same- Sex Marriage.  I'm not writing to debate the merits of their decision; rather, I'm writing as your pastor to seek to help all of us within the Trinity family navigate these changing waters.  I will do this by using a series of questions, many that I have heard several of you asking.  

1.  How can Christians see this issue so differently from one another?  The truth is that within our Trinity family (and the larger Christian Community) there are deeply devoted, faithful followers of Jesus who serve and love others and are an inspiration to me and to many, who see the matter of same sex marriage very differently.  How is that possible?  Let me suggest an answer, not to persuade you of the validity of another's position, but to help you understand the other's view point.
   A.  Some of our Trinity family see the passages in Scripture (there are about six specific ones) related to homosexuality as forever true and forever binding, condemning the practice of homosexuality as wrong.  
   B.  Others of our Trinity family see these same passages in Scripture similar to Scriptural passages that affirm slavery, accept the subjugation of women, often as property, and endorse the destruction of whole communities, including women and children in times of war (yes, they're in the Bible; see the Books of Joshua and Deuteronomy).  Their point is that these views in Scripture have been superseded by the life and teachings of Jesus and His Gospel of Love for all humankind.  Indeed, as followers of Jesus none of any longer endorse slavery, the inequality of women or the mass killing of persons.  Similarly, many Christians have evolved in their understanding of divorce; 100 years ago, most Christians believed it was not permissible according to the Scriptures. Many Christians in Trinity believe that in light of new scientific, genetic and psychological understandings of the origins of homosexuality, that the ethic of love and grace supersede the prohibitions against faithful, covenantal same sex relationships.
     Now, how does this group view the teachings in the Bible that are specifically about homosexuality?  Basically in this way:  (1) the Old Testament passages are mostly in the Levitical Law section, and since we don't hold to many of those religious laws any more, so it is reasoned, Christians are not required to hold to those relating to homosexuality (read over the laws in the Book of Leviticus 19 for example:  "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material; Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head, or in chapter 20, we don't burn or kill people for sexual crimes; in 21, if a priest's daughter becomes a prostitute, we pray for her, we don't burn her in fire, etc).  In short, their thinking is that those laws were written for a particular time and place, and are no longer followed by Christians.

 (2) The primary Biblical Text that seems to condemn homosexuality is Romans1:26, 27.  These faithful Christians see these two verses as dealing primarily with either pedaphilia or abusive, promiscuous homosexual behavior; they do not believe these verses relate to a relationship of fidelity.  In addition, most of these persons have friends or relatives or both who are gay or lesbian, or are themselves gay or lesbian, and who are deeply devoted Christians, too, and who are perhaps in a loving, committed relationship.  Such personal relationships impact one's views in a powerful way. 

My point here is not to convince any of you that A or B above is the right view, but rather to explain how it is possible for deeply committed Christians to have very different views on this, and to demonstrate that those in group A (many of whom you know) are not homophobic because they believe this way, or that those in group B (many of whom you know) are not morally deficient because they believe the way they do; indeed, for them their view is one of moral conscience.  So, please, don't judge those who see this differently than you do.  Far better to ask them about their views, have a gracious exchange, and continue to love one another.

My goal here is to help us all stay in a spirit of unity and understanding and Christian love as we sort through these things.

2.  What will this Supreme Court ruling mean for the United Methodist Church? Nothing. Given the separation of Church and State, it will not immediately affect anything in the UMC.  The position of the UMC can officially be altered only through the action of General Conference - which is a representative group of United Methodists, elected by each Annual Conference from around the world; it meets every four years, and will meet in Portland, OR in May, 2016.  (I personally was elected to four earlier General Conferences, but did not submit my name for election the past two times; I can tell you, just like Congress and other representative legislative bodies, it's a glorious, messy, wonderful, exasperating entity - because the delegates are a lot like us!).  The issue of homosexuality has been hotly debated ever four years, for the past 40 years.  The vote has generally been about 60%-40% to retain the language of the Book of Discipline, which reads essentially:  We welcome all persons with love and acceptance, but hold that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to the teachings of Christianity; the UMC does not permit self-avowed, practicing homosexual persons to serve in ordained ministry, nor does it permit clergy to perform same sex marriage.  That's the past and current position.

In light of the Supreme Court decision, and the rapidly changing view of the country, and the reality that the Church is deeply divided over this matter, will the Church's position likely change?  Great question, and the answer is:  "I don't know; no one knows."  These factors come into play:
  (1).  There are a large number of delegates from the rapidly growing church in the "third"world or, the "emerging southern half of the world" and, as you know, in many of those countries, even being a homosexual person is against the law; which means that few of these delegates are likely to vote to change the legislative language - that has, at least, been the practice in the past.
   (2).  United Methodists in this country have, historically, reflected the "mood of the country" largely because we are a grass roots church, made up of regular folks.  This might mean that a majority of US United Methodists might support changing the language, but, again, we don't know that, and won't know that until Portland in May, 2016.

As we know from our Episcopalian and Presbyterian sisters and brothers, their churches and denominations have gone through terrible schisms over this issue.  I do not believe this is God's will for the Church, and certainly not for our beloved UM Church.  My prayers and my efforts have been toward unity, toward helping our Church stay "United."  Our United Church has had and continues to have so much to offer - in terms of its understanding of grace, its involvement in helping relieve suffering locally and around the world, in terms of its passion for missions and outreach, for its many educational institutions and hospitals, for its understanding of God as a God of infinite love; there is just too much good that has been done and still needs to be done for us to allow this one issue to divide us.

The truth is that across the UM Denomination, just as we see across our Trinity family, good, solid people, deeply moral, deeply faithful Christians see this issue differently.  I hope and pray we can live together in a spirit of the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17, and the spirit of love he called us to in John 13:34, 35.

I welcome your questions and comments; this is not the end of this important discussion, but only one installment.  I'm already working on the next one.  

Grace and Peace, Rev. Dan

Trinity United Methodist Church
4000 NW 53rd Ave | Gainesville, FL 32653

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