August 26, 2014 Tom Berlin

How Do We Do This?

Recently a friend, having heard me say that we are going to have to talk about homosexuality in church, asked me how I proposed to do that without everything falling apart as so many fear. It helps that I am starting my 18th year at Floris UMC. That is a lot of time to build up mutual trust. We have members across the ideological spectrum, and for the most part they know that I love and respect them even if we do not fully agree on some issues. We agree on the creedal faith and then some, and we have a mutual humility before Christ, which helps. And we all try to be agreeable, which is hard sometimes given that we are human and fallen, but essential if you want to be the church together.

I plan to preach a sermon series in which I will talk about how people interpret the Bible, since conversation amongst Christians about any divisive topic is usually more about how we interpret the Bible and less about the topic itself. This is not a novel concept. In United Methodist circles the thought that biblical interpretation is at the heart of the matter has been expressed by the right, the left and many in between. During this series I will talk about the Bible and then walk through some topics to see how Christians vary in their interpretations. It will begin this Sunday.

In September, I will lead a five-week class on Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible. I find books provide a good platform for conversation and this one has a good leader’s guide as well. I want to look at the history of the development of the Bible and then look at how people interpret it today. That will not be easy. People are smart. Really smart. Smart like, you better show up prepared if you are going to lead the class on the sacred book smart. That is why I like using a book. Everyone is looking at the same material. They will find the history, theology and discussion of how people apply the bible to be engaging.

Beginning in late October, I will offer a three-week conversation on sexuality. I have not planned these sessions yet, but I think we will talk about what the Book of Discipline says about sexuality and the varying opinions in our worldwide fellowship. There will be a focus on homosexuality, because that topic is the fuse that may eventually split our denomination. But I hope to also talk about heterosexuality. I am intrigued by how Christians often accept a lack of sexual boundaries amongst heterosexuals yet become agitated when talking about the practice of homosexuality.

Most of all I want people to talk about all this. When I say talk, I mean, converse, share, exchange ideas, dialogue and even chat. Imagine a room so gracious that people can talk about a hot topic like sexuality and then have a serious chat. Not an argument. Not a debate. Not a contest, row, and heaven forbid not a squabble. If I want that, I can turn on talk radio or attend a denominational meeting where everybody gets all fired up and behaves poorly.

That will take some planning and probably more than three weeks. I trust that this can actually happen in a local church. Because in church, people are connected to each other. You see each other weekly. You run into each other at the grocery store or on the sidelines of the soccer game. These people pray for your mother when she is sick and they sit in small groups where they get to know each other over time. They invite you to dinner and hug you sometimes. People have a greater context than one topic.

There is this passage in Malachi where the Lord implores the people to take a risk. God says, put me to the test… That is what I plan to do with the church I serve, because I think they can be trusted.

Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.

Comments (8)

  1. Cathi Eifert

    Thank you Tom – I’m looking forward to your sermons! I know this is a tricky subject, but if anyone can get us to listen it is you. Your sentence “I am intrigued by how Christians often accept a lack of sexual boundaries amongst heterosexuals yet become agitated when talking about the practice of homosexuality.” is truly at the heart of the matter. Of course, all of this is judging others lives – something we need to stop doing so much of and start looking at our own lives.

  2. John Ford

    Tom, my conversations with folks seem to hinge on the idea of whether homosexuality is a personal choice or whether that is the way they are wired. The conversation becomes difficult when a person is convinced that it is a personal choice, that can be changed any time. Conversations with friends who are gay lead me to believe that it is the way they are, just like the fact that I need to wear glasses to see properly. I also find it interesting how do many folks believe that 20% of 3% of the population getting married is going to ruin the institution of marriage, without a thought or acknowledgement that 50% of heterosexual marriage end in divorce. I wish I could be there to hear your sermons, but I know you will present it with the thoughtfulness and sensitivity it deserves.

  3. Robin Sparks

    Tom, I appreciate the thoughtful way you’re planning to tee up this important conversation. Like you, I’m hopeful that we can all participate in a way that helps us to listen graciously, share openly, and continue on the journey together respectfully.

  4. Michelle Perrine

    Tom, I’m so glad you’re opening up this dialogue. Discussions of the Bible, particularly in regards to sexuality, so often devolve into a mess, that it will be a joy to have you lead us.

  5. John D. Copenhaver, Jr.

    Glad you are giving this sustained attention. In teaching on this topic, I found the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s statement the most helpful church statement. “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” is solidly grounded in theology and offers a way for diverse viewpoints to respect each other.…/Social-Statements/Human-Sexuality

  6. Debbie Horn

    Tom, I am so thankful that you are open and care enough to talk about this subject in our church. This, and many other “taboo” subjects touch so many of our families, especially our young people, and we cannot continue to ignore it. Jesus taught us to love one another and his message was not restricted to a persons gender, sexuality, race or social class and I am praying that many will be open to your your message, put there personal prejudices aside and listen with a Christian heart.

  7. Laura Owens

    I’m very much looking forward to this sermon series and the conversations that will follow. It’s always good to really wrestle the tough topics rather than just bury them. I look forward to a stronger biblical understanding – thanks Tom for tackling the hard stuff!

  8. Ken Bosley


    I wish you good fortune in this endeavor, especially as it is so heavily charged. People tend to define themselves by what they do, how they act, or with whom they associate. Any of which leave all discussions to be seen as an attack upon their very self. This is why it tends so often to degenerate into a nasty squabble. What we tend to loose track of when squabbling is the need to heed what we have been told through the apostles is the standard for Christian conduct. It really boils down to a question of authorities and interpretations, which leaves most modern theologians and socially and politically oriented people quite cold. They “want their way no matter what, and God had better listen to them!”

    Unfortunately for them (and many of those opposed to them) being a Christian is about choosing a life that is fundamentally at odds with our basic nature. It is there that we find the nub of all our conflicts with the world around us. What do you choose to be and how do you choose to be.

    Before attempting any discussion on these highly charged topics, I would hope that all would attempt to answer a first a few questions:

    Who are you? (If you know who you are, then you will know what to do.)

    Whose are you? (If you know whose you are, then you will know how to go about doing it.)

    Who do you serve? (Name your master, and be prepared to accept all that comes with it.)

    Who do you trust? (You will be judged by the company you keep, and how you keep their company.)

    Once again, good luck. I look forward to following these proceedings.


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