Which “Brian” are We Going to Be?


One More Step Towards Full Marriage Equality!

As I read the news of the Marriage Equality measures that were passed yesterday in Washington, I was beyond excited.  Check out this link at Huff Post for more on the story. It’s with a great deal of celebration that we see one more state realizing that protecting the rights of one group insures the rights of the whole.  Maybe we can take Washington’s decision as a hopeful indicator that someday my daughters and their friends will not have to deal with the ugliness of this debate when they arrive at the point in their lives when they consider marriage.

Despite what I see as an accomplishment in equality and social justice, I have noticed a great deal of anger across cyberspace from the more religiously correct corners of the internet.   I am continually surprised by how that vitriol comes from those areas that we least expect it to.

On a Methodist site, I was particularly taken by the hateful rhetoric from a UMC clergyperson  named Brian.

There is no way I would want to provide one more soapbox for his argument, so his words will not be repeated here.   You can be assured that his anger was intense and raw, and his words seemed to scream exactly that which is worst about us.

As I sat with my morning coffee, his anger ran through my head. With each passing moment, I found myself growing more and more saddened at his arrogance and his thinly veiled hatred.   I found myself wondering just how could someone miss the point so badly?

As I sat there, I grew upset to think that this morning, there are pastors who probably look just like me, standing up and repeating the same hurtful commentary, and framing it as Jesus’ message.     Too often, I hear comments from the likes of the Brian’s of this world, and I wish I could make things different, and at times I feel utterly helpless.   I wish my voice could be heard as loudly.

Before my coffee was done, I was reminded of a message that I presented not so long ago, and I quickly began forming the foundation for this message.  This posting finds its genesis in that message.

I preface this argument with the full disclaimer that the United Methodist Church is NOT of one mind on this issue.   The United Methodist Church considers “the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teachings”.    Despite an ever growing number within the church who disagree with that statement, I do not speak for the greater church or even Asbury Church on this topic.   I speak for myself. 

I post this thread knowing that many of my close friends in the church disagree with me with their full heart and being.   They will look at this post, and see me (and others like me) as an enemy of the church.  I write this post knowing that some will judge me based upon the message it contains.   Yet, too many of us seem to enjoy the safety of the silence.   

Enough is enough for change requires some degree of risk.

I make no qualms about where I stand on this issue;   I find the all too common position of the church on this topic to be not only one of the most grievous offenses of the church in its recent history but a position that insults the very radical and inclusive love of Jesus himself.   If there is a foundational belief that I believe will cause the church to eventually fall, I would point to the wide scale mistreatment of the LGBT community as being the one.   With this in mind, and because of my great love for the church and the people who form its backbone, I must add my voice to the mix. 

This choice of any one to speak up in accordance to their beliefs is not something that is ever done lightly.   When you find that conviction, your decisions change.  I have found that my personal conviction on this one issue has and is changing my journey.   It’s changing the way I see and I practice my faith.  It’s changing everything.

There is another image that keeps coming that tells me that remaining silent in my day to day journey is not acceptable.   It is the image of my Goddaughter.   She is the daughter of two openly gay and loving women.   Whenever I find myself comfortable in that silence, I remember standing with them as they baptized their daughter, and I ask myself how I could possibly remain silent with that child in mind.    How can I remain silent, when I think of those two incredible and strong women, trying their hardest to be the best possible parents in light of a world that frequently sticks their noses out at them or their family?

Too many remain silent for fear of rustling feathers or rocking the boat.  We need to start seeing speaking up and out as an act of faith.

All that said, we need new reminders.  I want to remind you that not every biblical scholar holds the same interpretation of the Gospel that Brian does.     There are a great many that see question marks in the pages of our Bible.  It is those question marks that call for faithful discernment not absolutism.  There are passages from the bible that get tossed into the debate whose meaning is just too fuzzy to carry the weight that many, like Brian, hope for.

For example, one of the most frequently quoted scripture in the debate is that of 1st Corinthians 6, which in most translations reads:  “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”  

It seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?  

Yet, the truth is it’s far from it. The world that is translated as “homosexuals” is the word “arsenokoitai” which is a word that Paul actually invented and who’s definition is far from certain.  There are many indications that the word means “child prostitution”.  How far is that from our modern understanding of what it means to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered?

