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Commentary: Avoiding Sexuality Issue Is Not True Peace

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  • umcornet
    April 11, 2008 Commentary: Avoiding sexuality issue is not true peace A UMNS Commentary By Steven E. Webster* Many voices from across The United Methodist
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 11, 2008
      April 11, 2008
      Commentary: Avoiding sexuality issue is not true peace
      A UMNS Commentary
      By Steven E. Webster*

      Many voices from across The United Methodist Church are suggesting
      there is no way forward in the 36-year-long dialogue about the role
      and status of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in
      the church. Declaring an impasse, these voices call for an end to this
      dialogue in the name of peace and unity.

      Forty-five years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a
      now-famous letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Ala., to a group of
      white clergy (including two Methodist bishops) who--in the name of
      "unity" and "peace"--had publicly called on King and his allies to
      cease their disturbing nonviolent protests against racial segregation.

      King wrote that the "great stumbling block" in the African-American
      struggle for equality was not blatant bigotry, "but the white
      moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice, who prefers
      a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace
      which is the presence of justice."

      I embrace our Wesleyan Christian vision of "making disciples of Jesus
      Christ for the transformation of the world" and applaud the General
      Conference for seeking to build unity around four focus areas: 1)
      developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world;
      2) reaching new people in new places by starting new congregations and
      renewing existing ones; 3) engaging in ministry with the poor; and 4)
      stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally.

      Yet we undercut these same goals when we continue to: 1) reject the
      gifts and graces of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and
      their allies; 2) turn off a younger generation that views the
      Christian faith as "anti-homosexual;" 3) push LGBT youth into poverty
      and homelessness as families reject them because church and society
      stigmatizes LGBT persons; and 4) fail to address the role that
      ignorance and stigmatization of homosexuality (and other sexualities)
      play in the global AIDS epidemic.

      Biblical peace

      The United Methodist Church cannot enjoy true peace and unity while it
      engages in injustice and spiritual violence against some of its
      members. Biblical peace does not refer to the apparent absence of
      conflict, and still less to the suppression of dialogue. In the Bible,
      "peace" ("shalom" in Hebrew) is a holistic concept that includes
      justice and total well-being.

      To fail to address the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
      people in the church now would leave in place the status quo in church
      law that includes Judicial Council Decision 1032, which normalizes the
      exclusion of LGBT persons from membership in the church. Decision 1032
      has never yet been the subject of discussion at a General Conference
      and runs counter to a (non-binding) plea in our Social Principles that
      "we implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and
      gay members and friends."

      Even if lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are allowed to
      attend or join the membership of The United Methodist Church, Decision
      1032 further legitimates the widespread practice of "shunning" such
      persons as unworthy to serve in any of the ministries of the local
      church. This is spiritual violence, the misuse of religious authority
      to demean and diminish LGBT Christians.

      I know LGBT persons who have been denied the opportunity to serve in
      the church as leaders of adult education classes, choir members,
      committee members, or readers of Scripture in worship. It is not
      unheard of for committed same-gender couples to be denied baptism for
      their babies and gay youth to be shunned from youth groups in The
      United Methodist Church.

      These acts, justified by labeling LGBT people as "unrepentant sinners"
      inferior to all the "repentant sinners" in the church, are acts of
      spiritual violence, harming the souls of lesbian, gay, bisexual and
      transgender persons. It is tragic that being from a devout Christian
      family has been identified as a risk factor for suicide among LGBT youths.

      A thorn in the flesh

      Some have described the church's long dialogue over these issues as "a
      thorn in the flesh." Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 that he
      endured a painful "thorn in the flesh" that would not leave him even
      though he pleaded with God to remove it. God's answer to Paul applies
      to us: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in

      We feel weary and weakened by this long dialogue over homosexuality, a
      dialogue in which I have actively participated in many ways these past
      36 years. The faith that sustains me is that God intends to perfect us
      through these trials, and we, the people of The United Methodist
      Church, look forward to a real peace which is, in King's words, the
      presence of justice and not merely the absence of tension.

      *Webster is chair of the church council of University United Methodist
      Church in Madison, Wis., and has attended the 2000 and 2004 General
      Conferences as a volunteer with Soulforce, an organization that
      describes itself as working for freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
      transgender people from religious and political oppression. He legally
      married Jim Dietrich, his partner of 27 years, in a civil ceremony in
      Toronto in 2006.
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