Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Open Letter to the United Methodist Church

(...specifically, the UMC of southeastern Pennsylvania)

Dear Anglican Renegades,

First, please take no offense at my moniker for you in my salutation.  After all, as a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, I myself am a Presbyterian renegade.  Y'all have Henry VIII as a spiritual ancestor, I have Calvin.  We'll call it square.

See, I am trying to insert a touch of mirth and jocularity into what what otherwise sounds (from the outside) like a bit of a religious farce, or at the very least a misuse of spiritual resources.  And if I am criticizing you from the outside, the least I can do in return is be a little self-deprecating myself.

But seriously, mates, I love your denomination and its forefathers.  John and Charles have given me so much: the hymns in our congregation's hymnbook (I can't imagine Easter Sunday without "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" running through my head), a theory of atonement that actually makes sense to me, endless quadrilateral jokes, and most importantly, my roommate and best friend from seminary.  There's a lot to recommend you to someone who is looking for a church and for whatever reason is allergic to the Disciples.

But everything that has been happening surrounding the trial of one of your own, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, for officiating the wedding of his gay son Tim six years ago, well, let's just say that it isn't doing you a lot of favors in the PR department.

I know, I know--we aren't supposed to be concerned with what people think of us.  Followers of Jesus are going to be persecuted because sometimes we must say the things that other people don't want to hear.  So, for a moment, if you would please indulge me in saying something you might not want to hear:

You screwed the pooch on this one.  Big time.

Look at this fella--by all accounts, he's a nice guy and devoted Christian and family man, but (and here's what's clutch about all this) not someone who was out to try to change your Book of Discipline to make it all queer-friendly when he did what he did.  He just wanted to officiate his son's wedding simply because he loves his son that freaking much.

You can talk until you're blue in the face about our need to "hate the sin, love the sinner," but you know what?  Expressing your love by doing something that could cost you your livelihood by getting defrocked, that's walking the walk.  That's a heck of a lot more than, to be honest, what I see a lot of other Christians doing when they talk about loving gays and lesbians.  Putting a pastor on trial like this really doesn't come across a whole lot better than, you know, blaming gay men for HIV/AIDS.  It's still persecution, just with our particular role as Christians reversed from victim in the pre-Constantine era to persecutor today.

And you took this dude who was simply a nice guy wanting to do something for his beloved son and your putting him on trial changed him.  He's one of us now, one of those pastors who will openly advocate for full equality of gays and lesbians.

Which, you know, is great for us, but not so much for you guys.  I mean, what if y'all hadn't made a tempest in this teapot, what if you didn't make a mountain out of this molehill by putting him on trial?  Do you think Pastor Frank would have gotten the (largely sympathetic) publicity that he has?  More to the point, do you think he would be as outspoken as he is now if you had simply let sleeping dogs lie?

So keep putting your own pastors on church trials, I guess, for living out their calling of ministering the Word and Sacraments to all persons.  It probably won't help you--in fact, I'm sure it won't--but if it makes y'all feel better, who am I to stand in your way?

You'll just be making it harder for yourselves in the end.  And potentially harder for me as well, because people then ask me (like I know anything about Methodism) why churches do stuff like put their pastors on trial for performing gay weddings, and I have to tell them that really, not all Christians are homophobes, and then hope and pray that they'll take my word for it.

But that's the topic for another letter.  For now, I'd simply ask you just how interested you are in continuing to rack up Pyrrhic victories.  Because, yes, King Pyrrhus won his battle, but Rome and Carthage won the war.

Thanks for reading.

Your brother in Christ,

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