INTERPRETING THROUGH REASON, TRADITION, AND EXPERIENCE
On March 30 and 31, about 1,000 people gathered in three different settings across our conference to talk about what happened at General Conference 2019 and what it means for our local churches. My presentation was videotaped and can be viewed at vimeo.com/327864947.
In the course of the presentation, I indicated that while I believe in a “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman, my own interpretation of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience leads me to a more inclusive understanding of marriage; that of a same-sex relationship of two consenting adults who lead a monogamous, lifelong, loving, and committed relationship.
A few people (maybe more than I had a chance to talk to directly or have heard from since) wanted to know: “Then do we just throw out the Bible?” A few Scripture references were given and the implication was that some of our church leaders —clergy, laity and even the bishop—don’t “believe in the Scriptures.”
So while it’s difficult to conduct a Bible study in a monthly column, I want to raise a few points about how I understand Scripture, with a final statement about my experience as a pastor over the last 40 years.
Six passages address same-sex behaviors in the Scriptures—three each in the Old and New Testaments, respectively: Genesis 19 and Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10. In addition to these passages, there is the underlying concept of “gender complementarity,” or the concept that God created man and woman for each other alone. I’m not going to parse these all out, but suffice to say that the passages and concept each have a cultural context. Genesis 19, for instance, is the threat of gang rape against Lot’s angelic visitors. That has to do with humiliation and domination and is about mutual caring relationships as was Abu Ghraib!
But the others all speak to various sexual practices of their times. The Leviticus passages are in the Holiness Code, which prohibits any sexual practice that does not result in procreation. I encourage you to read through all the chapters surrounding those passages and you will find that you—yes, you!—commit some unlawful acts.
The New Testament passages, written by Paul, describe same-sex behavior in the first century Roman Empire. They also weren’t about mutually loving and committed relationships, but about culturally accepted practices (which we do not accept today), such as sex with young boys, prostitution, and sex between slaves and masters. These passages don’t refer to the kind of same-sex relationships we all know in our families, communities, and churches.
Other cultural and ecclesiastical battles over the Bible are worth noting. Consider slavery, for instance. Whenever I read about the exodus from slavery, I celebrate with the Hebrews that they were free at last! The 10 commandments given in Exodus 20 are immediately followed by chapter 21, which includes instructions about how slave owners are to treat their slaves. In the New Testament times, we know that a high percentage of the population was entrenched in some form of slavery. There is no sense that slavery is wrong; it’s simply something to endure. Paul says, “Slaves obey your masters” (Ephesians 6:7). Slavery is embedded in the cultural contexts of the Scriptures.
Or consider “one man and one woman.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, marriage is referenced as between a man and a woman, but how many women? Jacob, David, Solomon, and other “patriarchs” of the faith had multiple wives at the same time. Polygamy was the cultural context of the day.
Or consider women and the Bible. How often have people quoted Paul when he said, “Women keep silence in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Yet the context actually seems to be about bringing order to worship. Were there a couple of women who were busy gossiping and talking, disrupting the service? As a worship leader or preacher, I have also desired for some women or teenagers or ushers at the back of the room to keep silent!
Or consider the earth as the center of the universe. I’ve long been fascinated by the story of Galileo, a courageous observer of nature who promoted the untenable reality for his time that the earth is not the center of the universe. Imprisoned, threatened with torture, and condemned for heresy, Galileo maintained his devout faith even as he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. I always think it’s ironic that he was condemned for saying humanity isn’t the center of the universe!
Or consider divorce. Jesus was pretty clear about divorce (Matthew 19:1-12). Until the 1950s, divorce was rare in the U.S., especially in “Christian” families, due to its economic context. But it became more common in the 60s, 70s and 80s, as marriage was defined more in terms of love than economics. Not only members, but clergy and bishops are among the divorced and remarried. Imagine, if you will, if over the last 40 years that we have been arguing about homosexuality, we would have said that no divorced person could become a clergy in the United Methodist Church and no clergy could conduct a marriage ceremony for anyone who had been divorced! Again, people began to interpret the Scripture in a way that acknowledges the sadness that comes when a marriage ends but provides for remarriage.
These are all arguments plucked from the not-sodistance past that caused people of faith to fight each other, condemn one another, and insist that those with whom we disagree are without faith or respect for the authority of Scripture. And yet, we can also see that, at least with these examples, time (mostly) told the story that the Scriptures are, need to be, and even must be interpreted from within the cultural context.
