I am an ally of the LGBT community because I believe that each of us is created in God’s image, and that God loves and accepts us exactly how we were made. I do not believe that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity are innately sinful. To better explain how I have come to this perspective, I will use the Wesleyan quadrilateral. The quadrilateral consists of four parts – Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.
Scripture is the foundation that the other components of the Wesleyan quadrilateral are built around. We use tradition, reason, and experience as we navigate Scripture. Because we are human, we all interpret scripture. We all look at Scripture through our own lenses. Our lens can be influenced by many things, such as the type of church we belong to, our pastor, our parents and other mentors, the Bible studies we participate in, the theological books we read, and our discussions with others. Even the belief that every word in the Bible is meant literally, is still an interpretation.
Throughout time, common interpretations of some passages of Scripture have evolved and changed. This has happened as we consider them in their cultural and historical context, as we embark on new knowledge from scientific advances, and as we see the harm some of them have contributed to for our siblings. I will highlight five examples below, and include references for further reading at the end of this paper.
- A heliocentric view of the universe was at one time the dominant view – until the invention of the telescope. Galileo was condemned by the church for suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe, because this view did not agree with passages in the Bible. Later, these scientific advances were acknowledged, and today we do not see this Biblical language as literal.
- Passages related to slavery were read to slaves by their owners, emphasizing the Biblical mandate that they are to obey and honor their masters. This view was held all the way through America’s civil war. Today we recognize the harm that slavery has inflicted and the inhumanity of this practice.
- In the patriarchal society of Biblical times, men held all of the power. Women were property – they did not have rights, and were consider “lesser than”. Gender roles had very strict boundaries, and “female” roles were considered the submissive, weak, and inferior to “male” roles. Today, change has come in many areas, although sometimes slowly. In fact, it has only been in the last century that women in the US have been granted the right to vote. But today, at least in the US, women have access to education and are able to hold pastoral positions in most denominations.
- The Bible was used to justify anti-miscegenation laws – banning interracial marriage – claiming that God did not intend for the races to “mix”. It wasn’t until 1967 that these laws were declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, making interracial marriage legal throughout the US.
- Anti-Semitism has been justified by using Biblical passages in the New Testament. Negative portrayals of Jewish people were taught in our churches, based on words in the Bible. It was in part due to these views that an evil like the Holocaust was possible. The ability to systematically marginalize a group of people to the point where they are seen as “less than human” was what enabled Hitler to carry out his plans against the Jewish people. Today, we do not teach our children negatively about Jewish people, and events such as the Holocaust are painful reminders of our need to respect all of our fellow human beings.
In all of these examples, we see how the words of Scripture have been used to harm our siblings. Unfortunately, there are still those who continue to believe some of these past interpretations, but for the most part the church has reconsidered how it approaches these issues.
There are many parallels in the above examples with the LGBT community today. The LGBT community has been marginalized and condemned based on Biblical passages about same sex behavior – passages written in ancient times in a patriarchal society, without the benefit of the understanding of sexuality and gender identity we have today. Many Christians have begun to reconsider what Scripture is saying for us in 2016 regarding same sex behavior. They are looking at the passages in the Old Testament and in the writings of Paul and asking God:
Does this apply to the LGBT couples I know who are in loving, committed relationships?
Does this apply to young people who have been rejected by their families when they come out?
Do these passages, written in a time with no concept of sexual orientation or gender identity, apply to our LGBT siblings?
Aside from gender differences, are same sex relationships that are committed, loving, self-giving, and monogamous really that different from our opposite sex relationships?
If we honor marriages of same sex couples, how does that undermine our opposite sex marriages?
These are some of the questions many Christians are asking today. They are tough questions, especially because they challenge what we have been taught about same sex behavior. However, when Christians began asking questions about slavery, women, Jewish people, and racial issues – these were also challenging what had been taught for a long time by the church. We need to ask the tough questions and seek God for the answers.
