This last week, we began talking about the power of purpose of love, and the question of love has been much in the news in the last year. It was most especially so this last summer, when the Supreme Court extended the rights and legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples who desire them throughout the United States.
The Supreme Court ruling did not change the teaching of our church. The United Methodist Church continues to hold that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.” We also hold that “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” However, though the church has not changed, the world in which we are church most certainly has.
At the time of the Supreme Court decision, I was preaching from the common lectionary of the Church, and from it, I found myself asking everyone - those who exulted in that decision, and those who despaired - to exercise humility, lest they raise their hands against someone God loves. I said then that there would be more to say, at the right time:
There is coming a time for a discussion about what this week’s news means. There is time for us to read and pray and discern how our church can most faithfully minister to all in a world that has changed its assumptions. But we cannot have that discernment unless we first have a firm answer to this question. Do you dare raise your hand against the Lord’s anointed?
As we enter into a sermon series on the power and purpose of love, it also seems like a good time for us to begin the talking and listening and praying that I referred to last summer. For several years now, I have been paying close attention to the stories and witness of many same-sex attracted people who have dedicated their lives to following Christ. Three people in particular have had consistently thoughtful, Christ-centered perspectives. I do not always agree with them, nor they with each other, but they always make me think, and pray.
· Alan Chambers was a participant in, and then president head of, Exodus International – which was the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the world until it’s closing under Alan. Alan and Leslie, his wife of more than 20 years, have written and spoken widely about the relationships between gay and lesbian people and the church.
· Justin Lee has written the book Torn in which he describes how he - a lifelong Christian, nicknamed “God-boy” at his high school - realized and reconciled himself to his homosexuality and to the possibility that God might lead him to a same-sex marriage some day, and it tells the story of his struggles along the way.
· Finally, Eve Tushnet came out to her family and friends as a teenager, and later committed herself to lifelong celibacy when she became an adult convert to Christianity. She now writes for the American Conservative and the Spiritual Friendship movement, and tells her story in the book “Gay and Catholic.”
As I pray and seek God’s direction in becoming a pastor who offers grace to all people, I have asked each of these three people if they would come to Crestview to participate in a series of public interviews so that our community can begin to think about what the gospel means for gay and lesbian Christians.
I am honored that all three accepted my invitation.
I hope you consider coming to be in the audience for these interviews, which we will hold onstage in the Crossroads Center from 7PM–8:30PM on the following evenings:
· January 28 - Alan Chambers
· February 9 - Justin Lee
· February 11 - Eve Tushnet
My goal for these conversations is that we become a church that can listen and speak to each other. I hope that we can share our disagreements, and seek God together, without raising our hands against one another. I hope shine with a light of lovethat drives out fear. For all my 9 short years of ministry, I have discovered an undercurrent of fear whenever the conversation turns to sexuality, and especially toward the church’s ministry with gay and lesbian people.
Many people are afraid that they cannot speak for the position of the church without being perceived as bigots - they have seen bullies; they know stories like Matthew Shepard’s; they have heard Jerry Falwell and Westboro Baptist blame homosexuals for everything from hurricanes to combat deaths - and they want no part of that. One person put it this way to me, “I’m a pretty traditional guy, but I wish so many of the other traditionalists weren’t jerks. I want people to know I don’t hate them.”
Many others are afraid that their friends will treat them as a danger to the church if they question our church’s position. A parishioner at a previous church once told me “I skipped Sunday School today, because I knew we’d be talking about homosexuality, and I knew I wouldn’t agree with most of the class. I couldn’t sit there silently, but I couldn’t handle they way they’d look at me if I spoke up. So I stayed home.”
There are countless other things that stir us to fear and despair. Some people despair because it seems that things are changing that ought not change; others despair because it seems they aren’t changing fast enough. Some wish we didn’t have to talk about such things at all, but that only makes it scarier for others to be the one who brings it up.
And of course, there is the fear that all of this imposes on our gay and lesbian neighbors, brothers and sisters. The fear that makes them wonder about the limits and shape of our love, and God’s. A church that ignores questions that are all around us, a church that cannot talk or listen is a church that will always leave people wondering “How much should I say? How honest can I be?” When same-sex couples, married in the eyes of the law, come to us, they wonder how we will treat their lifelong partner, or children, or friends? They wonder if we will treat them as dangerous or corrupt - as someone who should be feared.
There is fear on every side.
That’s why I’m calling these interviews with Alan, Justin, and Eve “Fearless Conversations.” It’s an aspirational title; it’s what I hope the Church can be. As 1 John 4:18 says:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not yet been made perfect in love”
John Wesley challenged all Methodists to be “going on to perfection in love,” and I hope these next several weeks will prove us worthy of that challenge. I am open to your questions at our community dinner tomorrow night. I hope you will come hear me preach on “The Power and Purpose of Singleness and Marriage” on January 24. And I hope during these “Fearless Conversations” that we’ll all be listening for a hint of what love looks like when it reaches perfection.
I hope you will join me. I hope you will pray. I hope you will bring a friend.