May 12, 2017 Tom Berlin

Talking About LGBTQ Inclusion in the UMC

About a year ago I shared a presentation about the dynamics present in the General Conference of the United Methodist Church related to the questions of whether the church should offer marriage rites to homosexual couples and whether ordination should be available to self-avowed, practicing homosexual persons. I wrote this presentation up, added the slides and included it in this blog. In the year since, many people have asked me for the slides but have been disappointed that the presentation was not available in video form.  This video is offered to those of you who want to see it or share it with others. Feel free to show it to groups or share the link with others who would find it of interest.

I just watched the video and realized that I have made a technical error. Over time, Lesbian and Gay inclusion (LG) has become LGBT (Bi-sexual and Transgender) inclusion. More recently this acronym has included Queer persons (LGBTQ). You will sometimes see it listed as LGBTQ+. Working on the Commission on the Way Forward, gay members have encouraged us to say, “issues of LGBTQ inclusion” rather than “issues of human sexuality.” We have adopted this practice. I use this language in the video because it has become my habit. However, I realize that it is technically incorrect when speaking about the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which only addresses inclusion of self-avowed, practicing homosexual persons in marriage rites and ordination. I apologize for any misunderstanding this may create and I am grateful for the grace you offer me in this area. I also trust that the good readers of this occasional blog are more than capable of doing the translation.

I also want to emphasize that the four zones I present here are offered only for the purpose of conversation about inclusion in marriage and ordination. Just because you are a progressive or traditionalist on these issues does not mean you will be predictably that way on all social issues. We are intelligent people and no one likes to be put in an ideological box. Finally, this schema is applied only to United Methodists in the United States. At the end of the presentation I talk about United Methodists who live in Africa and Asia as well.

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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 (24)

  1. Thank you Rev Tom! I recently started going to Floris (needed a church that was more affirming) and I was there Sunday evening when you discussed this with the Parish.

    I just wanted to let you know that I respect how you lead, i appreciate how you respect your parishioners, and I feel like I may have found my new church home.

    I have a transgender son and really don’t see him as a mistake.

    Thanks for doing what you’re doing!

  2. George Plasterer

    Thank you for the reminder of your classification. I wish we did not need reminders to offer love, regard, and respect toward others, regardless of what they do with their lives. Some people are a challenge (I am not idealistic people. All of us are hard to love for someone.) At the same time, we need reminders to have the courage of your conviction. I will say that from my perspective, the attack upon Christianity in general, its involvement in the shaping of the moral values of the West in particular, is a component here. Just as we can expect such attacks every Easter and Christmas, the church should expect attacks upon the classic Christian position on morality and family.

  3. Katie Arredondo

    This LGBTQ…. is so out of my belief and understanding of being Sanctified and Holy in spiritual living. I was raised a Methodist my parents and my grandparents we don’t dance, smoke or drink. The path is narrow to Salvation. I am not the judge. Hell is a real place where I don’t want to go. We are called to be HOLY not accepting.

    • Dear Katie, in love I implore you to read a book by the retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong, entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Bishop Spong loves God, and still, at 85, still writes books and gives talks which, I hope, can still be accessed On Line on “Google.”
      Although you feel as you do regarding our LBGTQ sisters and brothers, I pray that you treat your family or friends who may be LBGTQ with love, compassion, caring without trying to change what cannot be changed.
      Remember the Serenity Prayer:
      “God give me the courage to change what I can change.
      The ability to accept what cannot be changed,
      And the wisdom to know the difference.”
      I cannot believe that a loving God, the God whose spirit that sustains me, would condemn anyone to hell if they were LBGTQ, as this cannot be changed but a matter of one’s birth, just as the color of one’s eyes, or the natural color of their hair.

    • Darlene Mellow rr

      Well said. We are not to conform to the world…. the world needs to conform to God’s Word. How would a gay pastor preach about homosexuality? Would that part of the Scriptures be ignored? I am in total dismay that the UMC would not have settled this situation in about 5 minutes. What does God Word say? God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

  4. Tyson is so fortunate to have an intelligent, compassionate, and caring Mom. Happy Mother’s Day to you, and give your son a hug from us.
    We have a gender fluid grand daughter, who, like your son, is an intelligent, articulate young person, of whom we are so proud.

    • Thank you Carla & Bob! Congrats on being grandparents and it sounds like you are very supportive and loving grandparents, at that. 🙂

  5. Tyson, you have a stellar Mom, she is giving you the support that every mom and dad should give their sons and daughters.
    So what if you were born gay, why should this even be on the radar. How many people actually discuss private matters, such as what loving, compassionate, caring couples do in the privacy of their own homes?
    What counts is how does someone treat others, how they treat their coworkers, friends and family members. What counts in the workplace is competence, and compatibility, not sexual orientation or gender identity.

