Tuesday, April 25, 2006


As I was driving home yesterday I was thinking about what I would say when I go before the Board of Ordained Ministry if they ask me what my stance is on homosexuality. I guess with the thought provoking comments I've received lately on my blog and the struggles to think through it I began to wonder how in the world I would answer that.

Do I share with them that although I see both sides of this issue, a larger part of me believes that its unfair to sum up someone because of who they are sleeping with/ who they aren't sleeping with/ who they'd like to sleep with/ or who they haven't slept with but might if things would ever change...? (this was meant to be tongue and cheek, but after re-reading it sounds really shallow if taken seriously. That was not my intent)

Do I share with them that I have a heart for those who have felt excluded for different reasons; that although I have grown up quite priveleged I also grew up in a very urban african-american neighborhood in Nashville and I know what it feels like to be a child who is "in the minority"; or finding yourself with a lot of older kids of a different race who are angry and sometimes hostile with you and you don't understand why, and really I'm not sure they knew why either? But feeling excluded and sometimes targeted and singled out hurts to the core.

Do I share with them that the other side of my growing up was knowing adults and kids my age in that same neighborhood who took me in to their homes, cooked the most incredible meals, played with me, and loved me and cared for me like I was their child? Having an entire neighborhood; a neighborhood that was utterly poor materially; surrounding the children, the way folks did in this community, was life shaping for me. I'd only hope that I could be a part of a church who is that for the "kid who ain't from this side of town".

Do I share with them my respect for our tradition and the entire catholic tradition of our faith? I'm not proud nor happy about all the choices we have made as a people but I love the history and traditions and Tradition of the church. And I love my heritage as a methodist.

Maybe some of this will come out in conversation with folks on the board... then again maybe not. But if I'm asked that loaded question- for some the $1billion question that could end up in "Deal or No Deal", I decided that I would probably say something like this:

BOARD MEMBER: So what is your position in the issue of homosexuality?

ME: I have to be honest with you. This is an issue that I have struggled with long and hard. For me this goes beyond doctrine and into relationships, some really deep and long friendships of mine. But, I have a strong regard for our tradition as methodists. As a United Methodist pastor I would adhere to the guidlines of the Book of Discipline concerning my stance on homosexuality, not because I necessarily believe that it is right. It doesn't really matter what I think, it's not all about me, it's about a community of dysfunctional family members called methodist who are trying to do this thing called "be the people of God". That's my family, and while I live "under mama and daddy's roof" I abide by their rules (that's what my mom taught me at least). - And that's what I would say if asked today. Don't quote me on that tomorrow though.

Somehow it was very freeing to get to the place where I could say, "It's not all about me and it doesn't have to be." I don't have to be right or wrong, just faithful to my calling and to our tradition. Maybe that sounds like I'm taking an easy way out for some and not standing alongside the marginalized or powerless within our denomination, and maybe some think it sounds almost heretical. We're living in different times and are going to have to address these issues in different ways folks. Arguments are outdated and do nothing for the Kingdom. Those arguments only serve the status quo. Methodists- it's time to open our hearts, minds and doors: WALK OUT the door, WALK in someone elses shoes and try and imagine thinking with THEIR mind, and maybe YOUR heart will be strangely warmed from the outside in.

Sorry for the rambling but that's exactly what a drive home for me is like.


Elizabeth said...

What a refreshing post to read. I'm more certain of my own thoughts about sexuality and the church, and more active, but I just really appreciate the very thoughtful way you talk about your struggles. It is not easy for people (for me) to admit struggle or confusion about things. I like, personally, just to have the answers. ;)

St.Phransus said...

don't we all!! thanks beth for sharing your thoughts too. i think as methodists we need to give each other permission to be where we are in all of these issues, and give permission for us to stretch each other a little and then step back and listen for God's guidance.

TN Rambler said...

Thank you for sharing in such a thoughtful way. And thank you for attempting to help all of us engage in meaningful dialog with one another. Too often, we fail to talk to one another in order to talk at one another...because it is easier.

St.Phransus said...

even the blog becomes a very "preachy" forum at times. and i'm as guilty as anyone. but thanks wayne for the kind words.

SLY said...

Great thougts Jonathan. I appreciate the conversation as we all struggle to figure out how to be more Christ-like in this world. This conversation has definetly give me some much needed "brain stretching"!

John Wilks said...
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John Wilks said...

Keep struggling, my brother! Honest struggle cannot help but be beneficial to our souls.

I will comment, however, that you immediately made a leap in theme.

The BOD asked you about homosexuality- a practice, an idea.

Yet you assume they've asked you to sum up persons. That is a large leap indeed.

On the one hand, it is nearly impossible for a compassionate soul not to make such a leap- how can you think of an orientation or a practice and not think of the people who have that orientation or live in that practice?

At the same time, inclination, preference, orientation, and practice, while strongly linked to identity, is not the sum total of identity.

