Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church
Note: As part of Christ United Methodist Church’s response to our Bishops’ call for greater study of the homosexual issue I was asked if I’d write a position paper in support of inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in all facets of our church life. I assumed that a paper addressing the opposing position has also been requested. ~ Dale G. Merkle October 2000
Some of you were probably surprised, may even have been dismayed, when I rose in church the second Sunday of May 2000 and read the following statement.
I have a sorrow.
This past week at General Conference the delegates voted 628 to 337 to continue discriminating against about 10% of the world’s population that are members of the United Methodist Church. Those gifted by God with same-sex affectionate orientation have been told, once again, by this church, “You are second class.”
As most of you know, Mary Lynn and I are the parents of two gay sons who we love unconditionally. And, most of you know that I have worked within this community for the past five years to gain equal civil and human rights for all gays and lesbians. The action taken at General Conference has made me feel angry, disheartened and disenfranchised. It is like I have been asked to leave the church – to take my beliefs elsewhere, even though I firmly believe that I am doing what Jesus would do.
Once again I ask for prayers for our delegates to General Conference. They voted to continue in the sins of heterosexism and homophobia. They will need our prayers when the newspapers report continued hate language against those who are homosexual, when the TV anchor reports yet another murder of someone who is gay or lesbian, when another gay-basher tells the judge that he (or she) was taught to hate another of God’s children.
I have a sorrow; its name is The United Methodist Church.
How did I come to such a state of mind? Why did the United Methodist Church General Conference decision on this issue provoke such an outcry from me? Well, let me tell you some of “my story” and why I think that the United Methodist Church ought to be an inclusive, affirming church. (See John 13: 34-35 & Mark 12: 28-31.)
I was in Washington, D.C. in the last week of April 2000 directing a national workshop on school safety for gay and lesbian youth. It is generally in the teen years that students “come out” to themselves; and, too often, their environment is filled with hate language and physical abuse.
I went from the conference in D.C. to the United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland to lobby on behalf of my sons and other gay men and lesbian women. The position I was advocating asked the church to remove exclusionary language and insert a statement that essentially said, “While we are not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality, we nonetheless agree that all people are worthy of God’s grace.” The vote at General Conference was a difficult one for me and for others who have worked for years for full inclusion in our church.
Some of you may think that our gay and lesbian family members and neighbors are weird or even sinful. In my youth I was taught to think that way – in my home, in my church and in my community.
My conversion began in 1984 when our oldest son told us he was gay. It was a shock and, because of the way in which we had been indoctrinated, an undesirable bit of knowledge that caused my wife, Mary Lynn, and me much soul searching and weeping. However, our love for our son never wavered. We learned anew what “unconditional love” meant to us. For those of you who perhaps don’t know, 1984 was also the year that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church passed the “Houston Declaration.” That document extended the exclusionary language of the Discipline to prohibit ordination of gay and lesbian seminary graduates as pastors. The minister of the UM Church we attended signed that declaration. As you can imagine, Mary Lynn and I found it impossible for us to seek our pastor for care when we were trying to deal with this new knowledge.
As educators, we began to research this topic. Over the next few years we read every pertinent scripture and every science and social journal we could find. But, while gaining considerable knowledge about the naturalness of same-sex affection for some, we were still silent about our son. When our son had come out of the closet, we had gone in. We didn’t tell anyone for a long time. Only a few of our closest friends knew even two years later.
Then my son, home for a weekend visit, asked me why I wasn’t “out” with the information openly. That question changed my life. With the knowledge Mary Lynn and I had gained through research, study of the Bible and other relevant experiences and with the blessing of all our children, we began to advocate for justice and equality for gay and lesbian persons. (See John 10: 16)
There had always been gay and lesbian teachers in the communities where we had taught. Every school, every church, every extended family and every community included them. Most of the time we didn’t distinguish them as homosexual; we sort of ignored that particular part of their personality. Or, perhaps, we were just too naïve to even think about it or identify it. But, we were (and continue to be) moral enough to treat them with the same respect we gave to others. (See Jeremiah 23. Read it carefully with special attention to verses 25-32)
I began to know, in the most complete of intellectual and spiritual ways, thathomosexuality was a gift of God, just as heterosexuality is for most, and a natural condition for about 10 percent of the world’s population. The biological process for this is only now beginning to be understood. Believing that, I began to advocate for full inclusion of homosexuals in our church and for equality and justice in government and workplace policies.
