Thursday, August 20, 2009

Methodists and Gays and the Holy Spirit

Years ago, especially when I was in seminary, the workings of the ecumenical dialogs were of great interest to me. As a very small child, I didn't understand why there were so many churches in our small community and as a young adult, I was very much enamored of the idea of working towards "full communion" with other denominations.

Today, I smile at the vote at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to approve entering into full communion with the United Methodist Church. To be honest, I've lost count of how many full communion agreements this makes for the ELCA. I'm thinking at least half a dozen. Anyway, the Methodists had approved the agreement at their last national gathering (I don't know exactly what they call their gatherings).

This comes at a time when the ELCA is making apparent strides toward accepting GLBT folk into the full ministry of the church. The UMC, by all accounts, is taking steps away.

I'm reminded, once again, that my existence as a gay man who believes in the Good News of Jesus, is a part of the problem of church disunity.

This hurts me more than I may show.

If only I could denounce my faith, go back on the baptismal promise, and just be a godless queer like so many want to believe I am! (I guess there are days when I do all the above. I'm guessing at about the same rate as your average Christian, gay or straight. But perhaps that's another discussion for another time.)

Well, who knows? We're still 24 hours (give or take) away from knowing what the ELCA will be doing with GLBT clergy and commitment rites for same-sex couples. Maybe this will not be a hindrance to our relationship the Methodists for the immediate future .

What amuses me at these gatherings is how different groups are claiming the movement (or lack thereof) of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I would like to think that the passing of the social statement on human sexuality (which is more of a teaching document than a legislative one) is attributible to the Holy Spirit, but I will try to have the humility to say I can't be sure of that. I would like to think all the full communion agreements are signs of the Holy Spirit regathering us scattered sheep into one fold. Again, I can't be sure of that. Therefore, I will make no claim of knowledge as to how the Holy Spirit is moving.

I'll simply rest in the sure knowledge that the Spirit moves and groans with us creatures as we strive to be a people of Good News. Or try to rest. I do have restless moments, too.

There are some interesting conversations going on in the Facebook community. Somone brought up the "inerrant and infallible" word of God. There were more than one responses pointing out that the ELCA has never used those words to describe the Bible. We refer to the Bible as "inspired." Not quite the same thing. For one thing, the Bible is clearly just wrong about some things. Hares do not chew their cud. Men are not the sole bearers of new life (the seed) and women are not merely fertile or barren ground (this passed for sex ed in the Bible). And I don't care what narrative gymnastics you want to perform, the two stories of the death of Judas cannot be harmonized in any way that makes sense. The attempts I've seen require a lot adding of detail and if you're going to be literalist, that should make you pretty anxious given the last few lines in Revelation.

Honoring the Bible as the inspired word of God lets us be a part of the ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We share in the same Spirit at the biblical writers, we share in the same baptism as the writers of the New Testament. Trusting in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to always move the church, we are better able to understand how Jesus and his first followers were able to re-interpret the inspired words they inherited. Inspiration---the breathing in---continues. We are not a people of a stone God. Our God is made of wind!

So, is all this activity of the Churchwide Assembly part of the movement of the Holy Spirit? Well, in my congregation's Faith of Book Bible readings, we recently read in Acts, chapter 5, the story of the pharisee Gamaliel. When speaking of the new Christian movement, he said, "if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them---in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" (NRSV)

In other words, we may have to wait a few generations to know how that plays out.

But right now, I say yes to Methodists and I say yes to the ordination of GLBT pastors, sinning boldly and trusting more boldly still in the grace of God.

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