Pastors Marrying Their Gay Sons

Jason Micheli —  November 19, 2013 — 16 Comments

Pastorial_2425_Waselchuk1384735747Since so many of my peers, readers and FB friends occupy that rapidly evaporating niche of American culture that is United Methodism, I’ve got no firm grip on whether the rest of you have heard about the trial of Rev. Frank Shaefer in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Church trial, that is.

Aside: That the United Methodist Church has a judicial system that virtually mirrors, in every jot and tittle, not the Gospel of Matthew but the American system of justice should give you pause and is itself a good indicator of the problems besetting our particular brand of Jesus-following.

Rev Frank’s offense (sedition is a more apt term)?

Officiating the wedding ceremony of two gay men.

Oh- it might seem relevant to the empathetic among you- one of the two grooms is Frank’s son, Tim.

Whereas the Catholic Church makes news when Pope Francis kisses the cheeks of a modern day leper or some other Jesusy act, the UMC makes news when it asserts for the umpteenth time how much we don’t like gay people.

Just last year, for example, at our international gathering called ‘General Conference,’ we made news for being incapable of acknowledging publicly what everyone knows to be true: that Christians of good heart and faith disagree on the issue of homosexuality.

Now, I’m no liberal.

Typically, I have little patience for pastors with an ego-driven need to be ‘prophetic,’ derailing the Great Commission in their local congregation for their own activist mission.

What’s frustrating is that Rev. Frank appears to be an exception.

He didn’t marry his son to make a stand. He married his son because he loves his son.

What instead instigated the ecclesial trial is as depressing as it is cliche:

disputes between older, lifelong members of his church vs newer, younger members

traditional worship devotees vs contemporary worship aficionados

and- to the surprise of 0 pastors out there- the dismissal of a choir director

with more tenure and fans than the pastor

Rev. Frank didn’t make a stand by officiating a gay wedding. Months and months went by without any one in his church knowing he had done so.

Instead church people looking to undermine him, for reasons having more to do with liturgy than lifestyle, went digging for dirt.

The painting-into-a-corner result?

They’ve made Rev. Frank exactly what he was not the day he said ‘dearly beloved’ to his son and his son’s beloved:

an activist.

Issues of theology, biblical interpretation and sexuality aside….this is what I can say without equivocation:

News stories like this one piss me off.

Why?

My usual snark and cynicism aside, I actually believe the United Methodist Church- strike that, the Wesleyan tradition- is uniquely positioned to offer the 21st century a compelling vision of Christianity.

I actually believe we have a fruit-bearing future if only the Pharisees hell bent on safeguarding the UMC would stop and desist.

Unlike many other flavors of Mainline Christianity, Methodists believe in the Bible.

Nay, we believe in God, a living God.

We believe God speaks as much today as God ever did in bearded, bible times. And we believe the Bible is the reliable mode of God’s communication to us. Wherever else God may speak or appear or tease, we believe scripture is as regular and reliable as a bus stop.

But unlike so many brands of Christianity, Methodists don’t believe the Bible has to be interpreted woodenly.

It’s not a dead text; it’s a living text because we believe Holy Spirit is but another name for God. We Methodists, on our best days, are neither literalists nor cretins. We worship Father, Son and Spirit not page 3, 46 or verse 9.

Likewise, Methodists don’t believe God lies to us.

We believe all truth is God’s truth. If our intellect, if science, if reason, if our human experience, if the experience of other believers or non-believers tells us something about God’s world we don’t have to dismiss it as wrong, demonic, false or unbiblical. If it’s true, it’s true.

In a culture that increasingly sees Christianity as anti-intellectual, Methodism is a made to order alternative.

Contrary to many shy, mainline Christian traditions, we Methodists are a repentance-preaching, conversion-measuring sect. We expect that turning towards Jesus means you turn away from other things.

In an American culture captive to greed and individualism, Methodism could be a made to order alternative.

Distinct from our evangelical friends, Methodism is sacramental and liturgical (at least on paper).

We believe the prayers of the saints are probably better than a ‘Fatherweejust..’ prayer. We believe bread and wine are the best conveyors of God’s grace and should be taken as much as freaking possible. We believe in them Jesus makes good on his word and is really present to us in the Eucharist and unlike our Catholic friends we don’t bother trying to figure out how that’s possible. With God, after all, all things are possible and this, as luck would have it, makes Methodism the perfect tradition for a postmodern culture yearning for the mysterious and transcendent.

