Put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Be imitators of Christ’s love. Give yourself up to God’s love. Put away bitterness. Put away wrath. Put away slander. Take on kindness. Take on gentle heartedness. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.  Love. Love. Love.

These are the words that we hear in Ephesians 4:31-5:2. In the debate over radical inclusion of LGBT persons in the church, it seems that God’s love is sometimes absent. This absence of love can often times be seen on both sides of the issue. Those who oppose full inclusion use scripture for tactics of exclusion and casting out. Those who support full inclusion and affirm LGBTQ persons get mad, slander the  other side, hold grudges, etc.  Yes, there is hurt.  Yes, there is pain.  But this hurt and pain manifests itself on both sides of the issue. This hurt and pain is evident as we have seen screaming matches break out in some of our annual conferences. We have seen one side attack the other, and we have seen the other side attack right back.  There is fear, not love.  There is hurt, not wholeness.  There is brokenness, not unity. Even in my home conference in Mississippi, there are meetings still going on about the testimony of a lesbian couple that spoke in a worship service at annual conference.  That was two months ago! Yet the fear, the hurt, and the brokenness is deep.  It is very, very deep.  To overcome this brokenness, I feel that we as a United church need to come to the Lord’s table. All of us: LGBTQ persons, straight persons, persons of different ethnicities, persons who are liberal, persons who are conservative, persons who struggle with addictions, persons who are rich, persons who are poor. ALL PERSONS.  We need to come and partake in the broken body of our Lord and we need to love each other in spite of our differences.

The hard thing is, I don’t want to come to the table with those who are reacting out of their own fears and insecurities as they approach the issue of inclusion.  I don’t want to come to the table with those who compare homosexuality with devil worship.  I do not want to come to the table with those who seek to cast out “the other” from our church.  However, it is because I do not want to come to the table with these persons, that I must.  We are called to put away bitterness.  We are called to put away wrath.  We are called to imitate
God’s love and live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved. Yes, we are called to be prophetic; however, we have to be prophetic in love, and I fear that I am often times prophetic in a self righteous, liberal way. That is not reconciliation. What I fear though, is that the table is not always open for those who are LGBTQ.  It is a conundrum.  How can we have an open table?  If the table is not a United Methodist table, or a politically charged table, but the Lord’s table, an open table for all, then there should be room at the table for us all.

In my mind, I envision an open table that resembles the table that we
see in Rent, the musical, as they sing about Bohemia.  It is a radically open table, and it is beautiful.  No, they are not perfect, but they are all there in spite of their imperfections. I really believe that if we all would extend grace to each other and approach the table with love, grace, compassion, and mercy, the United Methodist Church would be transformed by the Triune God’s grace.  My prayer is that we as United Methodists would listen to each other, love each other, imitate Christ, come to the table together, and allow ourselves to
be transformed into a people who truly love as Christ loved and live as Christ lived. It will not be easy, but perhaps it will be beautiful and perhaps we will all find ourselves in communion at the Table of our Lord.

Rev. Justin White

Rev. Justin White, an ordained elder in Mississippi, is the co-leader of the Mississippi Chapter of MFSA. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the General Commission on Religion and Race. He is a lover of Mississippi State athletics, Duke basketball, music, and the Muppets. He also serves as the Youth Pastor to Students and Youth at Wells Memorial UMC in Jackson, MS.

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