First off, I’m aware that I didn’t witness what happened tonight in person. Mark Miller, one of the UMC General Conference worship leaders who is gay, stood up and gave an emotional speech about a climate of bullying that he saw taking place in the legislative sub-committee conversations about homosexuality. He was ruled out of order when he asked other delegates to stand with him by a bishop who then prayed for the situation. Not being privy to what did or didn’t take place, I can only say that I hope humanity wins over ideology at General Conference. I’m not even talking about the decisions are ultimately made, but the dignity with which the delegates treat one another as fellow members of the body of Christ, rather than ideological adversaries in the only politically and theologically diverse denomination left in our country.
Let me confess that I got ruined on the issue of homosexuality a long time ago when my best friend in high school came out to me. I was even more ruined when I went to my first Methodist church in Toledo, Ohio, and most of the people worshiping there were gay. My convictions were eroded by the seriousness and passion with which they pursued spiritual growth and holiness. Perhaps some would consider it oxymoronic for me to say this, but I remember thinking that my gay Christian friends were actually quite conservative. Or at least they were way more disciplined about their spiritual walks than I was. And they were some of the most gentle, attentively compassionate people I’ve ever met. I was in a very dark place in my own life, and they nurtured me. So I have to admit when I read Romans 1, Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians 6, etc, I’m probably too quick to explain these tough passages based on their historical context so that they don’t condemn people who really were Christ to me regardless of whether their sexuality is sinful or not.
Having said this, I’ve also been in environments in the radical activist culture I used to be a part of where the form of bullying that I experienced was to be labeled a bully for the identity I was born with as a Christian white straight middle-upper class male (which makes me 5 for 5 as an oppressor). I embraced my demonization for a while because it was compatible with the self-hate I learned from fundamentalist Christianity. And truly I learned a lot of healthy, useful things about my privilege, but I got tired of the world of identity politics where people ranted all day about how terrible Christian white straight middle-upper class males like me were and offering deterministic sociological explanations for everything I might decide to do as a 5-star oppressor (see the movie “Blue Like Jazz” for a good illustration of my story). In any case, I don’t think it would be entirely outrageous for some General Conference delegates to feel bullied for being accused of bullying because of their moral convictions about homosexuality which may not have caused them to treat anyone without grace and dignity (even if this is completely not what Mark Miller intended to convey). Isn’t it also bullying for people to be publicly shamed into abandoning their convictions?
It hurts to be called an abomination. It also hurts to feel like you can’t believe someone else is doing something wrong without being called a bully. Satan wins if the ideological argument becomes all-consuming, i.e. if everything the “other side” does is interpreted ideologically as the “gay” or “anti-gay agenda.” I doubt that Mark Miller was trying to be manipulative, though I imagine it seems that way to any delegates who felt like he unfairly judged and falsely accused them by “playing the bullying card.” Whichever way the voting goes, our General Conference will have failed Jesus if neither side is willing to embrace the humanity of the other.
I honestly think that the underlying purpose of all Christian morality is to live with such holiness that we can see and honor each other’s humanity, which is to say on the deepest level that we become icons that reflect the image of God back and forth to one another. I take absolutely seriously everything that is written in the Bible because I long to learn the holiness and obedience to God’s will that will allow me to be perfectly hospitable to my neighbor. The more that I study, the less confidence I have in my own convictions and the more speechless awe I feel before the beauty of God.
I’ve got my own views about what’s going on with Leviticus 17, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6. I pray often for God to reveal to me why I’m wrong about this issue if I’m wrong. In the meantime, I submit to the Discipline as a United Methodist pastor and hope to treat all people gay and straight with perfect hospitality and dignity as fellow icons of God’s image.