Some of you have asked how it is going since I said back in August in my occasional blog that I was going to talk about homosexuality and other topics in a September sermon series. Let me just say that every so often you time something just right. I have been telling some of my pastor friends that the reason we need to discuss homosexuality in our Virginia churches has little to do with the many plans that are floating around for the future of the UMC. That will not be an issue until General Conference 2016. Our issue has been a pending judicial ruling about marriage equality. When that happened, I said, people were going to want to know the view of their denomination, congregation and pastor on the matter. Some told me the court would take its time. Then came Monday, when the Supreme Court got active about being inactive and suddenly, the Commonwealth of Virginia recognized same-sex marriage.
People in our churches here in the Old Dominion are living in the same old world with some very new possibilities. Some have children whose partnerships can now become marriages. Others have neighbors who have sent them an invitation. Church members may now approach their pastor to see if she or he would be willing to help them tie the knot. We are officials of the State in this matter, after all. While the State may allow them to preside over same sex marriage, the United Methodist Church will not. Probably better to say that before it all gets real, as it did on Monday.
Pastors, if you have not talked with your congregation in a thoughtful and fair manner about how different Christians view the Bible’s understanding of the practice of homosexuality, if you have not talked about how the UMC struggles over this issue and if you have not given them some insight into your own journey and thoughts about this sometimes difficult topic, it is high time to do so. I preached that sermon as a part of a series of hard topics, and here is what I found: people were overwhelmingly grateful to attend a church where this could be discussed openly. Church members appreciated the complexity of the range of beliefs about homosexuality and the portions of the Bible involved in the conversation. Our most committed members, rather than walking out, said that the sermon confirmed why they loved their church so much. One man, who said he disagreed with me on the issue, said he appreciated hearing his views fairly and kindly stated and was so glad I was willing to talk about it from the pulpit. Our oldest members, rather than wilting, hugged me at the door and said how glad they were that we were finally having a real conversation. People who attend our church who have gay friends or family members, or who are gay themselves, were the most grateful at all. And that after I said that I could not perform a gay wedding because I was under the authority of the UMC, which would not be dealing with the matter for another two years, no matter what the court decided.
All that doom and gloom talk about how people would storm out, run the preacher out on a rail, quit giving, or how the roof would fall in, or members would spontaneously combust if we had a straight talk about gay marriage was just talk. None of it happened. We are following up with other opportunities to talk rather than just hear a sermon, which I think will be very helpful.
Here is my advice:
- Find your resources. A lot of very smart and thoughtful people have already put pen to paper and you will benefit from reading them.
- Do your own thinking. Open the Bible afresh. Look over a range of texts, most of which do not directly speak of sexuality. Talk to people who can help you process your own thoughts. And don’t just quote others. Share your story.
- Say your prayers. No matter where you are on this, allow both the inspiration and kindness of the Holy Spirit influence your words.
- Craft a sermon. Carefully and deliberately. Caringly and seriously. Don’t jot a few notes or write out some thoughts. Spend time on what you will say and how you will say it.
Here is my question: don’t your people deserve to hear from their resident theologian on a topic so important to so many? Don’t they deserve to hear what you believe and how it fits into the denomination you all attend?
Friends, it is time to preach that sermon.
Great post – great timing – even more so as Bishop Cho just scheduled the Virginia Conference Day of Holy Conversation for late November. Thank you Tom for being such a great leader and always challenging us to think and to really examine what it means to be a Christian.