Monday, June 16, 2008

The Place of Gay Human Beings as a Church-Dividing Issue: Again

I’m thinking these days about a theme I discussed briefly back on 22 April in my posting entitled “The Church’s One Foundation” (see This is the claim of some church groups that homosexuality should be placed on the back burner of church discussion, since the gay issue is not truly a church-dividing issue.

The Florida United Methodist Conference has just held a “Conference Table” to which anyone in the conference is invited. The headline announcing this conference table noted that this was a table at which everyone was welcome.
The topic of this roundtable public discussion was “In Defense of Creation.” A description of the conference table topic on the website of the Florida UMC Conference notes, “IDOC2, as it is called, is the church's attempt to engage public policy on issues that most affect the human race, according to Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker, task force chairman. The document addresses three areas: nuclear proliferation, global poverty, and environmental issues” (see
Issues that most affect the human race: nuclear proliferation, global poverty, and the environment. From one standpoint, it’s hard to argue with the claim that this configuration of issues covers the terrain admirably well—these are, indeed, among the issues most affecting the human race, the ones churches most need to address in their preaching and ministry today.
From another standpoint, however, there’s something wrong with this picture. In the first place, search as one will through the entire Florida UMC Conference website for any mention at all of homosexuality, and one draws a complete blank. Scrutinize the program for the recent Florida UMC Annual Conference meeting for any mention of the term “gay” or “homosexual/ity,” and you’ll come away with the impression that any issues revolving around those terms must have been resolved.
Because the church is totally silent about them. The church is totally silent about issues relating to homosexuality as issues most affecting the human race today.
The implication of the church’s claim that nuclear proliferation, global poverty, and the environment are the key issues affecting the human race today is that the issue of homosexuality—the place of gay human beings within the human race and the churches—is a non-issue, a side issue, one beneath notice.
But if this is the case, why did the most recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church spend an inordinate amount of time discussing that very issue? Why have state conferences such as the Florida Conference almost come to blows about that issue, such that there are fears the church may split?
If the issue of where LGBT human beings fit into the human race and the churches is a non-issue, why has every UMC General Conference for almost a decade now battled through this issue? Why is the worldwide Anglican Communion in anguish over this issue? Why are almost all the churches in the world groaning through this critically important moment of human history in which, for the first time in history, LGBT human beings are claiming the right to a place at the table, as openly gay people affirming their own God-given identities and refusing to apologize for these identities as they approach the Lord’s table?
If the question of where gay human beings are to be “placed” within the human community and the churches is a non-issue, one about which churches can justifiably be silent while discussing issues of key importance to the human race today, why have some Anglican churches in the United States chosen to break communion with gay-affirming bishops, placing themselves under the episcopal jurisdiction of bishops far from their own dioceses? Why have bishops such as Peter Akinola in Nigeria bitterly resisted inclusion of LGBT people in the churches, while bishops such as Desmond Tutu have spoken out courageously about homophobia as the new apartheid of the human race and the churches?
If the issue of where gay human beings fit is a non-issue, one about which churches may justifiably be silent when discussing the important issues facing the human community today, what is one to make of the recent announcement of the president of Gambia that he wished to see all gay persons in his country sought out and beheaded?
If the question of how to fit LGBT human beings into human society and into churches is not a premier issue causing conflict within the human community today, why did the Human Rights watch send a letter to the president of Gambia—only days before the Florida United Methodist Conference held its discussion of “the” issues that most affect the human race—noting that the president’s violent rhetoric and actions towards gay human beings violates human rights covenants and “abdicates one of the most important responsibilities of political leadership: to respect, protect, and promote the human rights of all” (see
If the question of how our gay brothers and sisters are to be included in our human and church families is a non-issue, why did the Pope announce immediately before new year’s day that he considers the issue of protecting the family (read: of resisting gay marriage) to be one of the premier issues confronting the churches today, one to which he intended to devote primary attention in 2008?
I sense more than a bit of flim-flammery in the claim of many church folks today that the question of how to place our gay brothers and sisters is not a significant, crucial, noteworthy issue for discussion—not truly a church-dividing issue. What is really going on with this claim is a dishonorable attempt to keep gay people in the shadows—and to keep in the shadows, as well, the shameful way the churches continue to treat gay human beings.
It goes without saying that nuclear proliferation, poverty, and the environment are among the most significant issues facing the human community today. It goes without saying that churches which wish to be faithful to the example of Jesus and to the gospels should be discussing and trying to deal proactively with these issues.
