Gay Christians are People Not Issues & A Conversation About Them Should Include Them

Jason Micheli —  October 23, 2014 — 11 Comments

In about a month my little corner of the United Methodist Church (the Virginia Annual Conference) will be convening an event called a ‘Day of Holy Conversation on Sexuality.’

Isto Es: We’re talking about the ‘homosexuality issue’ in the Church.

While I hope the event bears fruit and I plan to participate as well, my fear is that it will be yet another church gathering where we talk about homosexuals in the Church rather than talk with– or, better, listen to– homosexuals in the Church.

No gay Christians will be among the official presenters at the Day of Conversation.

(I asked and then politely advocated)

I understand that putting together an event like this for so many disparate parties is a sisyphean task so I can grumble but not begrudge their decision.

But here’s something every pastor knows and everyone who volleys soundbites should know:

Homosexuals exist in the big -C- Church.

Worshipping. Leading. Fellowshipping. Grieving. Serving. We baptize them. Hand them the Eucharist. Confirm them. Bury them.

The reality in the Church is marriage is the only thing we don’t do for them/with them.

Gay Christians have existed in every little -c- church I’ve served, from the lucky-to-have-30-on-Sunday congregation in Jersey to the prison congregation I ‘chaplained’ to my present congregation just outside DC.

You could double the size of that Jersey church if you just rounded up all the congregants I’ve known with gay children. And I even know a few at the church where the Day of Conversation will be convened.

Something else every pastor knows and every partisan on TV should know:

Most people in churches have no problem with those gay Christians in their congregation.

In the flesh, grace almost always trumps doctrine.

So regardless of how one feels about the ‘issue’ and what one thinks the Church’s position should be on it, the fact remains that gay Christians aren’t simply ‘issues.’

They’re not reducible to an issue because they’re people.

They are fruit-bearing (yes, they are) parts of Christ’s Church.

Are they sinning members of Christ’s Church? Sure. But so am I.

I suspect the reason this ‘issue’ is so painful and difficult for the Church is precisely because gay Christians are a part of all our congregations, because their faith bears fruit and because church members bear them much love and friendship.

But that’s exactly the reason too, I think, that they deserve to have their Church listen to them.

All of that is just prologue to say that I think this video, already viral in the church nerd world, gets at the ‘conversation’ exactly the right way. Props to the saints and sinners at House for All.

In case the video doesn’t load on your computer, you can find it here:

We Are The Church from Angie van Broekhuizen on Vimeo.

Jason Micheli

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11 responses to Gay Christians are People Not Issues & A Conversation About Them Should Include Them

  1. See you there, my friend!

  2. Good argument. Problem with selectively quoting Paul. No one should deny any christian the opportunity to belong to the body of Christ. But that is not really what is desired or being demanded in some locations. So while we can agree that all hearts belong to God, what about those christians who cite the bible out of love, but cite a message that indicts? Are christians to no longer address what appears to them to be an intention to sin? The big church is now required to remain silent on the “issues” that homosexual individuals bring to the community?

    • Thanks for the feedback, T. No, I don’t think the larger church should be forced into silence; I’m just uncomfortable with how often the ‘debate’ doesn’t include or listen to gay church people. I get that there are good arguments on the other side. Ultimately I like what Scot McKnight has to say about the Church being a ‘people of different’ who nonetheless find their unity in Christ.

  3. Jason, I think I can affirm everything you wrote. Even so, I still have a problem with the video. Not that it doesn’t speak truth, gay individuals are indeed the church. What I have a problem with is that implies people are saying that gay individuals are not the church, that they are not people, that they are nothing more than issues. And in 30 years as a pastor, and more than 40 years as a member of the United Methodist Church, I have never once heard gay people referred to as an issue — not when I attended General Conference, not in seminary, not in a meeting of the Board of Ordained Ministry, not at a Church and Society event, not when having lunch with friends talking about the Reconciling Ministries Network, not when attending a Good News luncheon. Never. Oh, sure, people have talked about issues related to homosexuality and how the United Methodist Church should/could/would respond to individuals whose sexual orientation was LGBT. But, I’ve never heard a person referred to an issue until this video implied it.

  4. “Are they sinning members of Christ’s Church? Sure. But so am I.”

    BOOM!

  5. I do not feel one way or the other about Nadia but it seems to me that the video speaks to why summits like the one happening in UMC continue to be redundant; privatization of sex, etc. The “side” she advocates for (as admirable as this is) believes it’s unjust to discriminate based upon the way someone is born but have probably missed an orthodox view of what it means to be “created;” as if being born with something were justification enough for loosing the church’s traditional values when it comes to sex and marriage. Unless they take another approach (gay or not), it’s quite simply bad theology easily able to be thrown out given the decision of a privileged (probably straight) bishop. Which is what has happened time and time again in the UMC.

