I have been Methodist before we were “United” Methodists (1968). I grew up in a suburban neighborhood where the houses had the same basic floorplans (with alternating interior color schemes.) With few exceptions, the dads worked; the moms were housewives and everybody was heterosexual. Of course, that wasn’t true, but that was the perception. My upbringing was unusual in many ways. My mother had a cousin who was wildly successful as a hairdresser and owner of a prominent beauty salon. He did not hide his attraction for both men and women. Not many people in the early ‘60’s were allowed to do this without severe repercussions. My family was super conservative in every way, but my cousin was deeply loved (possibly because he had more money than any of us). I knew my family felt that anything other than heterosexuality went against the Bible, but somehow it didn’t apply to family.
Years later, when I received my call to ministry, I still believed that the Bible denounced any form of same sex relations, but I also understood that in biblical times, there was no understanding of sexual orientation. They didn’t even have a word for homosexuality. Just as I never made a conscious decision to become heterosexual, I could not imagine anyone choosing to be gay. I wondered, if there is a genetic component, how could God be opposed to something one is born with? Before my ordination, I expressed to my District Superintendent that I did not agree with the United Methodists’ opposition to homosexuality. He explained that it was based on the Bible. I had no idea that this issue would later have a huge impact on my life and on the life of the United Methodist Church.
Over the course of my 20+ years in pastoral ministry, I have had many members secretly confide to me that they were gay or lesbian. Many members had children and grandchildren whose sexual orientation was kept secret. This was especially painful during the AIDS epidemic when I conducted funerals for gay men whose families refused to acknowledge their sons’ partners. I have spent hours with teens who were terrified to reveal their identities to their families. I’ve had gay and lesbian members ask me if they will still be able to hold leadership positions in the church if their secret is revealed. Some asked me if they were going to hell. One committed suicide. I’ve seen the damage from the fear of rejection. I am deeply troubled that parts of the Christian community continue to judge and condemn.
For a number of years, I decided I would ignore the Bible on the subject of homosexuality, just as I disagree with the parts where Paul tells the women they have to cover their heads and not speak. When people would ask about the subject, I would point to some of the verses that we no longer pay attention to, like not being able to remarry after divorce. I have come to understand, however, that the subject deserves more thoughtful answers. If we honor the Bible, as I do, as sacred text, then we need to look at all of the verses that address this subject and interpret them as faithfully as possible. In the next blog, I will address some of these verses. Let me know if you have a specific question you would like me to address.