Dear Big Middle*,
Sorry it’s been several weeks since my last installment of “Dear Big Middle” blogs. We’ve had a lot going on around here. These “Dear Big Middle” blogs are designed to speak to the large number of “moderate” United Methodists on specific same sex marriage issues.
On Saturday, at Midway Hills Christian Church, Rev. Bill McElvaney will perform a same sex wedding for longtime Northaven members, George Harris and Jack Evans.
You may recall that Bill announced his intention to perform same sex weddings back in January, and that he’d be willing to talk to any couple interested.
At the door after worship that day, George and Jack said, “Eric, we always thought we’d get married at Northaven and we always thought you’d do it.”
Then they paused and said, “But we think Bill will do.”
And so he will.
At the conclusion of worship last Sunday, the congregation formed a large circle around all three of these men. We prayed for the witness to love that they will make this coming Saturday. I don’t believe I can overstate the joy, love, celebration and hope that has electrified our congregation at the news of this ceremony. We’ve not experienced any like this, as a congregation, in almost a decade.
So, the issues of same sex marriage have suddenly become very real. My third installment of “Dear Big Middle” was to have the title “You’re Not Marrying Them.” And that’s still the gist of this blog. But I’ve changed the title to: “Live and Let Live Can Work.”
Both titles speak to the same point. And the point is:
If you don’t want to do a same sex wedding, then don’t.
If you don’t want to attend a same sex wedding, then don’t.
If you don’t want to support the fidelity, love, and faithfulness that marriage demands for same sex couples, then don’t.
But in the name of God, stop preventing others from celebrating same sex marriage in their churches.
The truth is, you’re not marrying them. Instead, as we covered last time, they’re marrying each other.
If you are a clergy, who has made your opposition to same sex marriage crystal clear…
If you are a congregation, who has made the fact that you are opposed welcoming LGBT folks plain…
I have news that should not be shocking: Gay and lesbian couples are not gonna beat down your door to have a wedding in your church!
No couple wants to be married by a minister who cannot support them! In a congregation that doesn’t welcome them!
So, if you fear somehow, that supporting same sex marriage will cause an angry horde of gay and lesbian couples to descend upon your church, first I’ve got to ask you: Just how paranoid are you? Secondly, you have clearly forgotten: It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their love. It’s about the love of God for them.
Trust me. This is not gonna be a problem for you. Ever. If you want to go your happy way, refusing to perform same sex weddings, you will almost certainly never be asked to do or host one.
But in our church? We are asked to do them. We have fourteen legally married same sex couples in our congregation right now. That’s twenty eight adults. That’s a significant, not a small, number of people. (Keep in mind, we’re not a megachurch…)
Those adults deserve —just like every other adult couple in our church— to celebrate the rite of marriage in their local church, in the presence of their community of faith.
They deserve to receive the same challenge to monogamy, fidelity, family and love that traditionally married couples receive. A part of how marriage ever works is because of that support of a loving faith community. This is why I have said that this is an important pastoral issue now.(1)
On Saturday, the couple getting married is exceptional in every way. George and Jack have been together fifty three years! Imagine that. Fifty three years, enduring the rejection of society, of being fired from jobs, of losing friends to illness and death. And through it all, they have endured and stayed together.
Not every couple, can do that. You know that. But they have. And their love is a witness to us all.
How can any caring, loving Christian claim these two men have not shown us all what it means to love?
How can any caring, loving Christian claim these two men do not deserve the gift of marriage?
Same sex marriage is becoming more accepted both under civil law, and within the Church of Jesus Christ.
Let me speak briefly to both.
I’ve said for months that at the moment same sex marriage becomes legal in any state, the moral, ethical, and theological issues change for a clergy person.
That day came on Wednesday in Texas. On Wednesday, Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio became the “King Cyrus of Persia” of Same Sex Marriage in the State of Texas.
Same sex marriage, under the law, is now legal in Texas. Yes, he “stayed” his order pending appeals. But assuming those appeals are successful (they will be), the date same sex marriage became legal in Texas was Wednesday. As of this moment, the ban is struck down. (The previous sentence is legally true, whether or not you like, or agree with it, as a proposition…)
As I said in other blogs, this changes the moral and theological math for clergy like myself, and like Bill McElvaney. It was already not a theoretical issue, given the presence of same sex couples in our congregation. Now, it’s more real of an issue, since same sex marriage licenses will one day be issued in Texas.