    But, then again, there are those conservatives who treat this subject as if they have something to prove; as if what they believe hinges on a conservative outcome– which makes for the pathos to condemn gays so they feel like they really believe something. But, then again, conservatives have, for the most part, been part of the destruction of the theo-political understanding of marriage thanks to the political xenophobia and scitzophrenia we have adopted from our culture; thus, there can be no real progress without recognition of this failure. Conservatives will have to let loose of the libertarian mind set in order to present their case in a way that makes coherent theological sense.

    But I do not see a loosing on this matter happening very soon; if at all. The reason being is that I think conservatives will be the first to change their minds because the pathos of liberal cultural imperialism eludes them. People are radicalizing around this subject. Thus, if they are to avoid the sort of anonymity that fuels the political slander in our country, they will need to be listeners first.

    Nevertheless, one of the distinguishing markers of Christian practice from Jewish practice is its affirmation of the legitimacy of singleness and celibacy as a vocation in the life of the church. This was radical for its day. In fact, if we pay attention to detail, it presents a caveat that fully affirms the vocation of people who are gay to be full participants in the ministry of the church because of this. But because we are conditioned to think about getting married and laid as the “right” of the individual (and a denial of those things are somehow sinful) we forsake the limiting disciplines of the orthodox tradition that values socializing sex because it is seen as part of the church’s communal political economy; thus not *necessarily* an individual “right” but *contingently*. Abstention and deprivation are not the same as defection. This, we will have to lose the social libertarian mentality to create a communal vision for sex and marriage that has listened to Scripture. Our focus should always be privileging political goods; not the flattening of the politics of our bodies the way the Liberal world (economic or social) so very desires.

    • I actually agree with you completely, Bobby. Part of the problem of blog posts is that they don’t really allow for the sustained attention to the particulars you’ve alluded to here. The reason I tried to emphasize the ‘fruit’ gay Christians’ faith bears for the Church is because I do think the ‘progressive’ argument too often relies upon a theological framework that is nonsensical but no more so than the conservative view, which already sells the farm by watering down their ecclesiology into ‘rights,’ natural law norms and privatistic accounts of all the other vices they’re not as hot and bothered over. So what, do you think, is the way forward?

  6. I often end up pissing everyone off as some sort of lukewarm bastard who can’t make up his mind on a subject everyone is anxious about for their own reasons.

    That being said, I applaud liberal protestantism’s experiment with reaching toward a Christian socialism. But I do not applaud how it often eludes them that the traditional theo-political understanding of sex and marriage (and its privileging of complementary sexual function) fits fully within those practices. What makes more biblical sense to me is traditional theo-political values with sex and marriage where we pursue a Christian communism with the same fervor we already are. Liberals will soon have to admit this, I think. Given hipster activist Christianity, I doubt it will be a decision that will be effectual until tough decisions are made over their head that aren’t fueled by the idealization of liberation theology so very common now. I think the prudence of classic theology will be a refreshing dose of humility of liberals.

    On the other end, I applaud their insistence people who are gay be celibate to join the pastorate and the hard-headed resistance to call same-sex relations “matrimonial.” That is controversial but arguments are generally given based upon sentimental psychological analysis rather than the theo-political empirical situation. Nevertheless, I condemn the hypocrisy their condemnation of social libertarian tenets but have had themselves fully immersed in its economic shadow. To make a coherent argument, conservatives will have to let go of the idealization of the family while still holding onto their high regard for it; but without the natural theology and more of the theo-political categories that make traditional values an aspect of the Christian life that set it in service to the believing community rather than it retaining some property of self-evidency.

  7. This will likely be controversial among my liberal friends. What I cannot get past is the charge that we aren’t allowing them to get married. This is a false controversy. There are two vocations; marriage (matrimony)– that is, lifelong monogamous fidelity through which children are welcomed– and celibacy. If you aren’t getting married than you are celibate. This insistence requires commitment to function and pleasure. With such a commitment, hardly at all do we think this might be precisely the sort of piety that resists the political exploitation of women, but capitalistic/consumeristic usury in general.

    On the cutting edge, I’ve heard arguments for “gay friendship” where we do not redefine marriage but recognize it publicly as a community as an option for celibacy on the conservative end or simply recognizing it in some way as a valid form of friendship (short of matrimony) where it’s required they adopt children.

    Theologically, the first makes more sense to me but my sentimentalities prefer the latter.

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