    • Thanks Carla,
      My son, Tyson, is an amazing human being. He’s so incredibly mature for his age…I consider him a bit of an old soul. He’s 18, helps me take care of his elderly grandmother, is amazing with helping our single mom friend with her young kids, is always there for his friends, loves to cook, asks incredibly well thought out questions about society and our world, loves experimenting with science-y stuff, is about to graduate high school, has held a job (even during school) the past 2 years, his current job just promoted him to a supervisor role (as a senior in high school even!), he will be going off to college this fall, and he will be living on campus. My heart bursts with pride for him as a person. His gender or his sexual orientation isn’t even secondary…it’s like 50th on the list of what makes him him. 🙂 I know he will grow up to be a productive and caring member of society and THAT is what is important to me.

      And when it comes down to my relationship with God. Well…. if I have to beg for forgiveness from God at the end because I made the wrong decision to support and love my son, I’d rather do that than beg for forgiveness from God because I shunned my son and it turned out that was the wrong thing to do.

      Big hugs to the both of you. Thanks for your kind words. Keep spreading the love and kindness!

  6. Kellie

    We must welcome all to our churches. But must never accept the continuation of sin. And homosexuality cannot be seen in any other light according to God’s word. He is our creator. He created creation to also create and grow. Everything about homosexuality goes against God’s very nature. Does he love them? Absolutely. But he also loved the people of Sodom. He also loved the people of the earth of which he destroyed every single one but 8 in the flood. Your teaching a different gospel and and also teaching of another Jesus. Something we are warned against in the bible. Jesus asked will he find any righteous when he returns? It will be few you are leading more in that direction. Your teaching with a spirit of an antichrist. It’s very sad really. Sin warped the minds of these people. God did not create them that way. But prayer can save them. Though it will be hard. The bible tells us of the seed of Adam and the seed of the deciever. Unfortunately most of these folks in these lifestyle have the seed of the deciever. It’s literally in their dna. That’s very hard to break.

    • Hi Kellie,
      I learned the same thing and thought the same way as you growing up. However, I’ve been in so many Bible studies run by and written by very respectable Christian leaders who all admitted that what we learned was interpretation. It’s how we as humans read and interpret certain things. And also how we read context.

      So I started diving deeper. That’s when I realized some of those passages that seemed so straight forward may not be.

      A great book to read is Justin Lee’s, “Torn.” Wow, that’s the book that really hit home with me.

      We all come into this with biases, right? It’s natural. It’s how we’re raised and part of our comfort zone. I was raised that homosexuality is a sin. I was also raised to think dancing with boys was a sin. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and read a lot. It opened my eyes.

      It’s incredibly difficult to move out of our socio-religious upbringings. Very tough. I just ask everyone take one huge step back and say “What if…”

    • Science has moved past what your beliefs many years ago. However, you believe what you do, just as I do. I, and many, realize that the Bible was written centuries ago by men in a male dominated society. So much has changed as science moves forward. Even the Bible has had many translations and is contradictory, but to argue with you would be nonproductive and analogous to arguing with my dining room table.
      I must ask, however, for the sake of argument, do you wear clothing of several types of fabric, or consume pork or any type of shell fish, or believe that that the Sun revolves around the Earth? Just asking?
      You, my friend, are doing what is called “proof texting,” you pick some obscure item and obsess about it. If that type of thinking gets you though the night, then I suppose there is no changing your mind. Some day you may change your mind. Never say, “Never.”
      May I suggest, just because I like to enlighten folks, that you read “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” by the retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. It is out in a paper back edition, now and is well worth your time to peruse it.

  7. Debbie

    Thank you for this post Rev. Berlin! I would be interested in hearing how you moved from conservative to progressive. I think that would be helpful to many who still struggle with this issue. I’ve been a straight ally for many years and when others take the time to listen to stories and think about context and interpretation, they find it easier to move a little closer to the center. And thank you to the parents and grandparents who are supporting their LGBTQ+ children and grandchildren!

  8. Tom Berlin has grown and changed over the years as should we all. The more that we realize when the Bible was written and how science has evolved over the years, whereas the Bible has not. My husband is a retired electrical engineer, also, a retired UMC cleric, and I am a retired RN, so we realize that science is a vital part of our world, and the teachings of Jesus tell us to accept others, though they be different from us in ethnicity, religion, country of origin and sexual orientation, or gender identity. My husband often said that the Bible, to be relevant today, should be a “loose leaf binder,” as should be our Constitution. New information, new science must be utilized to increase our knowledge and make us wiser, more compassionate, and more loving of our fellow human beings.