Same sex marriage is also becoming more accepted within the Church of Jesus Christ. Saturday’s service is not being held at Northaven, but at Midway Hills, a neighboring church that has long been a friend to Northaven.
In fact, three neighborhood churches have now opened their doors, inviting our same sex members to celebrate weddings in their sanctuaries. (And a fourth is still considering it…)
Friends, do not miss this! These are not churches way across town. These are not traditionally “gay churches” or denominations. These are, quite literally, some of the closest neighbor churches to us. And they are opening their doors to our United Methodist members!
Please see this as the clear sign of just how out of step we now are with the moving of God’s Spirit through the land. Not just out-of-step with changing civil law. But also of step with what’s happening in God’s Greater Church.
But many sincere clergy and laypersons in the United Methodist Church will say: “Why don’t you just wait for General Conference to do something? I would support this if you’d just wait for that to happen.”
The last General Conference proved, beyond a shadow of all doubt, that our system is broken. It’s badly in need of reform. It’s not clear to anyone anymore that anything can “pass” the General Conference.
They couldn’t pass a resolution to state “Peanut Butter is delicious.”
Additionally, the growth of the delegate from the continent of Africa means that simple changes to the Discipline supported by the majority of American delegates for perhaps a decade now —eliminating the “incompatibility” clause, and the chargeable offense— seem even farther away than ever.
God’s Holy Spirit is changing the greater Church of Jesus Christ.
The King Cyrus’ of our day, like Orlando Garcia, are changing civil law.
If the church-law cannot change, then something else has to.
In the time of the struggle for Civil Rights, Dr. King and the other leaders realized that there were “unjust laws” on the books. They made the moral decision to break unjust laws, in the trust that eventually that “non-violent civil disobedience” would result in the laws being changed.
That turned out to be the case.
We are in a similar time today. While there are great differences between the struggles for Civil Rights and the struggles for LGBT inclusion, the dynamic is the same: Unjust laws, being opposed. Except now, not “civil disobedience” of civil law, but by “Biblical Obedience” against unjust church law. (2)
Bill McElvaney, Bishop Talbert, Frank Shaefer, and all the rest who are performing same sex marriages do so out of their profound commitment to the Holy Scriptures. They do so to affirm the Great Commandment. They do so to affirm the Golden Rule.
They do so because they understand that the Bible says nothing at all to prohibit loving same gender relationships.
It says quite a bit about love, though. It says that we should love.
It says quite a bit about justice, though. It says that we should reach out, in an ever-widening circle, to include those who have been excluded.
So, on Saturday, Bill will commit —nothing more and nothing less— an act of Biblical Obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do you see it that way?
I realize that not all of you will. That’s why I’m writing these blogs in the first place.
So, I get back the point we started with, and I implore you to do the following:
Find a way to “live and let live.” Live and let live can work. It can be our future together. Believe in the ideal of a truly “Big Tent” United Methodist Church. I do.
That’s our way forward, together, whatever your views on these issues are. We must become true “Big Tent Methodists.” Many of you in the “Big Middle” believe we already are. But so long as these unjust church laws stand, we are not.
Trust in the wisdom of Gamaliel. You may not personally understand this new movement of God’s Spirit in the land. But opposing it just might mean you are opposing God.
Work for the day when, even if you don’t see same sex weddings happening in your churches, we at Northaven –and at hundreds if not thousands of others UM Churches– don’t have to drive down the street to celebrate them in another church building.
Work for the day when, without fear of retribution, clergy who wish to provide this as a pastoral care for the members in their care, in the mission field where God has called them, can do so.
If it’s not Godly, as Gamaliel once reminded us, it will die out.
If it is, you can’t stop it anyway.
You don’t have to marry them.
But in the name of God, stop preventing them from marrying each other, stop opposing our efforts to reach the mission field, in other parts of God’s Beautiful Church.
*Of The United Methodist Church