4-26-15 ser Inspired to Care: Beyond the Bounds

The United Methodist church has been struggling with its policies and rules about its welcome to LGBT folks – Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered people – for decades. It’s an issue which I know still divides our congregation, though it has never been as divisive here as in some places, partly because we haven’t talked about it much. We have just been a loving little congregation and welcomed everybody – up to a point. That “up to a point” is what I would like for us to talk about in the next few months. At Church Council today after church we are proposing an evening to outline that discussion in a way that we can be sure everybody is heard and respected. At our winter retreat and at our last church council meeting, St. Luke members expressed their desire to become more publicly welcoming and inclusive of LGBT folks, to become a reconciling congregation and we want to make sure that we are sensitive and careful about our religious traditions and beliefs as we take these steps. Listen for the word of God for you this day from the first letter of John.

I John 3:16-24 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ died for us. And we, too, ought to lay down our lives for our sister and brothers. If you have more than enough material possessions and see your neighbors in need yet close your hearts to them, how can the love of God be living in you? My children, our love must not be simply words or mere talk—it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth. This, then, is how we’ll know we belong to the truth, this is how we’ll be confident in God’s presence, even if our consciences condemn us.  We know that God is greater than our consciences and that God knows everything. And if our consciences do not condemn us, my friends, then we have confidence before God, and we will receive whatever we ask from God’s hand—because we keep the commandments and do what is pleasing in God’s sight. The commandments are those that we believe in the name of God’s Own, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another as we were told to do. Those who keep these commandments live in God and God lives in them.  We know that God lives in us by the Spirit given to us.

April 26, 2015

Inspired to Care: Beyond the Bounds

This cartoon in the New Yorker appeared a few years back. A man sitting in his living room comments to his wife, “Gays and lesbians getting married. Oh dear, haven’t those poor people suffered enough?”

There has been a dramatic and rapid change in public opinion in our society over the last few years about gay marriage, and the Supreme Court plans to rule on whether to legalize gay marriage nationally this spring. Gay folks and their allies feel like this change is long overdue, as they have experienced and tolerated discrimination for years. Other people feel like the change, given that it is a dramatic redefinition of marriage, a foundational institution in our society, is too rapid, that the implications and ramifications of the this change have not been fully considered in a rush to allow marriage rights to same sex partners.

I have listened carefully to both sides of the argument over the years. I have advocated for a change in our church policies, and because of that I have worked especially hard to listen to folks who think the changes are happening too fast. The church is in an awkward position these days, as the society around us has changed and the church is unsure of how to change and how much to change.

I know for many at St. Luke this issue feels like a no-brainer. We love all our members and we want to treat them all equally. All three United Methodist bishops from Pennsylvania this past week publicly supported a bill in the PA legislature to end discrimination against LGBT folks. There is near unanimous condemnation in our denomination of the bullying, name-calling, & physical abuse of Gay and Lesbian people that was routine during the time that I was growing up. At annual conference, unfortunately, I still hear some of that kind of talk that can lead to bullying and even murder. It’s a shame that it is still prevalent, but the church officially is united against that kind of discrimination.

We disagree, however, about allowing publicly Gay and Lesbian people to lead our congregations – to be ministers of the Gospel. I thought that this policy would change before our policies on marriage, because I know so many wonderful gay pastors and musicians who have been doing exemplary work in the church for years. What changed is that many of gay folks are no longer willing to hide who they are. Some still have to and you would be surprised if I told you some of the highly respected leaders in our denomination who are gay, but have had to hide out of fear that they would lose their jobs if people knew.

The old tradition of hiding and winking and quietly making exceptions doesn’t work any more and the United Methodist church is expelling and chasing away wonderful leaders and ministers by not accepting them fully into our church. It really doesn’t work any more. Becoming a Reconciling Congregation would be saying that we recognize that fact.

The argument against accepting these leaders include fears that they will encourage more people to become homosexual, concerns that our society will unravel because of “loosening standards of morality,” and belief that scripture commands that homosexuality is unacceptable, so we just can’t allow it. The traditional interpretation of the Bible and in our denomination has been that people need to be celibate when their single and that gay people can’t get married, so gay people are inherently sinful when they are sexual. One pastor worried to me in the Arch St. meetings that if the church allows some people to do same sex weddings then he would be forced to weddings that he doesn’t think are sanctioned by God. We will examine all these concerns and questions in our discussions in Church Council today and over the next few months.

We will pay particular attention to the ethics of the church. The church is a key moral and ethical teacher in our society and we take that responsibility very seriously. We don’t teach that everybody can just do their own thing and we have to accept it. The disintegration of the family and of the institution of marriage is a real ethical concern for us today and we have to address that concern more directly to have any credibility as ethical models.

And that’s why our discussion of marriage is so important. It is ironic that some gay and lesbian people passionately want to embrace this institution that so many straight people are leaving or ignoring. Marriage is an important institution for our society. Marriage has changed quite a bit in ways that we have accepted without acknowledging. We will talk about those changes and our advocacy of marriage and family and love as important values for our faith and our society.

I hope you will join in this important discussion over the next couple of months, starting on Tuesday evening, May 12th. The basis of our discussion will be our understanding that, as stated in our scripture for this morning, God is love, that we are called not to love just in word or speech, but in truth and action.

So we know we are God’s because we love what is right, and because we love God’s people despite our failures and shortcomings. We will get discouraged at times because we do fall short, because we do have trouble living out God’s love and God’s expectations in all parts of our lives. We don’t always agree on what that means, but the reading helps us to understand we belong to Christ when we humbly acknowledge God’s love as the guide to all that we are and all that we do.

We love what is right. We don’t believe that anything goes, that anybody can do whatever they want to do, and it doesn’t matter. It does matter. In the church, we are reaching for God’s truth, God’s teaching, and God’s way. That said, God knows us better than we know ourselves, and we do get confused or fall short at times. We live into God’s grace and depend on God’s forgiveness and re-direction over and over again. Through prayer and work together as God’s community, we will find our way forward as a church. We offer God’s grace to each other as we limp forward toward being models of God’s love and God’s way, to be God’s people, to be God’s loving faithful people,

Responsive hymn: 518 O Thou, In Whose Presence