I didn’t write yesterday because I used what time I had reading This Is How It Happened on Real Live Preacher. Gordon does a great job describing his pilgrimage to inclusiveness. Then came the comments, which — if you’ve spent anytime on RLP — you know are many. I threw in my two cents and went to work.
As I sat down this morning, I checked in again to find fifty new comments since yesterday. I read them all. As I said there, by the time I finished I was exhausted, encouraged (by some), and deeply saddened by some of the things people will say in Jesus’ name. Comments on a blog do not communicate tone effectively in every case, so I won’t assume to know people’s feelings or motivations, but their words made me sad because they said, on one way or another, gay and lesbian people should not be welcomed unconditionally into the church.
I don’t believe that.
I also don’t believe homosexuality is a sin. It is an orientation — a way of being — not a choice. If I say someone chose to be gay, then I have to articulate when I chose to be heterosexual; I didn’t choose it. I was born this way, as were my gay and lesbian friends. We miss the mark when we let the discussion be about sex. All of us are more than just sexual beings. My parents talk about “the gay lifestyle,” which translated means sexual promiscuity, which is certainly not limited to gays and lesbians. Sex for the sake of sex without regard for the other human being and without the necessary relationship is sinful and damaging, regardless of who is involved; being gay or lesbian, however, is not a sin. I understand there are different ways to interpret the passages, and I’m not claiming everyone has to read it my way. Good scholars are deeply divided on this issue. I am saying I’m not going against the Bible to take the stand I’m taking.
One other thing I believe: rarely does anyone change his or her mind in these discussions. We’ve already decided where we stand and we like to make our points. I’m not trying to pick a fight here, I just want to go on record — again — for who I think God is calling the church to be.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ in Massachusetts, I have the wonderful opportunity to be a part of a denomination who has chosen to welcome everyone, has ordained gay and lesbian ministers since the late seventies (when the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as mental illness), and — based on each congregation’s decision — can perform marriages between two adults who have committed their lives to one another under God. When same gender marriage became legal in our state, opponents ranted about the threat to “traditional” marriage. I wondered what they meant: anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night? threatening letters? gangs of gay couples intimidating husbands and wives at the mall?
I would like to report, two years on, that Ginger and I have not been threatened in any way. Just the opposite. We have had the chance to attend the weddings of dear friends who have finally been able to feel completely welcome in the church and the faith to which they have committed their lives. One couple got married on their thirtieth anniversary. It was amazing.
The UCC designation for churches who want to be publicly intentional about welcoming everyone is open and affirming. You would think those two adjectives would fit any church. Too often, however, the public face the church puts forward is one of exclusion. Fred Phelps drove from Kansas to stand across the street from a wedding here in our state so he could scream,”God hates fags.”
That’s what Christians do?
I know he’s the lunatic fringe, and I know he’s also part of the “everyone” I think needs to be welcomed, and I know he’s sometimes the only person labeled “Christian” that some people encounter. I’m not trying to beat him up. My point is I can’t find a place where Jesus acted that way, or called us to do so.
When same gender marriage became the law here, our governor leaned into an old law to keep people from out of state from getting married here. The law, passed early in the twentieth century, was written to curb interracial marriage, which in its time was seen as a threat to “real marriage.” In terms of civil rights, his move brought the issue to clarity. The law was wrong then and it is wrong now. This is a matter of treating everyone equally, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes some of us.
Faith, however, is not about civil rights; it’s more than that. We are called to love the world — everyone not because it’s the legal thing, or even the moral thing, but because it is the truest thing we can do. There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea, says the hymn. From the beach at the end of my street, the sea is endless.
When it comes right down to it, all I know to say is this: when I stand before God to account for my life, if God says, “Why did you let so many people in?” I’ll take the hit. I can live with that. If God were to say, “Why did you keep closing the door when I intended there to be room for everyone?” I couldn’t take it.
And I can’t, for a minute, imagine God would ever say that.