Homosexuality and Christianity: A Local Example

9 Nov

Several months ago, my husband’s childhood church decided to separate from the United Methodist Church and become a nondenominational community church.  Not surprisingly, the issue that had initially caused the rift was homosexuality.

In 2007, a youth pastor at a Seattle United Methodist church had announced that she was a lesbian.  Although the rules governing the United Methodist Church are ambiguous about the church’s position on homosexuality, the local congregation decided that their acceptance of Christ’s atoning love required them to offer compassion and support to this young woman.  The pastor at my husband’s home church, which is in a more conservative and rural location, disagreed with their decision and wrote a letter to the Seattle congregation telling them that he could not in good conscience allow the children of his church to attend a youth conference that had planned with two congregations and several others knowing that a pastor who identified as a lesbian would be participating.

The reaction from the regional body of the United Methodist Church was swift.  Upset by the actions of my husband’s pastor, they wanted to remove from his church and place him at a new location.  The local church, which had been happy with his ministry, supported his actions and decided to leave the Methodist Union rather than allow the regional body to remove him from their congregation.  Now, the national United Methodist Church is suing my husband’s home congregation for the building in which they worship and for other property that was held in trust with the national Methodist body.

My husband and his family have had a difficult time dealing with this issue.  On the one hand, the reason that they joined this particular United Methodist Church is that it was formed after World War II for Japanese Christians who had recently either been relocated or interned.  Many had been expelled from other congregations because of their race, and they wanted a space in which they could worship and build their own community.  On the other hand, they have family members who identify as queer or lesbian and they support the admittance of gays and lesbians into Christian churches as full members and legislation that would provide them with the opportunity to marry and enjoy the same rights as other couples.

I have also felt conflicted. The actions of the both national body and the local church seem deeply problematic.  To refuse Christian fellowship to another congregation because they have chosen to offer compassion to another human being seems both hurtful and unChristian.  On the other hand, for the national fellowship to move a pastor who is beloved by a local congregation because of his political views seems equally problematic.  You cannot force individuals or congregations to be tolerant.  Some sort of dialogue seems like it would have been a better option.

I am not sure what the answer is to these types of problems.  One thing it does seem like, though, is that the question of homosexuality is here to stay and that Christians need to think about how they would like to respond so that they can offer thoughtful answers.


4 Responses to “Homosexuality and Christianity: A Local Example”

  1. Chris H. November 9, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    I am troubled by the idea that being anti-gay is central to Christian identity. As a Mormon, it is neat to see faith traditions that are struggling with the issue, even if it is difficult. Thanks for sharing about this.

  2. ep November 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    Wow. Rock and a hard place. Thank you for posting about this, Amanda. I just watched the most awesome documentary last night about a Catholic nun who has made the inclusion of homosexual people in the institutional church the main focus of her ministry. And this even after the Vatican attempted to silence her by forbidding her to teach about homosexuality. Interestingly it was this instruction of groups of Catholics about homosexuality and the position of the church and not the inclusion of homosexual people in mass that was so controversial. The nun, Sister Jeannine Gramick, spoke with Cardinal Ratzinger (who was the one to issue the silencing order) on a plane and he said that she was not truly in danger of excommunication because her work with gay people was “not that level of doctrine.”

    The divisiveness of homosexuality for your husband’s family’s congregation seems to be a social one (tell me if I’m wrong) and not a doctrinal one. But maybe the separation of sociology from theology is an impossible one to make. The practice of homosexuality in the LDS church is, as far as I understand it, excommunicatable, thus being at a higher level of doctrine than that of social function. But, ironically, that doctrine is supposedly in support of social functioning and of biological necessity.

    Anyway, I was impressed with Sister Gramick’s commitment to dialogue, even with people who virulently disagreed with her. The most touching part of the documentary was after she had encountered a man who opposed her work. And although they could not agree on anything else, they said a Hail Mary and Our Father together. At some point, all that is left is Christian love and a willingness to listen. But, I agree with you. Dialogue is needed. What would the dialogue look like for you?

  3. amanda5245 November 10, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    @Chris — Thanks. One of the things that has always surprised me about the conversation on homosexuality and Christianity is how rarely the LDS Church is included in the same breath as other Christian groups that have declared that homosexuality is unacceptable. I was surprised when the kiss-ins were happening last year, for example, that no one in my circle of friends who spoke about them made any allusions to the fact that there were other churches struggling with what to do about homosexuality and that certain denominations were even splitting over the issue. It seemed so odd.

    @Liz — I am not sure what you mean by the distinction. In the churches I’ve been in that have denounced homosexuality, the issue always hinges on a few verses from the Old and New Testaments. On that level, it seems doctrinal. That said, United Methodists have always been wary of deciding precisely what individuals should believe. We don’t excommunicate individuals and rarely strip clergy of their ordination. There is a lot of room within the United Methodist Church. The denomination has pastors who identify as process theologians as well as people who consider themselves evangelicals. It would be extremely hard to be excommunicated. People are much more likely to snub you in the social hall.

  4. ep November 12, 2010 at 12:49 am #

    That makes sense. Yeah, I’m not sure what distinction I was trying to make. Next time I’ll try to think before regaling you with my mostly anecdotal stream-of-consciousness off-the-cuff attempts at theologizing. 🙂

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