Much to the dismay of many of my Evangelical brethren, I read the Huffington Post.  I read it not because I lean one way or the other politically, but instead, because I like to read the Huffington Post.  The format intrigues me, being part news reporting, part cultural commentary.

Lately, I’ve read a good deal written about the cultural clash of Christianity and human sexuality that is occurring in our time today.  The Anglican Communion has struggled with this issue for years now, and the denomination has seen itself split over the matter of whether or not homosexuals should or shouldn’t be ordained into ministry.  Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, straddled the fence between both sides as long as he could, and lost a battle that couldn’t be won…The Church of England is a divided entity.

The Anglicans aren’t alone.  The Presbyterians and Lutherans in the U.S. have both divided, at least in part, over the matter of human sexuality.  The United Methodist Church has long taken the stance that they welcome homosexuals into their congregations, but that they do not consider the homosexual lifestyle to be in accordance with Holy Scripture.  Despite a great deal of protest and disruption of their recent General Conference, they held fast to that conviction.  Who knows what lies ahead for those who are dissatisfied with the UMC?  When the Episcopal Church ordained Eugene Robinson in 2003 as its first openly gay bishop, theologically conservative groups splintered off, many of whom would eventually to come back together as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Will the more theologically liberal Methodists break off, or continue to press on toward having the UMC fully accept their ideas?  Could we be on the verge of seeing yet another serious schism in American Christianity?

I’m not really writing this to debate whether homosexuality is a sin. It is.  The Bible also contains a pretty lengthy list of laws that I personally am really good at breaking, so I am definitely not casting stones here.

I also believe that scripture is clear that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, without narrowly defining who our neighbors are….regardless of sexual orientation, race, political affiliation, or whether you’re a Georgia Bulldog or Florida Gator fan (I know, that’s a stretch.  Personally, I believe the doctrine of purgatory was developed with UF fans in mind…).

My purpose today isn’t to debate, but to post some thoughts that I hope would be compelling to both sides of the argument.  Here we go…

“The soul that would preserve its peace, when another’s sin is brought to mind, must fly from it as from the pains of hell, looking to God for help against it. To consider the sins of other people will produce a thick film over the eyes of our soul, and prevent us for the time being from seeing the ‘fair beauty of the Lord’– unless, that is, we look at them contrite along with the sinner, being sorry with and for him, and yearning over him for God. Without this it can only harm, disturb, and hinder the soul who considers them. I gathered all this from the revelation about compassion…This blessed friend is Jesus; it is his will and plan that we hang on to him, and hold tight always, in whatever circumstances; for whether we are filthy or clean is all the same to his love.” 

+Lady Julian of Norwich+

“Do not be irritated either with those who sin or those who offend; do not have a passion for noticing every sin in your neighbor, and for judging him, as we are in the habit of doing. Everyone shall give an answer to God for himself. Everyone has a conscience, everyone hears God’s Word, and knows God’s Will, either from books, or from conversation with other people. Especially do not look with evil intention upon the sins of your elders, which do not regard you; ‘to his own master he stands or falls.’ Correct your own sins, amend your own life.”

+ St. John of Kronstadt +

“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.  You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.  And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.  You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.  And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.”  And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”  So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper.  Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field.  Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious.  Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.  Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it.  God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?”

+ James 4:1-12, The Message +

Now, if you just read these passages and thought, “That’s Lee.  Crazy liberal.”, then you need to read again.  These statements and scriptures are an indictment of both sides of this wackiness.  Here’s some thoughts of my own on this matter…

1) It’s fine to desire cultural change to accommodate cultural trends.  Go out and change government policies through protest, stumping, and the ballot box.   It’s not okay to bend scripture and Church tradition for the sake of tickling someone’s fancy.  The Church is a unique institution.  It’s not to be fiddled with for the sake of making us feel better about ourselves.  I believe that this includes our liturgies.

2) Please don’t use the argument, “Jesus never mentioned one word about homosexuality” as a justification for your opinions.  I’m not even going to provoke by asking, “What about Paul?”  That’s not my point here.  Jesus also never mentioned meth labs,  frozen pizza,  kissing your cousin, puppy mills, setting forest fires, or packing my Facebook inbox with Candy Crush requests;  however, I think everyone would agree that all of these things are pretty much incompatible with the guidelines in the Methodist Book of Discipline.  Except maybe the pizza.  Depends on the brand.

3)  Inclusiveness is a two-way street.  You can’t argue in favor of inclusiveness, then deny the validity of every argument that isn’t in agreement with your opinions.  That’s the definition of “not inclusive”.

4) Anything that divides the Body of Christ, The Church, is not a good thing.  Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.  How dare we presume that it is ours to alter according to our whims?  My great dream in life is to see a shared communion table amongst all believers, a unified Church.  This should be a goal for all believers.  We can’t allow our own agendas to outweigh God’s agendas.  When crying out for reform of the Church, one most always check their motives:  Is what I’m fighting for truly according to God’s plan, or is it the fruit of personal and cultural opinion?

5)  We must love one another, and be welcoming and hospitable as Christians.  Welcoming and hospitable doesn’t always equal condoning, or even agreeing.  That being said, there’s no reason we can’t be nice to each other.  Mama always said, “Don’t be ugly.”  If you’re from the South, you know exactly what that means.  When the gay, African-American, Libertarian guy from down the street sits next to you at church, don’t refuse to shake his hand during meet and greet, or for my more liturgical friends, ignore him when you’re passing the peace.  And remember, GAALG (I just created an acronym for gay, African-American, Libertarian guy!), just because your spiritual leader doesn’t feel that officiating at your wedding is compatible with scripture and Church tradition, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a closed-minded bigot.  It’s an issue that all compassionate, caring pastors and priests struggle with…How can we be loving and welcoming, but tell people “No” at the same time?  Know that it’s a dilemma for everyone involved.

We live in a time of “We” vs. “Them”.  The mindset is promoted in every media outlet, every political arena, every sports town.  It has no place in our churches.

Pay attention to your own sin more than the sin of others.

Focus on Christ, not whether your neighbor is as Christ-like as you think you are.

Love the Church.  Even if it pains you, or you disagree with her historical stance on topics relevant to you.

Love the Church.  Even if the media continually lights fires under you, telling you that division is necessary and inevitable.

Love the Church.  Fight for her unity, above any other agenda.

Love Christ.

Love one another.

In the Name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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