  9. Rebecca Sander

    In reading these comments, I am incredibly encouraged by the kind and compassionate answers that have been offered to the comments of direct judgement lacking empathy or, for that matter, true understanding of the Gospel. I have a long way to go in learning to answer those who take a harsh and uncaring position toward others and their life situations. I am learning to be more understanding from examples such as these (particularly Tyson’s mom).

    • Hi Rebecca, The only way to respond to someone who thinks differently than you do is with compassion and love. I try to respond to people as I would like someone to respond to me. Responding in a harsh manner does no good for anyone, right? I also try to respond like I would if I sitting right next to them in person. 🙂

      I’ve never had someone change my mind or my opinions by yelling at me. But you can believe people have been successful in making me think differently by befriending me, chatting with my respectfully, and showing me their real human self.

      • Yikes – guess I should have reviewed that before posting – sorry for all my mistakes! LOL
        “…if I were sitting….
        “…chatting with me respectfully…”
        Whew! Ok now I feel better. Wish I could edit the response to fix those! 🙂

  10. Carlton Hayden

    We attended your briefing last night, May 30, and appreciate very much the explanation of the issues. We came away encouraged that a reasonable solution might be found. I liked the term “walk together loosely”.
    Please post the names of the books you mentioned as good educational reading.

  11. I am sure that Rev. Berlin has a list of helpful and enlightening books from which to choose.
    May I add another or perhaps several “others” to that list? They are books by a retired Episcopal Bishop, the Rev. Dr. John Shelby Spong. One of his first books was “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Some of his other books is “Biblical Literalism,” “Here I Stand,” “Jesus for the Non-Religious,” and “A New Christianity for a New World.” These books are well written, include Spong’s great sense of humor, and can be understood by laity as well as those with a theological/seminary education.

  12. Bruce

    Thank you for this presentation.

    I noticed that when you discuss the United Methodists who are outside the United States, you depict them in your diagram as outside the area of the Book of Discipline. Is this deliberate or accidental?

  13. Rev. Meg Wilkes

    Why do we think younger people are not coming in?
    The “leaking” of people from The United Methodist Church has everything to do with this conversation.
    This conversation speaks to the “sin of certainty” (Peter Enns), certainty which has become the leading voice of Christianity in our popular culture via the evangelical right. This “certainty,” which neglects and misrepresents the scriptures and the sheer mystery of the actual Christian faith, and of God, has become unbearable for intelligent and spiritually hungry human beings. People searching for the divine and for Truth don’t want to turn to a religion that excludes others and questions their humanity. It is laughable to younger people that Christianity claims love and unity as its core value and yet is made up of a supremely divided people, and so often manifests in such unloving ways through the talking heads who justify themselves by shallow and irresponsible readings of ancient holy texts. Breathe…….So…. if we have any reason to hope for a change in the trajectory of The UMC to which Tom speaks, this conversation is one of the most important of our time. Will we flourish in the color and creativity that is humanity in the divine image? Or will we keep disputing the gospel of Christ and arguing about the worth and value of human beings whom we did not create or imagine ourselves? Will we continue to be certain that we understand the mind of God? Choosing judgment and condemnation based in legalism and fear (both of which are refuted by the One we claim to follow), or rather relinquish our confidence in ourselves and lean into the leading of the Spirit who promises unity and wholeness in Love. Christianity so often does not reflect Christ. How embarrassing. Who wants to be a part of that? What are we offering the world? Is it really, actually, honestly Christ?
    (I am currently serving with Jesus as an ordained United Methodist clergy person in the order of deacons – an LGBTQ+ ally, and these are some thoughts I had after viewing the video.)

    • Rev. Meg, I know, just from reading your post that you are a compassionate, caring, non-judgemental pastor. The UMC needs more pastors such as yourself.
      I sincerely hope that this upcoming General Conference will decide that our LBGTQ+ sisters and brothers are no different from those whose partners are of the opposite gender. Love is love. All people want the best for those whom they love.
      You are sorely needed in the UMC, a church that sadly, still, in 2018 does not realize that women are equal to men.
      I am 81 years old so I do not expect to live long enough for the church to realize women’s equality, and God help us all, I wonder if my grandchildren will live long enough to have the archaic UMC realize that we are ALL who love God and their neighbors are equal in the eyes of God. Yes, you backward folks of the UMC, that means our LBGTQ+ sisters and brothers.

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