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.