Most people are gifted with heterosexuality and discover an overwhelming attraction to the opposite sex early in their teens. Gay men and lesbian women discover the sensations of same-sex attraction in the same way. Neither gays nor straights choose their sexuality. The idea that homosexual persons represent a threat, or are sick or have a need to be cured is based on fear, ignorance and prejudice. Such attitudes are hurtful, unfounded and unloving. (See I John 4: 20-21. Also, see publications of the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association on this subject.)
I have thoroughly studied the Bible. In the long history of intolerance the Bible has been used to justify the punishing of heretics, the burning of witches, the enslaving of Blacks, the denigrating of women, and the persecution of Jews, Muslims and other “enemies.” These actions are a perverted usage of scripture and bring embarrassment to most Christians today. (See Romans 2: 1-5 & 13: 8-13)
But, while we have basically gotten past the prejudice we had about Afro-Americans, women and those of other faiths, most Christian churches, including our own United Methodist Church, continue to create a climate for hate, fear and exclusion of gay and lesbian persons. In so doing, our church must accept part of the blame for the continued use of hate language against our gay and lesbian youth and the abuse, even murder that sometimes is delivered “in the name of God.”
For years our church and other churches have taught the misconception that gay and lesbian persons are unworthy of equality. This has created an atmosphere of hate and fear. Many gay and lesbian youth have grown up in this homophobic environment and convinced themselves that they must simulate the straight lifestyle in order to escape harassment, be accepted and to succeed in life. Many marry, have children, and then, under horrific psychological pressures, find they can no longer live a lie. Many, otherwise fine Christian people, are quick to condemn these actions.
Instead of supporting love and companionship for all, our culture has mocked gay and lesbian persons for being different than most of us. Yet we know that God has created a myriad of different people; different in size, color, talent, religion, culture and, yes, sexual orientation.
Religious thinking that admits that sexual orientation is a gift of God but denies love, companionship and full justice for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is self- contradictory and, I believe, sinful. (See Galatians 3: 23-28.)
My study of this topic has led me to the conclusion that the only moral stance that makes any sense is that the church and our greater society should encourage homosexuals to fulfill their need for love and intimacy in the same way we nurture heterosexuals. Encourage them to seek life-long companions; bless their unions; sustain them in their trials; recognize and embrace their talents in the church and in all facets of society. I believe that to continue to exclude gays and lesbians from any corner of our churches is unloving and immoral. To ostracize them or put them in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment, to me, is sinful. The hostility that has been aimed at these special people of God lacks a moral foundation. We must move to repent for these transgressions. (See I John 1: 5-10)
I realize the difficulties that our church will face in changing our stand, both culturally and spiritually, but the United Methodist Church has traditionally been a leader in social change. When a body has advocated a particular position for a long time (30 years in the Discipline but longer in practice) change is often sensed as a weakness. It will not be easy to see it as an opportunity for justice. I believe that is why the Bishops have called for this study. All facets of the topic must be examined.
I want to conclude with a special appeal to people in our congregation who may still have strong reservations on this issue, yet I know personally to have tender, caring hearts. I appeal to you as a father who has been deeply touched by the suffering of my own family. I love my gay sons with all my heart and am proud of them. The thought that our church considers them unacceptable to God causes my heart to ache. I can’t believe that those people who consider my sons as sick or sinful realize how much hurt they are causing – for my sons and for other gay and lesbian persons. This is why I am appealing to you to take the time to study this issue in depth. I believe that you need to ‘hear the stories’ of our gay and lesbian friends to discover that they are just ordinary human beings like the rest of us. I hope you will take the time to listen, to reflect and to pray. Our family will be enormously grateful that you care that much. And many other families will be as well.
We must open our minds and our hearts in order to discover anew what Jesus would do.
Originally posted 2012-03-29 00:35:19.