What do we mean when we talk about tradition? First of all, tradition connects us to those who have gone before us. We find that there are ways we can relate to people in the Bible, certain things that connect us as human beings. Tradition also helps us to understand where we as a church come from – the history of The UMC – its prayers, hymns, and creeds – its focus on going out into the world to serve others as Christ did. These are all traditions of The United Methodist Church.
So we ask ourselves, how would welcoming LGBT people fully into our churches harm our tradition? It would not change our history. It would not change our prayers, hymns, and creeds. It would not change our focus on service and outreach to the world for Christ. Welcoming all would mean that we would have more people to participate in our churches and serve in our communities. In fact, when we fail to welcome and accept our LGBT siblings, we miss out on all they have to offer – all of their unique gifts, talents, passions, and abilities.
God gave us our minds. God gave us the ability to think, to learn, to discover, to seek, to question. God gave us the ability to make advances in science in the last century or so that have given us an understanding of genetics, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The word homosexual did not even exist until the late 18th century. This is knowledge that the writers of scripture did not have, therefore it was not applied in their culture.
There are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in our churches. Many of them for far too long have believed they are not worthy of God’s love, that there is something wrong with them, that they must reject a part of themselves in order to be accepted. Many have tried – some for decades – everything they can think of to change – “praying the gay away”, reparative therapy, celibacy, opposite sex marriage – and nothing has worked. Applying ancient teaching without regard to what we know today about sexual orientation and gender identity has resulted in many damaged lives.
I believe reason would say that this does not make sense. In light of the harm that has come to the LGBT community as a result of church teaching, we should be compelled to look deeper. We should consider the knowledge we have now and how it applies to Scripture passages we have used to condemn the LGBT community.
Many people discount the value of experience when navigating Scripture, saying it is too personal and should not affect how we view God’s word. I do agree that using our experience alone to shape our theology can be dangerous. However, I believe that our experience can lead us to seek God, to seek answers to things we don’t understand, and to discover more of God. I don’t believe we can totally dismiss our experience, especially when it comes loving other human beings.
I have gotten to know some LGBT Christians over the last few years. I have seen Jesus working in their lives, and I have seen the good fruit their lives are bearing. I have learned from them, shared with them, and been blessed by their friendships. I have been humbled by their courage and their faith as they wait and hope for the day they are fully welcomed in our churches. My life has been forever changed by my experiences with this community. I cannot discount that fact, and I honestly don’t believe God wants me to either.
When we consider Scripture in light of tradition, reason, and experience, where does this leave us regarding how we go forward with our LGBT siblings? I will share a few thoughts below.
If we continue on our current path, we continue to do harm to our LGBT siblings. We are not truly living out our proclamation of “open minds, open hearts, and open doors”. I have some dear friends in The UMC who are hoping and praying that one day they wont have to research a church to make sure they will be accepted. The church is supposed to be a sanctuary for all who enter, a safe place for all who want to come. Sadly, for many, this is not the church they have encountered.
I believe it’s time for the UMC to see – really see – that there are LGBT people in our midst who love Jesus and are living for Him, who are seeking to honor God with their lives and relationships. It’s time to see that their sexual orientation or gender identity has not hindered them from being a blessing to others. It’s time to see that the conditions we have put on our LGBT siblings have resulted in pain, isolation, and for some, hopelessness. How much longer should they have to wait for us to really see? How much longer until we truly open our hearts, our minds, and our doors?
Author’s note: For further information about the intersection of faith and the LGBT community, please see:
God and the Gay Christian, by Matthew Vines
The Bible, Gender, and Sexuality, by Dr. James Brownson
Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, by Kathy Baldock
Changing our Minds, by Dr. David Gushee
The Reformation Project
Reconciling Ministries Network
Sheree is full of gratitude for the opportunities God has given her to be involved in efforts toward inclusion in our churches. She is thankful for all God has shown her on this journey, and for all of the beautiful people God has placed in her path. She is especially thankful for the courage God has given her to step out of her comfort zone and follow where he is leading. Sheree is committed to standing with her LGBT brothers and sisters on this journey toward the day when all of us are truly welcome and affirmed just as God made us.
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