Then there are the Levitical passages that claim like chapter 18, that says: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”   Again, seems to be so little room for argument.    It sounds so straightforward and without ambiguity.

Right?  

Wrong again.

Some love to hold this passage up as proof positive.   Well to that, I ask have they worn polyester or cotton blends, have they eaten lobster, have they shaved their side burns, have they touched a football, or if they are of the female persuasion, have they ever worn pants?    These things are ALL abominations according to the Book of Leviticus,…yet for some of us,… there is only one command left that really matters,..right? 

Somehow we have moved beyond the other “abominations”, and the subsequent call for execution that they require, but remain locked in the death grip of saying “see, I told you it was there!”.  

You will see many good and decent people fiercely committed to this issue, and claim unwavering support in the Bible.     Sadly, it’s just simply not the case.  Nothing is always as cut and dry as we try to make it.  That is especially so of the Bible.   Ask the slave, the woman, and the African American and they will all remind you that over time things change.   There are no slam dunk scriptures in the Bible, no matter what we would like to believe. 

(Note:  Below are a couple of sources where this discussion is currently being undertaken)

All we do when we continue to fight over this issue is lessen the effectiveness and the reach of the total church.   There are people who won’t set foot in the church because they have heard someone rant and rave from East Nowhere, Texas, and now believe we are all homophobes, racists, sexists, and bigots too.

As I come face to face with Brian after Brian, I can’t help but ask why this issue has become the foundational issue of this generation for so many churches.   It should be a non-issue. 

I struggle with visualizing a Jesus having an issue with true love expressed no matter the form.    Do you know that Jesus never mentions homosexuality ever?   If that is the case, why do so many hold this issue as the cornerstone of our theology today?  As a matter of fact, Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but condemns divorce as a sinful throughout the Gospels.   

The United Methodist Church has divorced clergy and bishops…but odds are we will see a church shaking exodus before we get a gay one.

Ultimately, and although this is a passionate issue for me, it doesn’t come down to forcing one side or the other upon you.   I may see many our church leaders as wrong on this particular issue and pray that someday others will too, it doesn’t mean you have to believe the same thing they do.  You do not need to hold my beliefs on this subject. 

You can be a faithful follower of Jesus and not hold my theology, Brian’s or anyone in between.

Whether it is my stance on Life/Choice, Gun Control, Parenting, or Boxers versus Briefs, we are not about being one person, in beliefs, in loves, or in goals.   The Methodist Church is not about imposing doctrine or belief:  instead we are about supporting each other as we take our journeys, and changing the world along the way.  We can all find God if we are willing to look,…the church is where we look together.

Now,  I am certainly more than willing to have this difficult discussion with anyone.   If you’re curious, or are completely outraged by how I have framed my beliefs, we should talk, as that is the only way we grow in faith (“Come let us reason together”).  Do not hesitate to contact me directly via these pages or in person.  We need to take the opportunity to grow and learn from each other.       

My responsibility comes in the form of asking each of you to frame your beliefs in a different way.  It would break my heart if anyone with the Asbury “flock” became just another Brian.   It is my responsibility to remind you that the only way you keep from doing just that is to continually stress the need to reconcile your beliefs in light of the radical, life changing, all inclusive love that Jesus expressed.   

When you are done, if you can’t reconcile the two fully and completely, it’s not Jesus that wrong.

It’s my responsibility to remind you that the way we have looked at the pages of our Bibles has been changing nonstop over the past 2000 years.   There is a battle between embracing tradition and heritage with facilitating and encouraging evolution and growth. 

With all that said there are parts of our faith that we cannot allow the world to filter through its whims and desires.  We should do all in our power to stand firm in those aspects which are unchanging.   Christ is about Love, Inclusion, Invitation, Hope, Joy and Peace.   Until we are built solely around those attributes ourselves, then simply, we are doing the church thing wrong.    

We need to be people who are aware that our speech, our laughter, and our hurts end up being our testimony.   We can’t allow the Brian’s of this world to speak for us.    We need to respect the Christ that has been revealed to each of us, and speak up when the conversation strays in these areas.   We need to be people who are all about a different way; His Way.     We need to be people who can approach the world with love, grace, and respect, and yet too often we are the people who have the hardest time doing just that.