I want to close by briefly giving my own experience that has led me to study the Scriptures in light of this “battle over the Bible” in our time. LGBTQ persons have been a part of my life since I was in high school. We all knew without even the words to describe it that the very talented, younger brother of one of my best friends was gay. During the 1980s he died and I would guess that he died of AIDS. Over time I came to realize that some of my good friends from high school (even my church), college, graduate school, first church and beyond were LGBTQ persons. Because of my love and respect for them, I was compelled to seek understanding in terms of Scripture, reason (science)—even what’s truly traditional—and my experience.
I know that many of you will disagree and may even be upset by this interpretation of Scripture and (pastoral) experience. I mostly want to assure you that your religious leaders, including your bishop, don’t dismiss the Scriptures but have studied them and concluded something different than you may have been taught or, for that matter, many of us were taught.
I commend to you God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, who tells his own story of exploring what the Scriptures say (and don’t say) with his father, who really struggled with his “coming out” in light of their deep, evangelical faith. If nothing else, read the story to appreciate (or resonate) with those who have come to an understanding of their own loved one.
~Bishop Sally Dyck B
Split at the Root: A History of the United Methodist Church's disagreements about LGBT+ Sexuality
by Albert Lunde, [following a cloud of witnesses.]
The United Church of Rogers Park has for many years stood with, and advocated for equal rights and rites, for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. Events of 2019 have not changed that.
The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 by the merger of the "Methodist Church" and the "Evangelical United Brethren" denominations. This created a diverse denomination which was not then, and still is not today, of one mind on many issues, including theology for the contemporary world.
The UMC meets globally in what is called "General Conference", usually every four years, and revises its bylaws, called "The Book of Discipline".
The "Supreme Court" of the UMC is the "Judicial Council", which rules on disputes on the application of "The Book of Discipline". Several of the historical parent denominations to the UMC had some kind of "Social Creed" document.
In 1968, the "Social Principles Committee" was set up to write a follow-up statement, this became a larger work with more parts. This was further revised in committee at the 1972 General Conference. The proposed Social Principles draft brought to the floor include what the authors thought was a balanced statement on homosexuality, based on then-current theological views and psychological research.
Debate on the floor of General Conference was heated, and some delegates felt something must be said against homosexuality. The outcome was an amendment from the floor, by a delegate from Texas, which added. "…though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." This negated much of the sense of the paragraph and made it into a polemic against homosexuality.
Subsequent General Conferences have "baked" more statements inspired by this into other pairs of the bylaws, and they have continued to be a source of controversy and protest.
Or as I have said, "The United Methodist Church swallowed a lump of homophobia in 1972, and has been choking on it ever since."
It's important to say, that there has never been consensus on this and related issues among United Methodists. There has been a history of discrimination which started before 1972, and there have always been voices speaking for inclusion and acceptance. The brief amendment above neither defined "homosexuality" nor the source of the "Christian teaching" involved. It was not clear whether the Social Principles were requirements that could be enforced or just broad statements. This was adjudicated in Judicial Council, and prohibitions were made stricter and more specific, over time. This is rather like the controversies over the "plain meaning" of scripture, which liberals and conservatives have read in different ways, using different rules, and different cultural contexts.
Since at least the 2012 General Conference, the UMC has been deadlocked on this issue. The bishops have tried various devices to preserve the institution and allow liberals and conservatives to coexist, but they haven't created a political compromise that worked.
At the 2016 General Conference, the bishops were appealed to again for leadership, and they created proposal for a "Commission on a Way Forward", leading up to a special General Conference in 2019, entirely about topics related to homosexuality and the UMC. General Conference 2016 delignates would serve again in 2019.
I say, LGBTQ+ people are not a "problem" that admits a final solution, but a reality that doesn't depend on church doctrine or practice.
At the last 2016 General Conference, the delegates authorizes the Council of Bishop and instructed them to create a commission to study how the church can find unity amid growing divisions over homosexuality. They called this “Commission Seeking a Way Forward.” A year later, the Council of Bishops announces a call to a special General Conference that was Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis to act on their report based on their recommendations.
