Sunday, November 24, 2013

Love Will Keep Us Together

Most of my family members identify as fundamentalist Christians and political conservatives. As my own religious and political views have evolved over the years, this has made for some lively conversations, especially around the holidays. Back in my college days, it seemed like these discussions regularly ended up in raised voices and ad hominem attacks. Maybe you can relate. Doesn’t everybody have that one annoying family member who always wants to argue? But as time has gone by, I think we’ve found that some of those old arguments have become a bit tired and worn out. After all, how many times can you argue about baptism or gun control? It’s almost as if, without us really knowing it was happening, our different opinions quietly faded into the background, leaving behind the thing that’s been there all along. It’s the thing that makes us a family in the first place. The thing that never goes away: love. And the truth is, when I look around at my family at Easter or Christmas dinner, I’m not thinking about the differences between our churches or the way we vote. I’m thinking: “This is my family. I love these people.”

As a United Methodist, I have a second family – my church. Methodism is my adopted home, a family of faith that took in an argumentative, restless kid with a bunch of questions. The thing that drew me to the Methodist Church, more than anything else, was its embodiment of the quote, “in big things, unity; in small things, diversity; in all things; charity [love]).” In a denomination that counts George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as members, Methodists know how to agree to disagree. Your typical United Methodist congregation hosts a wide variety of spiritual refugees like myself – from Southern Baptists to religious skeptics, and everything in between. At our best, Methodists leave room for different opinions and focus on the big things we share: our faith in God (summed up in the Apostles’ Creed) and our mission to spread God’s love to the world.

But like all families, we’re not perfect; we still have our fights. And like a lot of other churches over the past few decades, our biggest fights are about human sexuality. Can LGBTQ folks be members of the church? What about in leadership positions? What about as pastors? Should people in loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships be able to get married in the church? Isn’t this about equality? What about what the Bible says? These are the kind of questions that get kicked around in local church Sunday school classes as well as at the United Methodist global conference that clarifies church doctrine and policy every 4 years. Too often, though, these conversations end up in raised voices and ad hominem attacks. Too often, we rally around artificial labels like “reconciling” and “confessing” and forget that we’re talking to and about people – other members of our family. After years of debate, culminating in the rise of the so-called "biblical obedience" movement and high-profile church trials, I have to wonder: aren’t some of these old arguments becoming a bit tired and worn out? Traditional Christian: “The Bible says homosexuality is a sin!” Progressive Christian: “Jesus says to not judge and to love everybody!”

What if, instead of repeating one-liners and looking to score political victories, we actually listened to each other? What if most traditional Methodists really do love and care about their LGBTQ friends and neighbors? What if most progressive Methodists really do love and care about the Bible? Could it be that we’ve forgotten the big things that unite us? Could it be that our real differences come down, not to faithfulness and love, but to interpretation and opinion? Could it be that we’ve not only forgotten how to agree to disagree – but that we’ve also forgotten about the one thing that makes us a family in the first place?

Amid growing calls for divorce, I refuse to choose sides in a Divided Methodist Church. We are a family. Gay and straight. Traditional and progressive. Hillary and Dubya. God is our Parent and we are all sisters and brothers. We need each other. In spite of all of our arguments in the past, my prayer is that one day soon, we’ll discover that all of our differences have quietly faded into the background, leaving behind the thing that’s been there all along. Then we’ll all be able to take a look around the Table and think to ourselves, “This is my family. I love these people.”

“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7


  1. Paul,
    Thank you for posting this. You hit the nail on the head, I think, when you said "we forget we are talking to and about people." I look forward to the day when these difference fade into the background, but until then may we treat one another with love, respect and dignity. Peace.

  2. How is your opinion different from:
    Progressive Christian: “Jesus says to not judge and to love everybody!”

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joel!
    Anonymous, a traditional reading of the biblical passages on homosexuality does not necessarily imply a hateful or judgmental spirit. There should be room in the UMC for Christians who interpret these passages in different ways, particularly at the local church level.

  4. Excellent, very well said. It seems to me the issue is about relationships. Jesus commanded us to love each other, as I have loved you. I do not recall him ever commanding us to regulate or condemn who people love. The issue is not Who you love, but Do you love.

  5. Paul, There is much of your blog that is so right on about the UMC. My own life has found connetion and blessing from congregations and pastors with completely opposite perspectives on beliefs and practical ministry actions connected to human sexuality. We are a family that is diverse and has learned to live with each and in some cases love each other. However, is sitting down and listening to each other the best answer at this time? Is listening all that is needed? Many persons with the "reconciling" perspective and beliefs have stopped listening and started acting. Many persons with the 'confessing' perspective believe these new actions are destroying the family not building up love in the family. Even the most loving families are wise enough to establish healthy boundaries when someone in the family starts destroying the family or acting in ways that violates agreements within the family. Does not experience teach us that families who can't establish healthy boundaries end up being wrecked by manipulation, bullying, acting out, and the destructive behaviors of those unwilling to abide by agreements and healthy boundaries? Are you saying that the most important way to love each other at this time is to sit down and listen? Rev. Schaeffer and the 30+ other pastors in Pennsylvania disagree. They have stopped listening and started acting. Do you believe their actions were actions of love for the UMC?

    1. Anonymous, you're right to point out that some United Methodists *have* been listening to each other, but have now chosen to act in ways that are destructive to the whole family. A certain minority of progressives has chosen to act as if their traditional sisters and brothers do not exist. Meanwhile, some conservatives have pushed for retributive church trials and seem to relish the idea of pushing the progressives out (Southern Baptist takeover, anyone?). But even if a split/divorce occurs, will we not still be bound to one another in the family of God by the Holy Spirit? To me, true *listening* implies moving past the simplistic arguments that are so often repeated and coming to a place of mutual respect where we can agree to disagree. The laity already do this. Clergy could too, if we would stop the political shenanigans. Of course, it would require some humility from both sides...