And so our views on any behavior or tendency or trait or orientation do not comprise a final judgment on any one who bears that behavior or tendency or trait or orientation.

Our view of a persons should be far more complex and grace-driven to be reduced to any single aspect- even an aspect as foundational as sexuality. With all due respect, you've made an understandable but logically untenable jump which is exacerbating your inner turmoil.

Your compassion for people is admirable and rare- too few on either side of our United Methodist civil war- seem to keep such compassion front-and-center.

At the same time, how you feel about people themselves and how you feel about the realities which shape and define their lives cannot always be one-in-the-same.

Objectivity in ministry is difficult but necessary. On the one hand, even those whom we love most and who are victims of prejudice need to accountability. And on the other hand, people who do things we find sinful are none the less loved by God and need to be shown compassion and mercy.

So there can be a real tension in ministry- having to share a hard truth with one we love or having to love someone we'd rather ignore.

Your task, then, is to figure out what you think of the issue first- the simple abstract concept of what you think theologically about homosexual orientation and practice simply based on solid theological reflection.

Then, you must take that abstract reflection and hold it in balance with your feelings for the homosexual people around you- your great love and compassion for them.

Perhaps you will find harmony there between the two. Or perhaps you will find tension there as I have found.

Either way, it is your duty as a minister to seek a clear understanding of truth for truth's sake, and then apply truth in love. This can be a gut-wrenching process full of confusion, fear, and deep soul-searching.

But beware the temptation to allow either love or hate to distort your view of truth. Many good souls on both sides of this tense issue have become ear-scratchers rather than prophets because they could not or would not find some measure of objectivity. I pray that, what ever position you take, you don't make that same mistake.

I hope you find this helpful.

RevrdMark said...
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RevrdMark said...

Hi Jonathan,

I appreciated the "what will I say when asked.." post. I serve on the Elders Committee on our Conferences BOM. And quite frankly its always a bit entertaining to see people dance around this topic especially in interviews thinking "How much do I say... Am I compromising my beliefs... was I honest... what do they want me to say???"

I assume that our Conference (Pac NW) is a bit different than yours, I went to seminary in Wilmore, KY and have several Vandy graduate friends (We even like each other believe it or not)

I guess the what I wanted to say was as a board member (in a far away conference) I would be unhappy with the "while in my parents house..." response. I know in our board (and i hope others are similar) I don't want you to agree with my theology as much as I want you to be able to articulate yours in such a way that is faithful to our UMC tradition and to people who may be UMC or not.

I have colleagues who can say in good faith "I think the UMC's Disciplinary stance on Homosexuality is wrong" Some will root that statement in their beliefs of divine revelation, the nature of who God is etc.. Some will base that on "i have friends who are homosexual and I like them and they are good folk (Very simplified) As a BOM member I don't wanna' hear the "good Folk" answer. I wanna' hear how is what you believe about God, working in your soul, and how will it effect you ministry and call as an ordained elder. I wanna know how you will deal with the gay couple who comes to you and says "what's up with this para on 'incompatible with Christian teaching' thing?" That conversation and relationship to me is what shed light on one of the things that defines an effective clergy member and colleague (of which I'm afraid there are too few)

Can your soul as an ordained Elder thrive in the "Mom and Dad told me to do this in their house" frame? And is the ministry God calls you to going to thrive there as well? That's what I would want to hear from you in a BOM interview.

(not to be a Methodist cheerleader... kick em' in the other knee..) but I think the miracle of Wesley's Methodism is in the Personal Piety joined with the Social Holiness and our discussion on this topic seem to illuminate them for us. Your milage may vary :-)

Sorry to be so long... I hate people like me that post long comments on Blogs!

St.Phransus said...

hey rev.mark,
thanks for your words. my statement on "being under mama and daddy's roof" was maybe a weak metaphor, but maybe not.

i would expand on that by saying that i didn't choose my parents, my parents chose to have me. i didn't choose my traditions- those traditions and "family doctrine" were born out of a family who roots there life together in living a life together in a "certain peculiar way" that is unique (ie family traditions/practices/rules).

Part of the problem that I see with this whole issue is that we are so tied to individuality- that we have to take a side. The Book of Discipline frees us from having to take sides here. THAT'S THE POINT THAT I WAS TRYING TO MAKE.

When I was growing up I had the choice of living by my parents rules or not. When I didn't there were consequences. Some of those rules in my mind were unfair. If I broke those rules, maybe I could justify it, but I still had to face the consequences. Or perhaps through sitting down and discussing with my parents why those rules where unfair we changed the rules or ammended them.

I think that metaphor works within this situation, as well. I was taken in by a community of United Methodists. I made the choice to go, but they CHOSE me- they surrounded me and discipled me and taught me. It was there that I was called by God to be in ministry.

