Thursday, April 20, 2006

HERE WE GO AGAIN?


Over at gavoweb, gavin writes, "in what seems to be the largest 'coming out' action ever. 75 methodist ministers are coming out in a letter to the church leaders discerning through the sexuality debate within the umc."

This was the first that I heard concerning this and I'm sure with the Judicial Council meeting next week we'll be hearing more. My prayer is that we'll model the gospel and love of Jesus to all of our brothers and sisters despite our different ideas. Whenever difficult issues arise we always run the risk of allowing ourselves to put our differences above our unity.

I found a wonderful interview with Bishop (and one of my heroes) Will Willimon where he addresses homosexuality with an interviewer from Good News. The highlighted parts of Willimon's responses are my emphasis and the red remarks are my remarks.

GN: Should gay people be accepted into membership?

Willion: Sure, as long as they desire to be cleansed of their sin and free from the wrath to come. Any gay person who wants to join our church, after all the statements we’ve made about the sin of homosexual practice, must be one of the most gracious people in the world. We could use more gracious people in our church. (great statement!!)

When I joined the church I was extremely greedy and lustful. God has worked on me. I’m still greedy and lustful, but you wouldn’t believe how much better I am since I met Jesus. I’m a heterosexual, though not that active at the moment, but I assume that if Jesus can forgive and transform me, it’s not too much of a reach to think he can do that for an openly gay person.

Jesus never said it was hard to save gay people. He said it was hard to save rich people like Don Trump and Bill Gates and me. Still, with God, all things are possible! (and usually the rich remain rich, what does that say about God's grace?)


GN: What should we do about the ordination of homosexuals?

Willimon: Who told you that was a big issue? We’ve lost three million members in a couple of decades. None of that has anything to do with gay people! It has to do with the failures of heterosexual Christians!

We don’t have much problem in Alabama with lots of gays wanting to be ordained. We have a big problem with modestly talented, not too energetic or passionate heterosexual people wanting to be ordained. I wish Good News would do more good work in trying to get the very best, the most faithful pastoral leaders in our church and worry less about gays, ordained or not. But they haven’t asked me.

Our church appears ambivalent about abortion, about the evils of corporate America, about the invasion of Iraq, but we sure know a lot about gay people, so much more than the Bible. I can tell you exactly what our church believes about sex, but I can’t tell you exactly what Jesus believes about sex.

I think it’s strange. Still, I support whatever General Conference says on any subject and will do my best to carry out the will of our church on this or any other matter. I work for General Conference.


GN: What should we do about gay marriages?

Willimon: You’re just full of scripturally irrelevant questions, aren’t you George? We don’t do gay marriages in our church. Period. I’m more worried about all the marriages that we do and that fail, than I am about the gay marriages we don’t do.

(hat tip to Wayne for interview)

27 comments:

daniel greeson said...

i love Willimon.

John said...

Like most of Willimon's writings, he dodges the questions -- evening bringing up Iraq to distract us from the antics of these dissenters! Shame on him. He should have the guts to answer questions head-on.

AlecHoover said...

They should call him Will Sinalot!

St.Phransus said...

i don't think he's dodging the points or distracting. he's simply showing the disconnect in our doctrine.

Thunder Jones said...

Alec Hoover is an ass. +Willimon is more concerned with the gospel than with a divisive cultural issue that right-wingers (coughRovecoughBushcough) use to divide people in order to win elections.

Sure, we need to struggle with this issue, but +Willimon is dead-on when he claim that this issue ought to be a lot further down on our priority list.

TN Rambler said...

Jonathon,
I especially liked Willimon's response on the ordination question:

We don’t have much problem in Alabama with lots of gays wanting to be ordained. We have a big problem with modestly talented, not too energetic or passionate heterosexual people wanting to be ordained. I wish Good News would do more good work in trying to get the very best, the most faithful pastoral leaders in our church and worry less about gays, ordained or not. But they haven’t asked me.

But then again, that's just me.