Like many of other Jesus brands, we believe we’re saved by grace through faith. Unlike many of those brands, we believe the proof is in the pudding. That you very likely do not have faith in God’s grace if you’re not practicing, embodying, doing God’s grace for others. For the poor.

In a culture that hungers to make a difference by serving others, by serving the poor, the followers of John Wesley are obvious candidates to take the Jesus torch into the next century.

The UMC is perfectly positioned for the century unfolding before us.

Except…

A simple Google search of ‘United Methodism’ earlier today resulted in a full 3 pages devoted to how we believe “homosexuals are persons of sacred worth” just as long as they don’t desire to express their humanity in any of the ways normal humans do.

Again, I’m no liberal.

Aside: when the US Military is more liberal than the UMC…

that’s saying something.

I believe in scripture.

I get the need for Church order. I get the need for ecclesial discipline.

But I also believe in a Savior who routinely violated his own church discipline (See: Mark, Gospel of)

And I get that this is a losing demographic issue for the UMC and, however you feel about homosexuality, being ‘right’ on this issue is not worth the cost of whole generations not hearing the Gospel because Google et all only communicate what/who we’re against.

Not what/who we’re for.

Rev Frank is only now being tried for a wedding that took place years ago.

My oldest son is a year or so away from puberty so let the UMC be warned…

Should it happen that he discovers he’s gay in the same unintended way I realized I wasn’t…and should it happen he finds love worth a lifetime…and should he ask me to…

There’s no way I’d say no.

And dammit, I don’t care what (you think) Paul said: I’m betting the house Jesus would understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jason Micheli

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16 responses to Pastors Marrying Their Gay Sons

  1. When I read about this on the web, I was more sad than anything else. Sad for the pastor, sad for his sons, and sad for religion. Thanks for picking this up.

    What’s most troubling for organized religion is that we have the winning message. Most non-religious people I know truly believe in loving one another, giving to others, and forgiving – probably three of the four most important things a Christian can do (with the 1st being love God). When I point this out to said friends, and invite them to church, I usually get something along the lines of “I want to love people, without having to hate people.”

    We allow our self-marketing to highlight our negatives, rather than our positives. That’s really, really unfortunate.

    • Obviously, if homosexual behavior is a sin (as two millennia of consensual Christian teaching has asserted), then it would be unloving to say otherwise.

      Jason said a few weeks ago that the question of its being a sin is “uninteresting” to him. When I asked him about what he meant by that, he never answered me. Sin seems like an incredibly big deal to me.

      • I respect your intellect—honestly—which is why I find your writing on this subject so disappointing. I don’t believe you’re thinking it through clearly. I think, like many Methodists, you’re feeling it through.

        As for my being cynical, well, yes… I can match you note for note. You’re not going to out-cynic me!

        Still, I’m not sure what my attitude has to do with anything. You refuse to engage an actual argument because I’m not nice enough?

        You say you’ve written 20,000 words. I’ve read several previous blog posts with the tag “homosexuality.” Maybe I’ve missed the ones you’re referring to. Send me a link or two.

        As for ordination vows, I’m not aware that I said “everyone” had their fingers crossed, but you can appreciate overstatement as well as anyone. There I go again. Sorry.

        My point is, I witnessed my fellow ordinands playing the game of “how to answer without really answering” questions related to sexuality. I played it myself in 2007 when I was commissioned—back when I agreed with you on this subject. In North Georgia, we’re asked directly about our understanding of those controversial paragraphs.

        So when my fellow clergy engage in civil disobedience, as they did in Pennsylvania last week, I don’t think I’m wrong to question the motives of many of them. I don’t believe that those 50 or so clergy all have experienced some dramatic change of heart since they took a vow to abide by the Discipline.

        The only thing that’s changed is that their side continues to lose by an increasingly wide margin at General Conference—for which I’m thankful.

        • It’s unfair for you to remove your comment and keep my reply to it.

          Whatever. It’s your blog. This will be my last comment on this post, I promise. I just wish, given the blunt and controversial things you often say here, that you would allow for more give-and-take.

  2. Hi! I’ve been following your writing for a while (I’m a Methodist who came for your Barth posts), but I have failed to comment on anything before now. I want you to know that this is one of my favorite posts here. I heartily agree with everything you said about the UMC (and the Wesleyan tradition), and your words have given me quite a bit to mull over regarding our place in the Church and the world. Our denomination is perfectly positioned to effectively share the Gospel today, and we better not waste this opportunity.

  3. “Whereas the Catholic Church makes news when Pope Francis kisses the cheeks of a modern day leper or some other Jesusy act, the UMC makes news when it asserts for the umpteenth time how much we don’t like gay people.”

