A recent post by Riley Case entitled “THE PRACTICE OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND GENERAL CONFERENCE: WHAT IS AT STAKE” illustrates the anxiety of many conservative United Methodist Christians over the issue of homosexuality as it arises again at the denomination’s General Conference (April 24 - May 4 in Tampa, Florida). He writes:
Another General Conference coming up for United Methodists and another showdown over the Bible, the tradition of the Church, and the practice of homosexuality. United Methodists will discuss some important matters in Tampa in April—restructuring, the budget, and the global nature of the church—but for the secular, as well as the religious press, the big news will be the decisions made around the practice of homosexuality.
For many evangelical or conservative United Methodists this issue amounts to: “Will I still be able to be a United Methodist after General Conference?” I know. That’s how it is every four years. This is why there is a Petition entitled “Two Denomination Task Force” (Petition #21007, page 856 in the DCA) among the General Conference materials. This petition will fail, of course. But, it does accurately reflect the depth of feeling many people have over this issue.
Plus, the conservatives feel that their side is losing.
So, I appreciate the fact that Riley Case has put these feelings into words.
But I want to focus particularly on these paragraphs:
The United Methodist position on matters related to the practice of homosexuality is clear: all persons are individuals of sacred worth; marriage is between a man and a woman; the practice of homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching. The Bible, as well as the tradition of the Church universal, is so clear about such things, that many persons are embarrassed as to why, if the UM Church is in the mainstream of world Christianity, these discussions are even taking place.
The discussions are taking place because an increasingly secular society, influenced by the weakening moral standards of the day, is moving toward the acceptance of homosexual practice and, tied to it, homosexual marriage. Secular society thinks it rigid and intolerant that there are still groups that believe that persons should be informed by religion about such things and that cultural enlightenment declares the church outdated and behind the times. Ultimately, approval of homosexual practice in society is inevitable.
What is discouraging to many of us is that there is a vocal group in the church — those who call themselves progressives — that agrees with the secular world.
And, here’s the thing: I think this is a mistaken perception. As Riley Case sees it, the secular society (what with its “weakening moral standards”) is putting increasing pressure on the church to compromise it’s faithfulness to the long-standing standards of its faith. Thus, under increasing pressure from a morally debased secular society, the turncoats within the denomination are undermining the Church’s commitment to the moral standards of its faith.
I don’t think that what’s happening. I think things are changing, but I don’t think that’s the reason.
And, it’s not because of any new insights about Scripture or Tradition or Reason or Science or whatever. Yes, the Scriptures condemn same-gender sex. Yes, the Christian Tradition condemns it. On the other hand: No, homosexuality is not a simple choice or a changeable orientation. And, yes, people see the evidence and issues differently.
The battle lines were drawn long ago and the arguments and perspectives have not essentially changed.
But, still, things really have changed.
I think as more and more gay people have come out about their sexuality, all of us have been forced to see who they really are. We discover we work along side them, socialize with them, are related to them — and in some cases, worship along side them. They are not some evil, unknown group we’ve heard about but do not know.
Many years ago I was serving a quite conservative UM congregation. One Sunday evening the subject of homosexuals came up. I don’t remember how or why. But, someone in the small, evening-service congregation expressed the view that God had sent HIV/AIDS to punish them for their immorality. Frankly, I was shocked to hear someone say that out loud — even more shocked when several heads nodded in agreement.
My thought was this: these people cannot possibly be talking about anyone they really know. I know them and they are people I honestly admire of their commitment to the Christian faith and ethic. They are people who seek to be an influence for good in this world. But what I just heard is: Yeah, God, go get them — punish the sinners! These are theoretical sinners. These are "those people." You know. Those other people — the people who are not like "us."
And, bear in mind, I’m old enough to have been raised at a time when good guys wore white hats, rode white horses; and bad guys wore black hats, rode black horses and had mustaches. It was always okay to shoot a bad guy. They were never mourned.
So, I knew when I heard this that these people were not thinking about their own sons or daughters or relatives or neighbors or long-time friends — they were thinking about some theoretical evil, immoral people with an evil Gay Agenda who were out to destroy all that was good and right and true. Bad guys. Get 'em, God!
And here’s my point: we can’t talk or even think about the issue that way anymore.
It took courage for gay people to "come out" openly about their sexuality. They risked rejection and misunderstanding. And, who talks about this sort of thing in public, anyway? But, they did it. And, because of that, things have changed.
Now we know who they are.
This is why young people are not sympathetic to the church’s condemnation of homosexuality. We are talking about their friends and relatives (or themselves) — and they know it. And, it’s not okay for the Church to even appear to be anti-gay. They take it personally.
Gay people have had enough courage to say: You’re talking about me. And it’s changing the conversation.
And, it appears to me the big change is this: we will no longer be able to discuss homosexuals without including them in the conversation.