Let me tell you the story about a church that has taken a step towards figuring it out.    The story was told on CNN, a couple of days before Christmas.   It told about the general feel of a church in Alabama.    As far centers for ultra conservative, fundamental values it doesn’t get more focused than it does in Alabama.

It was a mega church that was struggling to find its identity.  Oddly enough, the Pastor’s name was also Brian.   The church, under Brian’s leadership, had all its financial ducks in a row; the building was worth millions, there were trust funds, and bills were never an issue, but the church lacked its identity.   In that area of the country, the greater church is all about the God that is inseparable from the believer’s  individual politics, business, and personal stance.  

That one church was no different from the loud, misguided voices that came from every direction around them.

But the church started to realize that their priorities were not God’s.   They realize that God wasn’t celebrating their accomplishments in building a bigger and brighter church, but instead wanted to change the way church was done.   They listened to the voices and realized that the world had a created a church and a Jesus that made them comfortable.  

They had a Jesus that enjoyed the same things they enjoyed.   They had a Jesus that didn’t mind materialism.   They had a Jesus that would never call them to give up something,  to step outside what was comfortable, and who was fine with a Sunday morning only worship.    They had a Jesus who was fine with building a church full of people who not only looked the same, but believed the same thing.    They had a Jesus that hated the same things, and the same people, that they did.

Yet, something changed.   

A spark was had.   They started living, and serving, and worshiping differently.    They started looking outwards as opposed to inwards.   They discovered the true Jesus behind the pomp and circumstance.   They began to realize and believe that it didn’t matter whether someone was rich, poor, or middle class.   It didn’t matter whether they were Albert Einstein’s or suffered from Down’s Syndrome.    It didn’t matter whether they were stock brokers or burger flippers.   They realized it didn’t matter whether someone was gay, straight,…or crooked for that matter.   

They realized that God loved radically, at it changed everything.

They discovered that the jokes that they laughed at, the stories that they told, the way they lived became their loudest testimony to the world.    They realized that people were looking at them and silently asking about their faith.   They realized that the way they lived became their reply.    When they realized this, their world changed.

They soon discovered that 26,000 children starve to death every day, and they gave away their trust funds to feed them.    They trimmed $1.5million dollars off their budget and built wells.     They started to change the way the spoke, lived, and loved.  They opened their doors to everyone, without pretense or condition.  They decided to live lives that motivated others.  

They decided to speak in ways that challenged others.  They challenged norms, beliefs, habits, and comfort zones. They decided to live as if they believed in the Jesus of the Gospel, not the Jesus of America.  They chose to cast away everything that didn’t scream forth of that radical, life changing love of Jesus.

When the money ran out, they continued live and love recklessly.   They left their neighborhoods on mission trips.   They built medical centers in Africa, and a clinic in Haiti.   They worked to improve education across the globe.   They loved recklessly and began making a difference in places they had never heard of before.

Last year, their pastor called the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County Alabama, to talk about the number of children without families in the county.   The woman told the pastor about the heartbreaking statistics of their community.     The pastor sighed, and said it sounds like you need a miracle.     After a moment the woman shakes her head, and says; “No, we need 150 miracles.”   There were 150 kids in state care, without homes or mom’s or dad’s.

The pastor took this conversation to that church, and over 160 families signed up for foster care and adoption.   Do you know that there is not one child in Shelby County Alabama without a home or family, despite there being over 195,000 of the most economic diverse people you will ever meet in that county? 

Did you know there are 27 kids waiting in Cheshire County or that there are 280 kids waiting  in the state of NH?

WE NEED TO REALIZE THAT WE HAVE A CHOICE.   We have a choice as to which Brian we want to be.

We can chose to love only those who love us.

We can chose to tell others that they are not welcome to the ministry of the church.

We can chose to shut our doors.

Or we can chose a different path,…we can chose to embrace that reckless, inclusionary, radical love, that God shows to each of us.   

That choice is ours.

(Note:  My prayers go out for the brave activists in Washington who made this happen.  Thank you for risking more than any white, straight man would ever know.)

Additional Discussion is being and can be had at:

http://www.rmnetwork.org/learn-more/resources/

http://www.soulforce.org/resources/

http://www.welcomingresources.org/

 

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