    I’m confused. Are you saying that Pope Francis, who does all these Jesusy things, also doesn’t like gay people? Or has the Catholic Church changed its doctrine on human sexuality?

  4. Jason,

    Sorry to say but you seem to have a twisted notion of what love is. Love doesn’t mean approving implicitly of something that would be considered by the church sinful. I hope you would not bless polygamous marriages.

    • My understanding of love is that it is unconditional. We are not talking about romantic love which is totally different. As for polygamous marriages, with our changing society I can see the possibility of that evolving. Although I think more than two people living together makes for a difficult relationship, but only God knows what the future holds.

      • Ideally, a parent’s love for a child is unconditional, but that hardly means that they let their children do whatever they want! That wouldn’t be loving. What if what they’re doing is harmful to them? In the case of human sexuality, God has revealed to us in his Word (as understood by the vast majority of the universal Church and two millennia of Christian reflection on the subject) that sex is for marriage, which by definition is between a man and a woman. Celibacy is the rule outside of marriage, for both gay and straight people.

        I believe it’s a modern myth that we suddenly discovered sexual orientation in the 19th century, even if we didn’t call it homosexuality. In other words, I highly doubt that no one noticed until recently that people who experience same-sex attraction find it very difficult, in many cases, to break free of that attraction. Are we surprised, in this fallen world of sin and evil, that sometimes sexual attraction becomes disordered—through no fault of the person to whom it happens. It’s tragic, but the solution—where orientation can’t be redirected—is celibacy.

        I love, for example, that good old Stanley Hauerwas rather glibly asserts that we Christians should gladly sacrifice our lives—and the lives of even our children—in the face of armed resistance. But God forbid anyone be asked to sacrifice their sex lives!

        But I know… I’m straight. Who am I to talk? Yet there are plenty of gay Christians today who gladly struggle to be celibate and remain faithful to the traditional Christian understanding of sex outside of (heterosexual) marriage. But they’re obviously misguided… Poor Henri Nouwen! Why did he bother with celibacy? What do we know that he didn’t know—even 10 or 15 years ago?

        See, it’s not simply that St. Paul failed to imagine two Christians of the same sex in a committed, monogamous, life-long relationships (although some ancient Greek philosophers exalted such relationships)… It’s that so many more recent Christian thinkers, including our own John Wesley, also failed to imagine such a thing.

        None of them liked gay people, right? Please!

  5. I should say “armed aggression” instead of “resistance.” Duh.

  6. Thank you Jason–I’m so glad to hear of your acceptance of gay marriage. I should have known.

  7. To say that God has revealed to us in his Word that sex is for marriage and then to say that marriage by definition is between a man and a woman is to disregard two basic facts: first, that God’s revelations are passed down to us through human beings who are culturally conditioned to understand that revelation through their own biases. [Much as I love Paul, that includes him.] The Word reaches us through fallible hearers, writers, and translators. And second, marriage is by definition no longer between a man and a woman; the courts have ruled on that. The Bible is holy to us because through it we understand that we are to emulate Jesus, the Christ. Moreover, the church as an institution has not always emulated Jesus and as such has been on the wrong side of justice issues more than once. Two cases in point include slavery and women’s rights. It was not the institutional church but moral folk in secular society who campaigned against slavery and against discrimination based on gender. As is obvious, discrimination against women in still with us in some churches, while doors have opened to careers in law, medicine, science, politics, etc.

    Jesus says nothing about homosexuality, and very little about sexual sins; he reserves his severest criticism for those who claim to love God but do not serve the poor and the oppressed. The current issue of homosexuality is headed in the same direction as the previous two cases of “sinfulness” (slaves and women were supposed to know their place). It is the role of the Holy Spirit to enlighten and teach us the mind of Christ. My belief is that the Holy Spirit is working through the hearts of citizens and church folk to bring about a change more in keeping with the commandment to love one another. All the proof-texting in the world won’t change that.

    • Your comment is directed to me, but I would much rather hear Jason respond to this!

    • Your argument suffers from the flaw that it presumes people are naturally bigoted towards something. You say that God’s word came to us through people, who naturally put their own biases on them.
      Can you say WHY people – the Jews for instance – would have been so bigoted towards homosexuality in an age when it was accepted by every other culture.

      Only two possibilities exist. Either the early Jews were the only ancient civilization to have bigotry towards homosexuality and thereby created false laws derived from God’s word (in which case, how can you take ANYTHING in the Bible as God’s word then?).
      Or, it IS God’s law that homosexuality is not part of his plan for us.