They bought forth 3 plans hoping to keep the United Methodist Church from separating. Those plans are:
The Connectional Conference Plan would replace the 5 jurisdictions and create “three values-based connectional conferences” that overlay all of the United States, and provide for central conferences, like Northern Illinois Conference, to align with one of those connectional conferences or become one of their own. According to the report, the “Connectional Conference Plan addresses the reality of the United Methodist Church as it is now.
The Traditionalist Plan maintains our global United Methodist teaching on human sexuality. Staying in unity in status quo while maintaining prohibitions against self-avowed practicing gay clergy and same-gender weddings and broadens the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include persons living in a same-gender marriage or civil union or persons who publicly state that they are practicing homosexuals. It mandates penalties for those clergies and churches that are disobedience to rules. There has not been unity for the past 47 years; it just means this is the way we are doing things. Period. No more disagreements on this subject.
The One Church Plan, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, is built on the belief that it is possible to live with more space while we focus on our common mission. It would allow central conferences, like Northern Illinois Conference, and allow our church to decide which way to go. This plan would remove the anti-gay language, thus neither affirm nor condemn LGBTQ persons. Relies on pastoral discretion and the local church’s wishes on how to view the LGBTQ community. This allows, but not require, clergy to perform same-gender weddings where legal. It also allows, but not require, annual conferences to ordain LGBTQ pastors. This then protects clergy rights to individual conscience on their community.
After hours of delaying tactics by opponents, the United Methodist General Conference 2019 delegates passed The Traditional Plan 438 to 384.
A last-ditch effort to bring the One Church Plan back was defeated in the morning and was followed by efforts to amend the Traditional Plan to address constitutionality issues raised by the Judicial Council, the church’s top court. Rev. Timothy Bruster, Central Texas, made a motion to request a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan. The motion passed 405-395. The Judicial Council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois. Any piece of legislation that the Judicial Council declares unconstitutional will not be included in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book.
UCRP’s response: We Dissent!
United Church of Rogers Park United Methodist Church abhors and laments the continued discriminatory policies of our global denomination and the continuing harm done to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons represented in the denomination's recent General Conference held in St. Louis. We recommit to our position of active and prophetic DISSENT. Our ministries and mission will not be defined nor confined by our denominational affiliation.
Our resistance to injustice is a critical part of our baptismal and membership covenants, when we vow “to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form it presents itself.” Sometimes, that evil, injustice and oppression are found within church law. Rooted in the ageless protestant movement, we vow to continue the work of reforming the church.
What does God require of us? But to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God - Micah 6:8
Chicago WBEZ radio Listeners:
Pastor Lindsey was featured on "Morning Shift" at 9:00 am Wednesday 6 March.
She talked about how United Church of Rogers Park is open to the LGBTQI community and dissenting the United Methodist denomination's recent stand at its General Conference in St. Louis.
To hear the interview, click below to WBEZ radio recording.
United Church Of Rogers Park Devastated By Anti-LGBTQ Ruling From Methodist Conference — But They’re Not Backing Down
The small church, along with other progressive churches, is fighting their denomination after a conference of United Methodists voted to exclude LGBTQ people from marriage and ordination.
ROGERS PARK — In a David vs. Goliath battle for a small church in Rogers Park, a new banner hangs outside the church that reads: “We support the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ and ALWAYS WILL.”
After a conference of United Methodist churches decided to tighten their laws to exclude LGBTQ members from marriage and ordination, the leaders of the United Church of Rogers Park are refusing to back down.
It’s not a new battle, pastor Lindsey Long Joyce said — United Methodist churches have been fighting over the inclusion of LGBTQ members for decades. But last week the issue came to a head at a special conference in St. Louis meant to address the issue once and for all.
Within the church there are two factions, known as the traditionalists and the progressives, Joyce said. Two plans were presented at the conference in St. Louis which hosted United Methodist leaders from around the globe.
The first, called the One Church Plan, would have allowed individual churches to dictate how to handle sexuality within the church, specifically regarding marriage and ordination. The plan was narrowly defeated on Monday.
Instead, the church voted to pass The Traditional Plan in a vote of 438 to 384 — despite several high-ranking members urging the church to reconsider.
Joyce said in her eyes the plan should have been called a “hetero purity plan.”
“Our denomination failed to protect the marginalized people in our churches,” she said. “This plan denies the fullness of who [people are].”
The United Church of Rogers Park held a rally Wednesday for United Methodist church members to come from all over Chicago’s North Side.
