Monday, April 13, 2015

Culture Wars....postscript

After last weeks posts, there have been a few comments and conversations of substance outside of the blog. I want to share some of my responses in those conversations. I haven't asked the others I have spoken to in these conversations to share their comments. I will only give the framing question and my response.

I was asked by one dear friend: What is the United Methodist churches stance on same-sex marriage?

My response:

We are in a state of quiet disagreement. There are plenty of voices on both sides of the issue stating clearly their opinion. The quiet part of the disagreement is two-fold. 

First, we have put a moratorium on clergy trials for clergy who perform same-sex weddings. There are clergy who feel it is their Christian duty to perform weddings in states where it is legal. There are clergy who believe that, since our Book of Discipline has clear rules against it, no one within the UMC is legally/ecclesiastically eligible to do those. (That brings up an interesting precedence argument: if the book of rules does not allow a clergy to perform a wedding, does that invalidate the marriage license since they are not acting within their scope.) The trials were sapping resources and not moving the issue, so a moratorium was placed on clergy trials. 

Second, our quadrennial meeting of the entire UMC, General Conference, is convening next year. Any changes to the Book of Discipline must be enacted by the General Conference. There are always discussions and prognostications of how the rules regarding the subject of same-sex relationships will go. The UMC will not make any big moves until the General Conference is completed.

The UMC is divided. There is no clear majority. Some want to retain the language of the Discipline as our official way forward. No clergy or facilities of the UMC can be used in the performance of a same-sex marriage. We have clergy who feel the language should be changed to allow them to occur within the sphere of United Methodism. If the language stays the same, the UMC will continue to have periods of loud disagreement. If the language changes, there will most likely be a division of the UMC. 
I was also asked, by the same friend, what my stance is on the issue. I admit that I didn't clearly state that in the previous writings. What follows is how I feel at this time.

Where am I? Torn. I cannot in good conscience go against the rule that binds me. I agreed by ordination vow to uphold the Book of Discipline. I cannot simply cast that aside. I try to maintain a faithful obedience to the rule of law. My livelihood depends upon it. To go against the rule that I have sworn an oath to uphold is very serious to me. 

But I believe that same-sex couples deserve recognition under the law to gain the same privileges as mixed-sex couples take for granted. I support the idea that all people should be treated equally under the law. I feel that civil rights are not universal or "God-given", but that all members of a given people within the boundaries of the government establishing those laws have the right to them without regard to status, race, or other discriminating factors.

I believe that RFRA's are being enacted or reinforced without clear, logical thinking. And I feel that the discrimination that is being ballyhooed at the present is fear mongering more than foresight. That isn't to say that discrimination wouldn't happen. But religious rights/freedoms (I consider them privileges) can be discriminated against just as easily as civil rights/freedoms. There have been many cases of discriminatory backlash on those businesses that were the spark of the cases. This is not as easy as one clear cut set of rights being infringed upon.

I do feel that there is a messed up set of priorities in this current battle. Marriage is not about weddings. The current crop of "rights" being argued is not about marriage issues. Every case that is pending that spawned a RFRA discussion in the last month have only had to the do with wedding preparations. I feel that is a horrible place to argue rights. I feel that if same-sex couples want to solidify the right of marriage, it should be in the realm of fighting for those protections and privileges gained by marriage status.

But that brings another issue to light: are we talking about civil marriage or religious marriage? Those are two separate states of being. As a minister, the church grants me the authority to bless a union between two people. But in order for that marriage to be "legal", I have to act as an officer of the State. I can tell couples (and have told couples) to go to a judge and seek the civil relationship to guarantee their status. Then, after that has been completed, I would perform a blessing of their relationship (it had to do with immigration issues, immigration status, and other related time sensitive matters). If a couple is desiring recognition under the law, then a wedding is unnecessary. If a couple wants to celebrate their relationship status, then the arrangements for that celebration is not a rights issue. It is a preference issue.
Finally, another friend asked me about my stance on homosexuality. It is complicated.

I stand by the verses that say that it is incompatible with a Christian lifestyle. When Paul was writing, it was a specific setting. But the act of sex between same genders was not acceptable within the Christian communities. [insert comment here: Whether you say that it only referred to temple prostitution, or it doesn't apply to committed, monogamous relationships, Paul was saying that the act was not acceptable in a Christian community]
Now, I don't think that it is any worse or damning than any other lifestyle sin that people choose. As Americans, we ignore that there are thousands of children who die every year from a lack of food, yet our churches are filled with obese persons. Yep, I am a hypocrite in this regard. I hear a lot of good Jesus loving Christians still gossiping every day of the week, including in Sunday Schools. We don't share our resources or protect our environment or fight injustice or forgive family members (much less our enemies). And church [inserted: members]  are just fine with those lifestyle sins because those are matters of privacy.

I see homosexuality as a sin but not one to be raised up above any others. And if we aren't going to hold ourselves accountable for our private sins then shut the trap on others.