By Michael Gibson-Faith
Over the last four weeks, I had the opportunity to work with a church in their adult education class on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Church.” It just happened to be a Methodist Church, which, of course, has had a lot of news coverage as their members have struggled with the issue of homosexuality, the role of homosexuals in the church, and the church’s practices towards homosexuals.
After spending four weeks listening to Methodists on all sides, I felt like I had heard voices from two very different churches. The first week, the American Friends Service Committee LGBT Issues Program did a nonviolent dialogue training. The second week, a minister spoke about how the Christian scriptures do not condemn LGBT people, and then the week after him there was another minister who said that they DO condemn us.
I happened to be quite interested in the Minister who spoke out against homosexuality. He was a very gentle man in the way he spoke about the subject. You could tell he took great care in his approach and that it was honestly a struggle for him to come to the conclusions he had. I sat and listened to him and really tried to place myself in that worldview.
Still, it’s always hard for me to sit through talks like his. It’s difficult to listen to someone cite biblical evidence to justify their discrimination within the church and in society towards LGBT people.
It was even harder to hear the man repeat old and misguided information about LGBT people that was not even church-related. He even came out as a supporter of Proposal 2, which really hit me hard considering that the United Methodist church has as a value in their “Book of Discipline” to stand up for the civil rights of LBGT people.
However, I still wanted to reach out to this man. Not to try and change him, but to just be gentle with him, to share with him. What I felt from him was genuine, so I felt called to engage with him.
I wanted to engage on a topic we rarely discuss in this debateÑ”Okay, so now what? How do we live together with these two very different views?” I walked up and introduced myself and shared more about the dialogue work AFSC does with churches and how I felt it was important for us to create opportunities to dialogue across our differences.
I said I felt that the Methodist church sounded like two very different churches right now on many issues. He agreed and began to talk about the church splitting over this issue. He didn’t tell me how he felt about that. I jumped in after he said that and mentioned that splitting had also seemed probable over the role of women, slavery, and other controversial issues in the past. The result was always that what united Methodists was stronger than what divided them.
Our conversation went in many directions, church splitting, the role of African churches in shaping the future of the Christian church, and the role of faith in politics. I could tell at this point he was getting a little uncomfortable. For while we weren’t talking about homosexuality, we were going at a core issue that is also of strong difference. There are some who want their faith to be reflected in public policy at the cost of others. He quickly changed the topic.
As he started to gather his things to leave, I said, “You know, I really like the new United Church of Christ ad, ‘God is Still Speaking.'” I said that if his church splits, not only would it not be any fun (trying to inject some humor) but also those who split off would, in essence, be telling God whom they will listen to. “If you divide up camps into conservative and progressives and only engage and work with those with whom you agree all the time,” I went on. “Then you have shut the door on God who may have wanted to speak through others. We don’t get to pick and choose whom God works through.” I could tell that I hit a note there and that he was leaving with something to think about.
It also gave me something to think about. I had never articulated that thought to myself before. While working with all these churches struggling to decide whether or not they should split over LGBT issues, I always wanted them to dialogue, but I also wanted them to just work through the issue and label themselves either progressive or conservative and just divide up if they can’t get past it. Now, there is something about patience, about hard work, and about engaging in dialogue over time that I think might be more worthwhile.
In the end, it might be nice for those groups wishing to split the church to put away their plans for property disbursements and payout plans and legal suits for the use of denominational names. Maybe, just maybe, God is still speaking, and maybe the message is “Kids, work it out. It’s time to start playing nice with each other!”