Response to “Schism is a failure of love and leadership” by Bishop Kenneth Carder

15 Oct

https://shiftingmargins.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/schism-is-a-failure-of-love-and-leadership/

Posted 161014

One thing that “loving” means is “being truthful” (cf. 1 Cor. 13.6). When those with one view of the issue of same-sex loving people continue to lie about those with a different view, and when the denomination does not confront the lies, then we are at an impasse.

In 2000, when I felt God calling me to be open with the Church about my homosexuality (I was then and am still an ordained United Methodist elder), I felt the need to study the scriptures, church doctrine and history, whatever material I could find on homosexuality, and anything else that would help me know with some certainty whether God was calling me to reject my same-sex loving desires and to seek to change, or whether God was calling me to be true to myself and to become part of the movement in the Church (and, particularly, the United Methodist Church) to bring about the acceptance of same-sex loving as one of the many sexualities created by God for the purpose of showing the divine love for creation and for humanity in all its varieties.

Before I continue, I wish to say that after many years of study and introspection, I found the latter to be the case rather than the former. I also recognized that, although all good gifts of God can be used in a corrupt and self-centered manner, sexuality among them, it is also possible to express one’s sexuality in God-honoring ways. While the Church had long sought to provide models for heterosexuals to live lovingly and responsibly, it had not provided similar models for same-sex loving persons who, to find models for relating to others like themselves, have often had to turn elsewhere than the Church to find them, the heterosexual models not speaking adequate truth to same-sex loving persons due, for the most part, to the Church’s condemnation of same-sex loving relationships. This fact is at the root of the current problem surrounding LGBTQ acceptance or rejection by the Church.

Again in 2000, in addition to entering into a counseling relationship with a licensed therapist who had a background in evangelical theology in the Reformed tradition, I sought all the materials I could find from the variety of perspectives in the Church. Among other items, I acquired a video (on tape at that time) from the American Family Association, which the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, an ordained United Methodist elder in the Mississippi Annual Conference, had founded and of which he was the president and, later, chairman. The video was titled “It’s Not Gay.”

The video focused in particular on the story of Michael Johnston; but the content and trajectory of the story is common to many of the materials produced by organizations who wish to argue against the acceptance of same-sex loving persons as having the potential for being expressive of what they perceive to be their God-given sexuality and, at the same time, being faithful Christians. That is, Johnston’s story tells of a young man who had discovered himself to be sexually attracted to men rather than to women. Since he wished to fulfill his sexual desires, and since the only way he saw to do so in his cultural surroundings was to become part of the so-called “gay community,” he frequented places where he knew he could meet other gay men, typically bars or bathhouses; and he engaged in sexual activities with a variety of other men, apparently never finding one particular man with whom to partner, especially since that was not the normal pattern among gay men in his community. As a result of struggling to remain acceptable in the straight culture while being active in the gay culture, he experienced depression and contemplated committing suicide.

Eventually, however, the video tells of his hearing and responding to a presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and deciding to “leave the gay lifestyle” and of his commiting himself to becoming a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. He also underwent therapy to rid himself of his same-sex desires, though the video did not indicate whether he succeeded in developing heterosexual desires or whether he chose to marry heterosexually. (As an article from 2007 that can be found using the following link (http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2007/01/20/183) indicates, Johnston founded an ex-gay ministry and gained some prominence among organizations and persons who were involved with the work of persuading gay men and lesbians to “leave the homosexual lifestyle.”)

As I watched AFA’s “It’s Not Gay”, I recognized that I, as a gay man, did not identify at all with Johnston’s story. Though I knew other gay men, and I knew of various sexual activities of “the gay community,” to the degree I was friends with other gay men and socialized with them, I did not frequent many of the places some of them – by no means all – frequented; and though I heard their stories in which they described their “dates,” they were stories much like I would hear from straight men and women. (In fact, watching the video, I thought of the many heterosexual persons who made lifestyle choices very much like those Johnston was shown to be making, with similar outcomes, realizing that “It’s Not Gay” should have been titled “It’s Not a Joy for Gay or Straight.”) I even knew partnered gay men who were determined to be faithful to their partners, even though at that time (late ‘70s, early ‘80s) the broader society provided little enough support for heterosexual marriage, and almost none for faithfulness in same-sex relationships.

In short, it was clear to me that the AFA video was more of a propaganda piece, drawing whatever anti-gay data it could from whatever sources it could find, that determinedly avoided presenting any counter-information, even so as to be somewhat more truthful by stating, “Of course, not all gay people follow the lifestyle Johnston followed before devoting his life to Christ; and many straight people make the same choices as Johnston was making before coming to know Christ.” No, it was a blanket condemnation of all gay men and lesbians and an intentional ignoring of similar practices within the straight community. Since having seen that, I have noted that nearly every anti-gay piece in whatever medium produced by the AFA, the so-called Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition, Focus on the Family, and other allegedly “Christian” organizations with an anti-gay bias features this kind of blanket condemnation and partial-truth telling that have the cumulative effect of such egregious misrepresentation of the lives of many gay men and lesbians, but particularly of gay and lesbian Christians, that it has become a lie that members of those groups have come to believe is “the Truth,” in spite of the fact that the message delivered clearly ignores the great amount of evidence that contradicts their claims.

My own claim is that the leaders of these organizations, many of them ordained clergy, know they are lying about fellow children of God; but they want to “win” the argument, as if some worldly achievement was worth losing their souls. They are unwilling to change their message, even as evidence to the contrary continues to mount, as faithful gay and lesbian couples not only come out after having been together for decades, but also, with same-sex marriage being legal across the country, now that so many same-sex partners are coming forward to make public their mutual commitments to one another – and some are asking the Church not only to affirm their relationships through conducting Christian marriages but also, by implication, to provide their marriages with both support and accountability in ways similar to those they provide the same for heterosexual marriages. (The widespread ignoring on the part of local churches and annual conferences of materials produced by the denomination, such as “The Church Studies Homosexuality” (1994) and “Can We Talk? Christian Conversations about Homosexuality” (compiled by the GCCUIC) are more evidence that those in the UMC who are anti-gay don’t want to consider anything that might give insight into the larger picture or might even change people’s minds about how the Church should address the stated concerns.)

So, until this insistence on lying on the part of the anti-gay faction within the UMC is confronted by the Church and ended by those who have practiced it with impunity for years, if not decades, unchallenged and have misled many in the Church by doing so, we will never have unity in the Church. I fear that the likelihood is that those who are habitual liars will be the ones who actually leave rather than giving up their addiction to falsehood. I don’t see much hope of unity being achieved rather than division, because addictions are impossible to break if the addict refuses to acknowledge the addiction.

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