      As for the issue of homosexual marriage, I think the Pope had some good words this week, warning us to avoid adolescent progressivism – that just because the secular world is trending towards something, that doesn’t mean we, as Christians, should follow their lead.

      We’ve already discussed how you wrongly paint a narrative of “secular” people taking the lead on slavery, when that is not the historical record.

      • I have never used the word bigot, which is harsher and stronger than having a bias based on the cultural conditioning. Many of us are not even aware of the cultural biases we have. It is no flaw to presume that we are all fallible and that most of us lack such an awareness. That includes the Jews and the writers and translators and copiers of scripture. Moreover, it is irrelevant that the ancient Jews differed from other ancient societies with respect to homosexuality.

        Your position seems to be that every word in the Bible is God’s word and that all the words are of equal importance. Again, the flaw in that position is the presumption of infallibility on the part of the writer; he passes on the revelation insofar as he is able to perceive it. Here’s a prime example: Should women not speak in church? Should women not be allowed to hold a position higher than a man? Should women not be allowed to take church leadership?

        I reject the “all or nothing mindset” that you seem to be proposing by your comment that if one sees evidence of cultural bias in some passages, e.g., discrimination against women, that one cannot take anything as God’s word. A far better way to interpret scripture is to examine the life of Christ to see if such passages comport with his teachings and his example.

        You seem to proof-text by referring to the Hebrew scriptures to support your position against homosexual rights. However, please note that Jesus often disagreed with the scriptures, e.g., “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Mt 5:38–39) This is but one example of the “…..but I say to you” passages that show a clear re-interpretation by Jesus of Hebrew scripture.

        Moreover, we will continue to disagree that the institutional church has taken the lead on social justice issues. I distinguish between the institutional church and individuals, both Christian and secular. You said in an earlier post that “Christians have been on the forefront of injustice.” I assume you mean on the forefront of reform. I totally agree with that. We are seeing exactly that with respect to the right of homosexuals to marry today. But I understand you as having equated Christian individuals with the institutional church. I believe that you would say that Christians supporting the right of homosexuals to marry their partners are deviating from [some] churches’ understanding of God’s laws. “The church” has been wrong before. The Episcopal Church has a different position with respect to homosexuality. Acceptance of the right of individuals to marry the person they love is the loving thing to do, be they straight or gay. I’d be willing to bet that Jesus would agree. It wasn’t long ago that marriage between blacks and whites was illegal. Most churches would have supported that position; many individuals did not, be they Christian or secular.

        I reiterate what I said in an earlier post. Individuals, both Christian and secular, have led the way to reform with respect to slavery, women’s rights, and civil rights. Abolitionists of different religious persuasions and none took the lead against slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr., took over the leadership for the rights of black Americans during the 1950’s – 60’s, certainly not the (white) institutional church. And it was the Supreme Court who ruled for Brown in the school desegregation case. Many churches, both North and South, but particularly in the South, were against this ruling. Violence ensued. And we don’t have to look far to see that women are still second class citizens in some churches. The institutional church did take leadership when the popes during the Middle Ages proposed the Peace of God and the Truce of God, limiting days when fighting would not be permitted and setting conditions for the same. However, I believe the historical record is more supportive of my view that “the church” lagged behind individuals, both Christian and secular, with regard to reform of the issues above.

        Those who see the scriptures as infallible and give equal acceptance to all passages fail to take cultural bias into account, but, far worse, they disregard the life of Christ as an example when interpreting scripture. Likewise, they ignore the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us discern the mind of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit that changes hearts and minds and brings about change that is more in keeping with the commandment to love God and one another. Love is the overriding principle of the Great Commandment and it takes precedence over all others. Moreover, it is not subject to proof-texting.

  8. Gotta say, you had me up until the Methodist triumphalism.

    “Unlike many other flavors of Mainline Christianity, Methodists believe in the Bible.” Huh? News to this Presbyterian, married to a Lutheran. We’re ,mainliners who love and believe in the Bible (and don’t interpret it woodenly.)

    I’ve encountered this Methodist “team spirit” before and find it just plain odd. I once heard a young Catholic woman argue she wasn’t a Christian — she was Catholic! Sometimes when I’m listening in on Methodists, I hear that same odd insistence on denominational identity. Maybe Barth got to me — if he heard one branch of Protestantism argue that it was THIS close to the Absolute Truth, he’d laugh hysterically, right?

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