In the opening scene of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom on HBO, Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy loses it, or more frankly, he speaks the truth: “We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chests. We reached for the stars, acted like men, we aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed, by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”
McAvoy is talking about the United States, but he might as well be talking about the church. Honestly, my experience for the last ten years has been the United Methodist Church, but some of this may apply to other denominations. McAvoy’s rant is angry, fed up, and ill-timed, but the truth is there: all of these things were stronger in the past tense.
So, what’s the problem?
Maybe, just maybe, we’ve become so focused on sex, specifically on homosexuality, that we have our priorities out of whack. (I don’t mean to say that the LGBT community is not a priority, but hopefully, that will be clear by the end.)
As a moderate Methodist in the middle (see the alliteration?) I find myself shaking my head at both sides of the conversation/argument/war. Seriously, the issue is what we’ve become known for outside of our own walls, even if the church we attend doesn’t even stop to think about the issue or how their perspective looks from the outside. Let me take a look at each from my perspective first.
The “homosexuality is sin” side : Basing this argument on a reading of Scripture, church tradition, and perspective of sexuality, the influx of changes to the church are an absolute affront to church tradition, Scripture, and structure. For the UMC, the Discipline must be upheld as a guiding principle of polity, structure, and obedience.
The “homosexuality isn’t a sin” side: Basing this argument on a reading of Scripture, understanding of biology, and perspective of sexuality, the influx of changes to the church are seen as a natural development of our church tradition, Scripture, and structure. For the UMC, the Discipline can be ignored when the General Conference fails to adapt to the changing understanding of the church.
Both viewpoints, when taken to the extreme, paint the other as an anathema to the church as they know it. Both are calling names, whether it’s “bigot” on one side or “heretical” on the other. Both are sharpening knives, labeling the other, and failing to see the place in where Jesus occupied, in the middle, welcoming in the ‘conservative’ (Pharisee) and the ‘liberal’ (murderer, adulterer, prostitute) in terms of interpreting and obeying God’s law. [I’m sure that got someone’s attention.] Unfortunately, we’ve been ‘held hostage,’ blinded, incensed by, etc. the situation to the point where we don’t remember who we are … or who we were.
What would it look like if we wrote down the reasons we came to church in the first place, five years or fifty years ago? Have we lost sight of them?
If we recognized that Jesus acknowledged people and welcomed in everyone to learn about love from him, then aren’t the conservatives and the liberals welcome there? If Jesus were here right now, that he would see hurting gays and hurting conservatives? Can we see that Jesus blasted the people who were so sure of themselves rather than the people who were willing to open their hearts up to God? Rather than defining ourselves as church over one issue, shouldn’t we remember that all are welcomed in by Christ? Try Galatians 3:28 or Matthew 18:3. Or better yet, maybe Matthew 7:1-5:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Doesn’t that work both ways?
Everyone is a sinner. Everyone has “fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But we’ve made sexuality such an issue, that pride, greed, gluttony, gossip, etc. seem to be fading away, when those are all issues the church should be dealing with, too. How many people in our city are starving? Homeless? Depressed? Lonely? Unfaithful (ooh, doesn’t that work on so many levels)? Angry? It’s always easier to see the problem someone else has as ‘worse,’ the issue that they are dealing with as more necessarily fixed/corrected/solved. That’s why people loved to watch Married with Children: “my family is not that dysfunctional.”
Homosexuality is the issue du jour: I don’t mean that dismissively- it matters. But it’s not the main thing, because the main thing is, how do I learn to love God and neighbor better? Both sides need to recognize that equality and justice for all in the confines of the church can never come at the expense of the rejection of the gospel and the mistreatment of others. That simply answering whether homosexuality is a sin or not doesn’t actually solve the problem that has been created: that we are not as loving as we claim to be. The gospel says that loving God and loving our neighbor are paramount, and if we really do both, then there must be a middle ground, a place in the footsteps of Jesus, that we come together and really learn to love.
Do I know exactly what that looks like? No. But we need to come together, and I hope we find it sooner rather than later.