So although I understand what you're saying that you'd want to know what has contributed theologically to my being able to justify homosexuality. But I think that's part of the problem that we're facing in the church. If I were sitting on the board and interviewing, instead of asking someone about their stance on homosexuality and how they came to that position, I would ask them about their understanding of doctrine as a guide to ecclesiology and how that can be a bridge builder.

That probably does not do justice to your comment. Thanks for your post.

Thunder Jones said...

I understand that you place yourself as a person under authority as an ecclesial member, but lets not confuse the book of discipline with dogma. One represents a stance on an issue, the other represents what we believe about God. I don't know if authority frees you from stuggling with the matter aloud in the company of others or fighting to change the Book of Discipline where you believe it to be faulty. Clearly, many UMC bishops believe it to be so and it may change.

The UMC doesn't have a magisterium. That lack of clear and unilateral authority creates a lot of problems (see my beloved Episcopal Church), but it also demands that we sincerely stuggle with issues. It's messy, but it seems to be a more genuine way to be Church to me.

St.Phransus said...

Yes, I my press agent Thunder Jones has stated it so clearly once again.

Thunder, to go back to my metaphor- if I think my parents' rules are unfair, I can live both live under the "house rules" and try my best to change the rules to become more fair and just.

What I'm trying to do here, and mabye I've gone to an extreme is to set this issue within a more communal approach.

Thaks Thunder, for your wise words, as always.

Thunder Jones said...

The communal approach is precisely the right context to use. The problem is the tension between telling our GBLT brothers and sisters that they must wait for other as they struggle to live faithfully yet don't have any outlet for an ecclesially blessed relationship. No easy answers.

When you figure it out, call me.

RevrdMark said...

I like the communial approach as well. I rarely ask questions about doctrinal or theological issues in the frame work of "what do you believe about original sin?" Instead i would rather ask things like "what are the evils you see in the world and how do you as a Methodist Elder respond to them? or what embedded injustice do you see in your self or others that you wish weren't there" I think issues like homosexuality and the church have to be lived out in a community - any theological or doctrinal stance or statement has to have legs in the real world with real lives. thats why I'd want to hear how you would respond to a Gay couple that approached you as parishoners wanting to know about "incompatability" statements of our church.

I think our hearts, both resonate with the community and lives that represent our church (which in my opinion is one of the marks of some one called by God) I can only speak for myself but living in the tension of interacting with real people with real lives and passions and interacting with a beuracracy and sytem that can be maddening passion for ministry can become a drudgery, or a battle neither of which are helpful to that which God has called me to. I just offer that as something to consider. I wish I had considered that aspect more when I was in process.

Glad to hear you wrestle with such soul searching issues!

Lorna said...

interesting comments and blog! (this is not really a topic in the UMC in Finland at this time)


Hutto said...

I would assume that a person unable to make a committed statement in support of the Discipline in front of an ordination committee would likely be unable to say much from a pulpit. It would seem wishy-washy. The preacher would be likely to preach one message one week and a different message another. A person would ask the pastor if "______" was right or wrong, and the pastor would not be able to say with any certainty. "Maybe" is not the most pastorally sound reply to a person in need of guidance.

I'd be inclined to believe such a person would be very likely to cram as much meaning into the word "status" as was humanly possible, and likely as well to have no problem saying "off the record" that the BOD was probabaly wrong, etc.

The way I boil it down: Why mess around with a denomination that doesn't preach what you believe? It's easier to serve elsewhere than to blow sunshine at a committee and later get yourself into hot water for preaching against the doctrines.

Surely, the UCC (etc) can use fresh, progressive thinkers. I'd consider a change before enduring the whole UMC ordination process.

St.Phransus said...

i want to respect where you are coming from but your statement was just vague enough that I wasn't sure if you were being encouraging or patronizing. I went to your blog and read the first post and immediately realized that you , although are probably a really nice person and maybe even a wonderfully gifted pastor, are part of what I am reacting against- a church culture steeped in liberalism.

Thanks for your kind suggestions but I think i'll stick around and work alongside those conservatives, liberals and moderates who'd like to actually try for a creative alternative to the liberal/conservative bullshit that is weakening our denomination.

if you'd like to move beyond rhetoric that you learned from the bush administration and talk issues based on scripture, informed by tradition, guided by experience and reason instead of the political rhetoric that most liberal/conservatives have learned then feel free to join in.

You said, "Why mess around with a denomination that doesn't preach what you believe?" I might ask you the same question:

from OUR doctrinal standards:
While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley’s familiar dictum was, "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."

Now that'll preach at my church, how bout yours?

Michael said...

Good golly! I just wish our Board would even bother to ASK such a question - heck, any question - instead of shuffling papers and making sure we are content.

Seriously, how can you go wrong if you answer any question according to what you truly think and feel? Like you, I anticipate sometimes trying to out-think a Board, but in the end it's going to be a matter of accounting for who you are and not what you think others expect you to be.

Good luck either way.

St.Phransus said...

thanks michael for your affirmation.