When Holy Conversations on homosexuality tell only half the story

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything on the topic which threatens to split our denomination apart.  I do so today only as a response to a clergy gathering conversation that occurred yesterday at our pastor’s convocation in Holston Conference.

The conversation itself was great.   We split into groups of four or five and spent an hour responding, each in turn, to four questions pertaining to homosexuality.  It was refreshing to share openly with colleagues about our own experiences, traditions, interactions with scripture and reason regarding this pivotal issue facing our global church. It was a fine example of how people of differing opinions on a crucial matter can dialog responsibly and charitably.

The conversation itself was not a problem.  What concerned me was how only half the story was told when introducing the conversation.

Prior to our splitting into groups, a video was shown telling the story of a young man who took his own life because he was gay and couldn’t reconcile that with a pastor who told him he was going to hell while shutting him out of the life of the church.   As tragic as this story is, and needs to be told, it is only one side of the story.

It would have been nice if this story was followed by one of many other stories that exist, such as that of Christopher Yuan, a gay man who struggled for many years with suicidal thoughts and rejecting God who was prayed over daily by a Christian mother and loved without reserve until the day Jesus moved into his life in such a radical way his life was forever changed.  Today he travels the world sharing his testimony. He has not been led to seek a change of desire so that he might one day love and  marry a woman, but loved into a community of people who enable him to find greatest joy in Jesus.   His fulfillment is not found in his sexuality or in another person but in his submission to God’s will for his life.

Why isn’t that story being told prior to our holy conversations?   Why aren’t stories of the many people who have found lasting joy and fulfillment in submitting their fleshly desires to the desires and designs of God?

For many of us, our current position on homosexuality has been largely influenced by the people we know.   But when only one side of the story is being told – the one that suggests you must be either fully affirming OR you are homophobic,telling people they are going to hell – we are not being fair to both the people tasked with making decisions about the future of our church OR to the many men and women with stories just like Christopher Yuan’s.

By all means, let us continue having holy conversations.   But let us also tell the whole story.

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12 thoughts on “When Holy Conversations on homosexuality tell only half the story

  1. Thanks, Chad!
    I think your conference is simply repeating the message they are hearing through the official communication channels of our church. Have you read through the latest Circuit Rider? It is also terribly one sided. I posted to that effect in the open UM clergy group on Facebook and received affirmation from many that they felt the same. Unfortunately, when you hold an historic, orthodox view, it becomes mainstream and does not get the traction that novel, progressive views do with our media. While the views related by Circuit Rider and the video you were shown are clearly not those of the majority of today’s United Methodists, and certainly not United Methodists throughout the ages, those among us who are least United Methodist in theology and polity have stolen control of our seminaries, the episcopacy, our mission agency, our publishing house, and many other pieces of the institution that are responsible for and have the means to share the message of the gospel with the church and beyond. Like Dr. Tom Oden, I wish I had a giant roll of stickers that said “stolen property” that I could stick on all these offices and their publications. If John Wesley and the people who built these institutions could see how the people who have presided over their decline for the last 50 years have abused the sacred trust granted them, they would be furious. Like Dr. Marty Martin, I think that John Wesley would need a private jet and a hummer and spend all his time racing around, confronting and correcting the message coming from the people called Methodist. See, there was some sense in requiring that Methodist preachers preach his sermons, use his hymns, and stick to his notes on the Bible. Keep up the good work!
    Blessings,
    Dave

  2. Amen and amen, Chad!
    Sadly, some of the individuals who are becoming most marginalized are our brothers and sisters who dare to tell a story different from the prevailing one — stories of gay persons who are living in holy chastity or heterosexual marriage are too often ignored, dismissed, or (worse yet) those who tell them are castigated. I pray for all who are courageously living a different story.

  3. I think the primary reason “the other side” of the story isn’t told is because it historically hasn’t been told well. Heterosexual Christians tend to talk about celibacy as “the cure” for being LGB, and not as a gift from God. There is indeed a small group of LGB Christians who have been given the gift of celibacy from God, just like there is also this group for heterosexual Christians too. The problem I, and many other LGB Christians have, is that this minority of people is used to shame us into celibacy – heterosexual Christians try to force us to be celibate or to “give the gift” of God on God’s behalf, without God’s permission.

    I have no problem with celibate LGB Christians following the Spirit’s leading and being obedient, I do have a problem with heterosexual Christians using these Christians’ narratives as a blueprint. Not all LGB Christians are called to celibacy, but all have been bullied by other Christians, all have been abused, insulted, excluded, and made to feel worthless by other Christians using the Bible and claiming to be following God’s lead.