Joyce’s church held a special rally on Wednesday that was attended by other members of several United Methodist churches on the North Side. They allowed visitors to share their feelings and fears following the new decree.
One man shared his experience growing up as a gay black man within the church. He said he had attempted suicide on three separate occasions during his teenage years, but had since found acceptance and community at the United Church of Rogers Park.
Another man said he had only recently felt comfortable coming out as a gay Methodist a few years ago in his mid-fifties. He said the recent decision by the church to exclude LGBTQ members from marriage and ordination felt like a huge set-back.
“This is a place to be mad as hell,” said Pastor Britt Cox on Wednesday from the Church of the Three Crosses in Old Town.
Cox attended the conference in St. Louis and said it is not yet clear how the ruling will affect defiant churches going forward. But there will likely be sanctions on churches and clergy who do not follow the new Traditional Plan.
She said clergy will have to sign a document saying they will not ordain any person who is openly gay. The Traditional Plan also explicitly defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Cox said clergy will be expected to punish those who do perform wedding ceremonies for LGBTQ people.
“There is a big fear now looming with these increased penalties,” she said.
Joyce said her church is inclusive and representative of the neighborhood. She said LGBTQ people lead from the pulpit, serve on committees and run worship.
“The majority of our leadership team is queer,” she said.
She said her church is hopeful because their region’s bishop, Sally Dyck, supports the inclusion of LGBTQ people.
Dyck said the council of Bishops recommended the more progressive One Church Plan, but no church would have been forced to perform marriages or ordinations.
But the vote came from United Methodist churches from around the globe, many from areas of the world where it is still illegal to identify as LGBTQ.
“I am very disappointed and sad that this happened,” Dyck said. “I will do whatever I can to make sure that we can be as open and welcoming to people in our communities as possible.”
Dyck said what further saddens her is that the ruling communicates to people around the country “offensive judgement” from the United Methodist Church.
“I think it makes it hard to convince people that most of our churches are very welcoming of LGBTQ people and their families,” she said.
Dyck oversees all the United Methodist churches in Chicago and the top third of Illinois. She said she has seen many of her churches “draping everything in rainbow flags.”
One of the mottos of the church is to “do no harm, do good and stay in love with God,” a motto Dyck said she thinks is in contrast with the new regulations against LGBTQ people.
One of the biggest sponsors of the tightened regulations is Rob Renfroe. Renfroe is a pastor based in Texas. He has written books and been one of the most vocal supporters of the Traditional Plan.
Renfroe said the church has had a traditional position on sexual ethics since 1972. Despite the growing backlash, he said that policy has remained the same. But within the last decade, pastors in more progressive churches have broken that covenant.
“If we are one church, we cannot act like we are two,” he said.
Renfroe said he knows this fight is not good for the church but he expects the battle to wage on.
“This has been very hurtful to a great number of people,” he said. “Many LGBTQ people see this as a rejection of who they are, but that’s not what this legislation is about. It’s about holding Bishops accountable.”
He said that traditional United Methodist churches are welcoming to their LGBTQ members.
“We have gays in our churches and they have found us to be very accepting and loving people,” he said.
Renfroe doesn’t expect many of the progressive churches to leave the denomination. He said he expects them to fight for what they believe in.
“This is kind of like the celebrities who say if so-and-so gets elected they’ll move to Canada, but then never do,” he said.
Renfroe said he believes it is in the best interest of both sides to break apart and go their separate ways instead of plunging the church into “a real period of chaos.”
“I understand that people see us as the bad guys,” he said. “We don’t want trials, but we just can’t be part of a church that we believe is encouraging non-biblical practices. I can’t be complicit in a church that is encouraging something in my name that I think is contrary to God’s will.”
Renfroe hopes that both sides can split amicably.
“I want a solution with no winners and no losers, just good people who say I could be wrong, but God bless you, you pursue what you think.”
Joyce said that she has had to reconcile with her own faith after the events of the last week. She expects many members of her church have struggled with similar feelings.
“I have to remember that the denomination is not God,” she said.
While the future of the United Church of Rogers Park’s denomination remains in jeopardy, Joyce said her church will continue to stand their ground.
“If it comes down to the life of this denomination, or the life of our LGBTQ members, we are always going to choose our LGBTQ members,” she said.