“Pastor Gil, I have made my, peace with Christian teachings about Jesus and Christmas and Easter, but I cannot accept Christian teachings about Jesus and the ‘practice of homosexuality.”
Years ago, an African American man who was in a same-sex relationship shared these words with me. I was reminded of them as I read the op-ed of Nicholas Kristof published in the Christmas Day edition of the New York Times; “Pastor, Am I a Christian?”
Kristof began his article with this question that he asked of Rev. Timothy Keller, an evangelical Christian pastor and best selling author – “What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? Can one doubt the virgin birth or the Resurrection?”
Keller responded, “If something is truly integral to a body of thought, you can’t remove it without destabilizing the whole thing.”
I responded to the man who asked me the question this way, if my 83 year old memory is accurate.
“When I was one of the few African Americans active in the North Carolina Methodist Student Movement in the 1950’s my humanity was embraced by most of my white student colleagues, and a few white churches. But, the racial discrimination I experienced from white Methodist churches, academic institutions and Lake Junaluska (The Methodist Center) caused me to question teachings about Jesus and the practice of racial discrimination. I questioned teachings about Jesus and the practice of racial segregation, as you question teachings about Jesus and the practice of homosexuality.”
Keller suggests that removing a belief in and affirmation of the virgin birth and the resurrection “destabilizes the whole thing.” The “whole thing” being Christianity. I contend that discriminating against persons because of race, gender, gender identity, or their “practice of homosexuality” in the past and in the present, has “destabilized” the Methodist and United Methodist Church.
I paraphrase, “How can we claim to love God whom we have not seen, yet not love those whom we have seen?”
If I was with the man with whom I met many years ago, today, I would say this.
Christmas and Easter are about a God who in and through Jesus, expressed the Love that is and is of God. Discrimination is at variance with the God who is Love and expects Love of self, of others, and of God, by those whom he creates.
Christina Rossetti and Howard Thurman express the Love that is the most important element of both Christmas and Easter. Rossetti wrote, “Love came down at Christmas, Love all Lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.”
And, Thurman describes Easter as being “The Glad Surprise” in his Meditations of the Heart: “It is the announcement that cannot ultimately be conquered by death, that there is no road that is at last swallowed up in ultimate darkness…(but) this life is bottomed by the glad surprise.”
We have in the Resurrection story a manifestation of how God in Jesus, does not allow death to become the “ultimate darkness.” Thurman and Rossetti, remind us that if Love does not become for us, the ultimate meaning of Christmas and Easter, we have as poet Robert Frost tells us, “miles to go before we sleep.”
Nicholas Kristof ends his op-ed “conversation” with Keller this way: “If we have a God big enough to deserve being called God, then we have a God big enough to reconcile both justice and love.”
When Methodists were discriminating against women and blacks, our God was not “big enough.” Today, as The United Methodist Church discriminates against LGBTQ persons and punishes clergy who perform same sex marriages, our God is not big enough.
2016 in hundreds of ways has has shown us that the USA and the world “stand in need of prayer” and a United Methodist Church that in the name of Jesus, affirms all of God’s people without discriminating against some of them.
May that kind of United Methodist Church come alive in 2017!
- “The Work of Christmas” - December 21, 2017
- Be The Way Forward: A Letter from Rev. Gil Caldwell - December 12, 2017
- The Contradiction at the Heart of The United Methodist Church - August 29, 2017