I am writing from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, a wife and mother, and a lifelong Methodist who usually attends two Methodist churches every Sunday morning. I am writing because our denomination's teaching about homosexuality and the role of lesbians and gays in our denomination troubles me. As I read the headline stories about the murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and Billy Jack Gaither in Alabama, murders carried out because the victims were gay, I have been disturbed by the official policy of the United Methodist Church that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." I've wondered if those who are looking for reasons to hate are able to make a distinction between the Methodist policy and the hostile statements from the "God hates fags" organizations or if they see the attitudes as simply different degrees on a continuum of rejection. During this past year, as our Disciple II group has studied Luke and Acts, there were two major themes that kept grabbing my attention.
First, Jesus and the apostles were constantly doing and saying things that upset the religious authorities, those who saw themselves as the defenders of the faith against heresy. One thing that got Jesus and the apostles in trouble was that they kept reaching out to those whom others labeled as people to be excluded. Jesus and the apostles affirmed they intended to follow God's leading, not the rules of the religious authorities. Second, in Acts, there is a controversy that could have torn the early church apart. The Jewish Christians were uneasy about the Gentile Christians, who were different and thus suspect. The Jewish Christians said that in order for Gentiles to become part of the church, they first had to become like the Jews. Peter had a dream that convinced him that no one that God created could be called unclean and the dream is reported twice, to make sure we get the message Peter and Paul insisted that God calls all kinds of people into the church and all who respond are to be welcomed.
I think we Methodists are being faced with a choice -- are we going to act like legalistic Pharisees holding tight to our rules or are we going be faithful disciples of Jesus reaching out in love to the excluded and rejected? Another choice is whether we are going to be like the first century Jewish Christians who said "first you have to become like us" or are we going to think that Peter's dream is meant for us too and encourages us to welcome all and leave the judging to God? Why do we point to some of our most caring, giving, talented members and say "your sins are worse than our sins"? Doesn't it seem hypocritical, if not mean-spirited, to say that sexuality should find expression only within the committed, monogamous relationship we call marriage, but then tell lesbians and gays that their committed, monogamous relationships will not be acknowledged and that pastors who do so will be punished? Are we really going to expel pastors who minister to gay men and lesbians in their congregations at the same time that we reject the call to ministry for lesbians and gays? Why are we so pre-occupied with sexual orientation when the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, the refugees are so overwhelming? I would like to think my church is helping to overcome the hostility and alienation that I see everywhere -- in the city in which I live, in the nation, in the world at large. Instead, I see my church as an active participant in building up walls that divide people.