But these issues do not exist in isolation from issues of gender, from issues of patriarchy. The militarism that is at the root of nuclear proliferation is rooted in male domination and exploitation of women, of anything regarded as feminine. Exploitation and destruction of the environment is intrinsically linked to patriarchal systems of social order that give men unmerited dominance over women.
As feminist theologians have long noted, the social issues demanding the critical attention of churches are all interconnected in a web, all interwoven. One cannot understand and deal with militarism, economic exploitation of minorities, or destruction of the environment without understanding and dealing with patriarchy, misogyny, and homophobia. As feminist theologians have long noted, societies that are racist are also not coincidentally almost always societies that are misogynistic and homophobic.
Nor can one understand and deal with the key issues confronting society today without confronting the unjust domination of the churches by white males who profess to be heterosexual.
Part of the silence—a big part of the self-censorship of bishops and other church leaders today, when it comes to gay issues—is a tactic of keeping at bay critique of the ways in which white males who profess to be heterosexual still control most everything in the world, including in the churches. Or perhaps particularly in the churches.
The issue of how to fit our LGBT brothers and sisters into the churches is neuralgic because it casts a spotlight on church leaders themselves—an unwanted spotlight. It casts a spotlight (an unwanted one) on how the churches treat LGBT people.
The discussion unmasks the claim that everyone is invited to the table as a false claim—a shamefully false, starkly false claim. A lie.
Churches must find ways to keep at bay the discussion of the place of their LGBT brothers and sisters at the table, because that discussion will open too many doors to questions about how the church pursues its ministries, how it deals with money, what kind of alliances with powerful people drive the churches and their rhetoric and actions.
The question of how or whether to provide a place at the table for gay human beings should, of course, never have become a church-dividing issue. No church can justifiably claim to be church, when it excludes any group from the table. Every sinner has a place at the table of the Lord. Period. No questions asked.
That is, every sinner has a place at the Lord’s table if the church setting that table wants to claim to be following in the footsteps of Jesus.
No, the question of the place of LGBT human beings at the table should never have been made a church-dividing issue. We who are gay did not choose to make this an issue. Other forces in church and society have done so, and have done so with a vengeance.
That being the case, no church today can flim-flam around the gay issue, claiming it is not and should not be a church-dividing issue, or an issue of key importance to the human community. Indeed, it might well be argued that this question of how to set a place for gay brothers and sisters is the premier issue facing all churches today—the one with the most potential to test the fidelity of churches to the gospel, the one with the strongest ability to test whether churches intend to be church at the most fundamental level possible, the only level that counts: whether churches intend to set the Lord’s table for all sinners.
The church and its bishops don’t pay any price at all, do they—really now—when they take a stand on nuclear proliferation, poverty, and the environment? But the church and its bishops do pay a price, and a steep one, when they resolutely and without qualification announce that their table is open to all, including their gay brothers and sisters, and that their institutions will demonstrate this praxis of discipleship by resolutely and without qualification discarding all forms of discrimination within church institutions against LGBT human beings.
Perhaps Bishop Whitaker and other church leaders who are flim-flamming around discussion of the place of gay brothers and sisters at the table will make the topic of their next roundtable discussion of key issues confronting the churches the following excerpt from a sermon that retired Catholic Bishop of Detroit, Thomas Gumbleton preached recently on what the Catholic liturgical calendar calls the 10th Sunday in ordinary time. The gospel for the day was Matthew 9:9-13 (see
There are so many other ways in which we must become a welcoming community, a community that is like Jesus, that is ready to welcome sinners, to be with sinners, to be with those who others would think as not worthy. We have to become a church of great diversity, where we welcome everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, poverty, wealth. We have to be a church of diversity. We have to share our Eucharist, we have to share our banquet, with all who are out there in the world with us.

When we can reach out as Jesus did and welcome tax collectors and sinners into our midst without making judgment, simply welcoming everyone as God does, God says, "I want mercy more than sacrifice; love more than ritual," this is what is very important and this is what we must try to make happen in our communities, in our church, and in our civil society, so that we really become one beloved community, one family of God where everyone is welcome and everyone gives thanks and gratitude for the God who shows them such love through those who follow his son, Jesus.

This is what is very important and this is what we must try to make happen in our communities, in our church, and in our civil society: to welcome everyone regardless, to share our banquet with all who are out there in the world with us.


angelinjones said...

Worlds within and upon worlds are now threatened by the sin of all sins being committed by those difficult, dogmatic conservates, that of ’sectarianism’. Loyalty to denominational structures and the unity of ‘The Church’ is preached with increasing conviction to those who have the audacity and bad manners to challenge the illiberal ‘liberalism’ of certain ecclesiastical hierarchies.
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William D. Lindsey said...

Angelin, great comment. I couldn't agree more.