One of the most important blessings I have experienced by attending seminary at Saint Paul School of Theology is a greater sense of peace with the grey areas of ministry. So often I would doubt myself and give too much credibility to those spiritual leaders with the loudest voices – especially those who seemed to exude the most confidence in their preaching. One of these grey areas of ministry relates to the LGBTQ community. I am growing to be much more comfortable with trusting my own instincts and not going along with the crowd who speaks the loudest.
Coming from the Catholic tradition, any sexual act outside of procreation was a sin. Therefore, the entire debate about ordaining LGBTQ clergy inside the United Methodist Church was certainly a confusing issue for me. Several of the ordained Catholic priests I knew were LGBTQ. The religious life is where LGBTQ people “belonged” within the social cultural of Catholicism in the 1980-1990s – the era in which I was growing up. However, the clergy were also supposed to be celibate. Overtime, I have become convinced that fidelity to Christ means living a life of fidelity within our closest relationships, as well as transparency to society. I’ve become much less of a conformist by studying theology at Saint Paul’s.
I have awakened to the abuse LGBTQ people have faced over a lifetime in ways I was not able to see previously. I had been blinded to how various members within my own faith communities have provoked LGBTQ individuals to a point that they have become distrustful and rejecting of others. There are a lot of wounded people walking around and I think it is important to treat everyone with dignity.
I have met and worked with some very gifted LGBTQ Catholic priests. One of these priests was the best spiritual director and confessor I had in my life. Therefore, I would not hesitate to ordain LGBTQ individuals who live lives of transparency. I would highly discourage people from living secret lives. For example, supposedly celibate Catholic priests who were not living celibate lives have created an unspeakable amount of pain and suffering for many people. If the UMC does not welcome LGBTQ clergy, then these talented beloved people of God need to continue finding a way to express their gifts in places that are more welcoming and supportive. No one should be shamed into hiding their light. What we have done as Christians to the LGBTQ community deeply mars the face of Christ. It is no different than the horrific anti-Semitism that took place in earlier centuries based off of erroneous interpretations of the Biblical passages associated with the Jews.
Theologically, there is a case for LGBTQ scholars to link the Biblical passages associated with lustful homosexuality (such as Romans 1:26-27) with Biblical passages associated with anti-Semitism (such as 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). By utilizing historical critical analysis of these damming passages of sacred scripture one can show God’s loving blessing upon the individuals who are living responsible, faithful lives devoted to a spouse in marriage. Let’s not forget the greatest commandment of all (Mark 12:30-31). The marriage commitment is much different than the lustful Pagan practices written about and condemned in the Bible.
Not all Jewish people are responsible for crucifying Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul’s harsh words were for the Pharisees of his day and should not be extrapolated into modern times to reject or persecute all Jews. Likewise, the condemnation of temple prostitutes and homosexual acts should not be transposed onto modern-day homosexual marriages. The fears inherent in Christian communities must be addressed directly. For example, there might be fears within the Christian community around the acceptance of homosexual marriages. People may fear that the acceptance of homosexual marriages will ultimately justify the chaos and pain caused by the sins of infidelity and promiscuity. Infidelity and promiscuity still remain sinful because they create great suffering regardless of sexual orientation.
The best part of the UMC is the emphasis on connection and relationships. Relationships are what matter in life, not ascetic spiritual disciplines which are largely self-focused. We need to continuously ask questions such as, “What is best for our community?” Being community-focused is also being Christ-focused.