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing.

    • I have been thinking about your comment, Jarell, and I would like to say that you are correct when you say that celibacy is a spiritual gift. St. Paul would agree with you on that point. However, I would also like to say that not everyone who chooses to be celibate sees it as a gift. I have never felt “called” to celibacy. Rather, I AM called to holiness, and I am called to seek the kingdom of God as my first priority. I see celibacy more as the default state for faithful, unmarried Christians (and I am clear that Christian marriage is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman). The choice to engage in sexual relations outside of the holy estate of Christian marriage is contrary to Christian teaching.

      I DO have some experience with spiritual gifts. God has healed people through my prayers and my touch. I often use the gift of tongues when I pray, and God sometimes uses me to speak his word (prophesy). When these spiritual gifts are given I am clear that it is a supernatural experience. My celibacy is NOT supernatural in the same way. My celibacy is a CHOICE that I make as a person who seeks to faithfully follow Jesus. It is a sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom of God. In retrospect, I think God has used my celibacy as a witness to others who are tormented by sexual temptation. In addition, my singleness allows me to be more bold for the sake of the kingdom, than I could be if I were responsible for the well-being of a spouse and children.

      I honestly do not believe that a person who chooses to engage in behavior that scripture condemns should expect the approval and affirmation of the church. Certainly sinners are welcome to participate and contribute to the community life of the church; but those in leadership are called to exemplify Christian behavior.

      Even if you are offended by my testimony and example, and the testimony and example of other Christians who resist their sexual urges, I hope you will heed the words of scripture and choose to follow Jesus, who was tempted in EVERY way that we are, yet remained sinless to the end. He gives us his own example as a blueprint for holiness…

  4. As a single, celibate Christian my voice is not being heard in this conversation. Years ago, I was overwhelmed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ, and I committed my life to following Christ with ALL of my being. Sometimes I have wondered why God did not match me with an husband, and sometimes I regret that I have not been blessed with children; but I do not regret my decision to follow Jesus.

    There was a time in Methodist history when preachers were mostly single. Married preachers were frowned upon because they were not as able, or willing to face the trials of itineracy. Now, it seems that single Christians are viewed with suspicion rather than admiration,respect, or appreciation. It also seems as though the FIRE has gone out of the Methodist movement as we have settled into our nice Christian communities nurtured by a stationed (and usually married) pastor.

    I am not gay. I am single. I identify with the fervor of St. Paul and Frances Asbury. I also believe that those of us who are celibate for the sake of God’s Kingdom need to speak up. We need to STOP being shamed into silence. We need to say NO to the pity we often meet in our church and claim our rightful dignity. Engaging in sex IS a choice (except in the case of rape).

    I’d also suggest that MARRIED Christians might do well to abstain from sexual relations for limited season to devote themselves to a time of prayer as St. Paul recommends. In fact, this might be an appropriate way to prepare for General Conference.

  5. Good point! Another “other side of the story” that I have yet to see surface within the UMC is how denominations like the Wesleyan Church and the Assemblies of God are experiencing/have experienced significant growth in the last years while maintaining the traditional orthodox stance on sexuality. Within the last 5 years, I personally monitored the Wesleyan Church for a couple of years, and during that time they posted 3 consecutive years of record growth. Their stance is not necessarily the reason for their growth, but it sure shoots holes in the argument that the UMC is failing because of its “discriminatory attitudes” towards the gay community.

  6. A further thought: A couple of months ago I read “The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are” by Jenell Williams Paris, a social anthropologist and conservative/traditional Christian. The book confirmed my suspicion that the church is not asking the right questions when addressing this issue. Here are a couple of quotes that fed into a question that has hung around for me–Why would anybody want to be identified by who they have sex with?:

    “Theology that privileged marital sex in Grandpa’s day and earlier takes on new meaning in today’s world: it privileges heterosexual persons over all other persons. Because sexuality has moved center stage in defining human identity.

    …Instead of questioning the validity of sexual identity altogether, Christians have mostly focused on either morally elevating heterosexuality over homosexuality or equalizing all sexual identities as blessed.”

    It was quite an interesting read!

    • Retired Bishop Timothy Whitaker has an excellent article (you can find it online) making the same point. To talk of persons having a “homosexual” or “heterosexual” identify is to begin a conversation on ground totally foreign to a Christian anthropology.

  7. Pingback: Sexuality and the Church: The Liberal Litmus Test | umc holiness

  8. Any recommendations on a conservative/traditional umc church in the east Kansas City, MO area? They all seem to be very liberal/progressive.

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