Oh, and I agree with Thunder. Willimon hasn't dodged anything. He's making a very valid point that our priorities are screwed up.

AlecHoover said...

Mighty Christian of you there 'thunder'. You kiss your homosexual lover with that mouth?

St.Phransus said...

alec,
this blog's intent is to be a place of conversation not badgering. please refrain from comments such as the one above. keep it in a spirit of dialog.

jonathon

AlecHoover said...

Now hold on a second, he started it! He called me an a**.

There is a little double-standard here.

St.Phransus said...

Ok ok, to everyone who comments here: this is a space of respect. this blog's intent is to be a place of conversation not badgering. please refrain from comments such as the one above. keep it in a spirit of dialog.

Frank Assbury said...

I'm definitely with you Alec.

Wayne Bowerman said...

Jonathon,
Great post man. I really like what Willimon has to say. It doesn't seem to me that he dodges any questions. "We don’t do gay marriages in our church. Period." That is pretty firm language, yet he doesn't want to make it out to be the central issue that it's not. Sounds right to me.
Shalom,
Wayne

RevrdMark said...

Well, I must dissagree with Bishop Willimon in he view that this shouldn't be a priority for us in the UMC or other Christian denominations and traditions. Regardless of how you feel on the specifics of Gay Marriage or Ordination the roots of the question affect what we believe about scripture, Devine Revelation, Social Justice, Personal Piety and the effectiveness of our clergy. I'm tired of clergy who can't live in the tension of life in ministry and be able to ministry to all people who say in effect "there are bigger issues than the one you think is important."

John Wilks said...

Mark-

I think you miss Willomon's point. The gay issue is really small- there are few gays seeking either marriage or ordination.

And besides which, despite all our fighting, the gay issue is settled. Our BOD says "no" to gay marriage and "no" to no-celibate gays in the ministry.

But we have a huge failure to push heteros into holiness in our denomination. We're making too much of the sins of the few and not nearly enough of the sins of the masses.

And on both accounts, we are distorting God's grace and God's love.

All who shows repentance are welcome. And all who claim to be repentant should be expected to act accordingly.

And the Bishop is dead-on accurate in pointing out how we've failed to strike a healthy balance in these things.

I agree that homosexual practice is inconsistent with the Christian life.

But so is materialistic greed, environmental irresponsibility, lack of compassion for the poor, pornography, adultery, unforgiveness, selfishness, dishonesty, Biblical illiteracy, and spiritual apathy.

And let's be honest- homosexuality is a far less frequent problem in our churches than all of the above issues.

If we stop majoring on the minors, if we start expecting better accountability and more earnest discipleship on those more pressing issue, I predict that the homosexual issue will resolve itself.

But so long as the hypocrisy and spiritual laziness which plagues our denomination goes unchecked, we give fringe groups ammunition to make inroads. For if we heterosexuals don't have to repent for our many sins, how then can we ask a homosexual to repentant of their own?

And so we are left that warning from Jesus- that there is a plank in our eye which renders us helpless to remove the speck in the eye of the homosexual. When the straight majority in our denomination does something about the plank, we'll have clear vision for to help remove that speck.

Until then, no matter how right we are about homosexuality, we're just the blind leading the blind and our efforts, though well-intentioned, are mere vanity and hypocrisy.

M Lewis said...

We don’t have much problem in Alabama with lots of gays wanting to be ordained. We have a big problem with modestly talented, not too energetic or passionate heterosexual people wanting to be ordained.

Well I guess we know what the bishop thinks of his preachers.

John said...

John, you're right that we spend too much time fighting over homosexuality. The Left could do the church a huge favor by dropping the subject so that we can move forward with the work of the Kingdom of God.

Thunder Jones said...

Yeah, what's the harm of a few people feel like the church doesn't care about them and regards them as being deficient humans.

Sorry Cole, you're out of luck. We've deciced to move on. Consider yourself dehumanized! Whammy!

ColeWake said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Thunder.

