In the wake of General Conference, some United Methodist bishops are making their own declarations in opposition to the General Conference on matters of sexuality.
Today I also want to share with you some thoughts and feelings about the Scriptures and homosexuality. I do this in light of my recent experience at General Conference, the fact that this continues to be a sensitive and difficult issue for our denomination, and also from what I am hearing from non- and nominally religious young people.
The Bible has passages that speak clearly about homosexuality. General Conference has been consistent for the past 40 years in saying that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and there is no indication that General Conference will change its position in the future. Some wonder if continual conversation about homosexuality just makes things worse for us.
I also understand those who are frustrated because the General Conference votes to keep the same policies and you refuse to accept the General Conference’s decision. I understand that there are those of you who are hurt by the policies of the church and that your humanity is turned into an issue rather than seeing you as a child of God.
I am convicted, however, by what I am hearing from non- and nominally religious people. They, by in large, do not understand our preoccupation with human sexuality. They even believe we “hate gays and lesbians.” They believe we hate people.
Our inability as a church to hold civil conversations and the reality that our debates communicate more hatred than love is a big problem. To us on the inside, our conversations appear important and clarifying. But to those we seek to reach, to those we want to welcome into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, it appears that we are preoccupied with one group of people. We appear to be single-minded, and maybe even narrow-minded.
Frankly, I was disappointed that General Conference could not even agree to disagree. I think there is a Christ-like path that we, as The United Methodist Church, have failed to find. I feel that, as a denomination, we have not been Christ-like in our discussions about homosexuality.
Here in the Baltimore-Washington Conference we have done a lot better than the rest of the denomination. Our engagement on this issue as a conference two years ago, which provided open conversation that was not condemning but mutually respectful, was one the most Christ-like things we have done.
As our denomination has debated policy on homosexuality, I have not participated in the debate. Rather, I have worked to create space for healthy conversation. Because of our denomination’s inability to admit we disagree and because we are alienating those we seek to reach, I’ve decided to share with you my personal beliefs and how I intend to lead in light of our differences. I do this in the spirit that faithful Christians and good United Methodists will disagree on this and a number of people will disagree with my understanding. I am not trying to change anybody’s opinions or beliefs. I just want to let you know my personal thoughts and feelings, my own struggles and how I will lead when we disagree.
I am not a biblical literalist. I do not believe the earth is only 7,000 years old. I think some of the Bible’s teachings about the place and role of women, cultural and racial practices, polygamy, concubines, slavery, marriage and divorce reflect the context and thinking of the time in which Scripture was written and not the timeless truth of God.
Historically, and in some denominations still today, a literal interpretation of Scripture has prevented women from being ordained, people of different races from marrying each other, and divorced people from remarrying or serving in ministry. A strict reading of Scripture might cause some to suppose that women should not wear jewelry or cut their hair short and men should not wear long hair or have tattoos.
The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God for my salvation. Exegesis and hermeneutics, or in other words, knowing what Scripture meant in its original context and then interpreting it for today, is the work of every Christian.
Contrary to a literal biblical interpretation, I believe that sometimes couples become estranged beyond reconciliation, divorce happens and the divorced people can find Christ-like love with another partner. I believe that women and men are fully equal. I believe that menstruation is part of the normal cycle of a healthy body and that women are not unclean.
I also personally believe that gay and lesbian people are children of God, loved by God and saved through the love of Jesus Christ. I believe that gays and lesbians can live in loving committed relationships that reflect God’s grace-filled love.
I love the Bible. My entire life is centered in studying the Bible and living in faithful obedience to the God revealed in the Bible. It was Scripture that led me to a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Scripture brought me to my knees as a sinner, humbled me through repentance, lifted me in the utter conviction that I have been saved through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and convicted me to join a long and continual discipleship adventure that continues to sanctify my heart.
I do not understand all of the mysteries of human sexuality. I believe that our sexuality is a gift from the Creator to be shared in loving committed relationships. I believe this is true whether we are heterosexual or homosexual.
Good people, faithful Christians, good United Methodists will disagree on this. I want you to know what I think and feel. I want to be open and honest with you rather than to appear not to have an opinion.
I want us not to condemn each other when we disagree. I want us to be able to be open and honest with one another and be willing to listen respectfully to one another. So let it begin with me.
As a bishop of the church, I recognize that I have a responsibility to uphold our Book of Discipline. I will fulfill my responsibilities as a bishop to uphold the Book of Discipline.
I also want our pastors to be pastoral to the needs of the people in their communities they serve. I recognize that this may create a conflict. We all need to do the best we can.
I am not asking anybody to change their beliefs or opinions. I want us to listen to each other and respect each other. And I want us to continue to study and learn.
Today I pledge to you that I will continue to study and discern and make corrections as the Holy Spirit and my study lead me. I also pledge to you that I will treat all people, every individual, as a child of God and as a gift from God. I pledge to be a bishop of the whole church and to lead by respecting all people.