Now as to John

"The gay issue is really small- there are few gays seeking either marriage or ordination"

You couldn't be more wrong. I know many gay and ordained UMC pastors, I know many seeking ordination, and I know many more gay people who would get married if they could (count me in this). I can promise you that the gay:straight ration of UMC clergy is far higher than the general population. Bring in decons and its even greater.

You can not underestimate the gay presence in the UMC.

Michael said...

Well said, John Wilks. Very well spoken.

Colewake: there is also probably a huge contingency of greedy adulterers in our churches as well. Shall we adjust doctrine to reflect the majority as well?

ColeWake said...

Now Michael,

You are stretching what I said. I never suggested that we should cater to people because of their numbers. I was simply responding to JW's assertion that "The gay issue is really small- there are few gays seeking either marriage or ordination"

It is not very fair to call me to task for something I didn't say.

John Wilks said...

John-
I agree. If the Left would only drop it, we could get on with other things.

But we on the right cannot control the left. We can only control ourselves. And until we conservatives clean up our own house, we're powerless.

Cole-
I've been a frequently visitor, lay-member, staff-member, or clergy in ten churches in four annual conferences over the last decade. I've met exactly one practicing homosexual in those places. On the other hand, I've known about a dozen ex-gays.

Now, when I went to the Student Forum as a representative for the Northwest Texas AC, I met a significant number of gays- almost all of whom were from confined geographic areas, mostly from the West Coast and the Atlantic Seaboard.

Now, I'm not sure of your location, but I suspect that if you'd get around a few more Annual Conferences, you'd discover that your experience is the exception and not the rule.

ColeWake said...

My location is currently Tennessee and I grew-up in Arkansas. Both places have a significant amount of gay people in the church, clergy or otherwise.

"I've met exactly one practicing homosexual in those places."

While I am sure you believe this, I would be willing to bet everything I have it is untrue. Maybe you didn't strike people as someone to be open with around this issue.

Conrad said...

Gay clergy are not so likely to tell everyone they are gay. I happen to know personally that there are several GLBT UMC pastors in Arkansas.

Some of these are retired, some are still in heterosexual marriages.

Years ago no one asked and most GLBT people were highly closeted.
Unfortunately many GLBT people used to get in heterosexual marriages because of the pressure from family & society. This certainly did no good to the heterosexual spuose or the children.

On a side note, I really think that most "ex-gays" are bisexuals that have shifted to exclusively the opposite sex or are heterosexuals that were highly confused and practiced homosexuality.

John said...

John Wilks-

Sure, let's clean up our own camp. If we could stop feuding over homosexuality, maybe we could spend more energy on fighting other, more common sins. Alas, the Left is doing its best to prevent us from doing so.

Conrad said...

I would as soon start with the sins that cause the most pain. Battling greed could do wonders to help end poverty.

I think that if we focus on doing what is right and good than many sins will actually take care of themselves.

John said...

Good! Then we can drop the homosexuality debate now. We can keep church law as it is and move foward with Kingdom work. Right?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Seven years makes a difference. Back then I was desperately trying to be "ex-gay" to satisfy what I had beeen taught about God's will. I was married to a wonderful woman. But I sank into severe depression, was an emotional mess, and my marriage fell apart. It took counseling and a reassessment of my life and theology to accept that I had been denying and stuffing down my deepest affections for decades. I am gay.

I don't think that's a sin or a problem. Mind you, I do have sins of craven fear, resentment, failure to love the poor sufficiently, lust, occasional slander, lack of care for my body, and unbelief that God will open up a new future for me. And the decades-long sin of self-hatred and homophobia. But if I were to marry a guy who is a fellow servant of Christ -- that's not a sin.

Some posters thought "the gay issue" is not important. I disagree. Working with suicidal gay teens, kids who have been rejected by their families, and adults whose faith has been repeatedly quenched by toxic haters of anything gay, I assure you it is very important. Christ is doing a new thing; I hope the Churches will listen to him.