Thursday, June 2, 2011

Courage, Coalitions, and an Ethic of Love

For several months now I've wanted to write a blog post about alliances and solidarity with regards to LGBTQ issues. For those not familiar with the acronym, LGBTQ stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual/gender, and queer, and because of the controversy that goes with the discussion of LGBTQ rights, I have avoided making public stands on the topic. I am prayerfully changing my policy on that issue today.

Let me now be very clear about this. On this blog, "Red Poppy Fields", I express my own views, and they do not necessarily represent the views of either the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church nor Interfaith Worker Justice. These are my own musings and meditations, and I invite you to join me in musing and meditating in the Red Poppy Fields.

I both accept and affirm LGBTQ lifestyles, and as a heterosexual ally, I do whatever I can to support my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the love of Christ. I did not always take this stance, but then again I also did not always knowingly work and live with LGBTQ folks either. My experiences working, residing, and sharing life with folks who do not self-identify as heterosexual has only edified my faith as a Christian and my passion for godly justice.

However, as a missionary and an organizer, I do not only represent myself. I was commissioned as a US-2 missionary last fall to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so I do represent the United Methodist Church. I also work for the national worker rights group Interfaith Worker Justice, so I represent its efforts to organize and mobilize folks for living wages, good benefits and dignified workplaces. Neither of these bodies officially takes the same stance that I take on LGBTQ issues, which naturally disappoints and frustrates me as an ally.

Recently I read a blog post at Sojourners that helped me to understand why these two institutions may not share my own views on LGBTQ issues. Brian McClaren, a well known progressive Christian leader, wrote about how Sojourners does not advocate for LGBTQ rights in order to preserve the delicate coalition of mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and evangelicals to fight against poverty and promote economic justice. The stance is difficult for Sojourners because it does alienate some folks who are invested heavily in the struggle for equality for LGBTQ people.

For IWJ, the question is even more difficult. IWJ is a network of people of faith, and it coordinates a national network of affiliated organizations. Recently a few organizations have lost funding due to the crackdown by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development on organizations that hold views that are not in line with official Roman Catholic doctrine. These issues are primarily LGBTQ rights and abortion. CCHD has long financially supported worker rights groups, but with the shift to a more conservative Vatican and greater influence by conservative Catholic groups, it has forced many organizations to make the painful decision to cut ties with LGBTQ-affirming and pro-choice groups. Or be cut off from your CCHD funding.

The question is also very live in the United Methodist Church. While many congregations join the "reconciling" movement, many others, particularly in the American South and outside the United States, hold a hard line in a conservative interpretation of scripture regarding LGBTQ issues. Especially as we approach the 2012 General Conference, the only body that can change the content of the Book of Discipline which governs the United Methodist Church, there is much anxiety that the United Methodist Church could suffer a split similar to that which the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Episcopal church recently experienced. No one wants the United Methodist Church to go down that path.

At the same time, the Methodist Church has experienced this before--over the question of the rights of non-Whites, especially African Americans. Methodists split between North and South, just as the entire nation did during the American Civil War, a violent, 4-year long conflict that resulted in more than 600,000 lives lost. Praise be to God, we are nowhere near that magnitude of violence, but even one life forever altered or lost due to bigotry and oppression should move anyone who follows the path of Christ. When oppression is institutionalized, prophets appear.

 I have read that one of the great challenges that progressives face is that the front is plural. Worker justice, gender equality, environmentalism, the peace movement, racial equity, LGBTQ rights...the list goes on. Some groups are "multi-issue", but usually folks organize around one set of issues and then make coalitions when the opportunity arises. Organizing for social change does involve seizing opportunities when the present themselves, but I feel that people should also work based on a system of ethics. For Christians this system of ethics is based on the teachings from the Bible and the wisdom of the saints. It is an ethic of love. 

Here is the problem that I see now. Do we compromise that ethic of love due to the risk of fracturing the coalition and losing our funding? Or will we have the moral courage to integrate our ethic of love into our institutions as well as our personal lives?

Dear friends, as I write this a sister in Christ is facing a trial in Wisconsin in which she could suffer defrocking, that is, losing her ordination as a United Methodist minister, because she married a lesbian couple and then got married to her woman partner of 15 years. Will we, as Christians, follow a legalistic road in which we condemn courageous people like Rev. Amy DeLong or will we embrace an ethic of love in which we are all truly one in Christ (Gal. 3:28)?

I pray that you will join me in the Red Poppy Fields as we sow love and reap justice.

1 comment:

  1. I have been talking to a few people on both sides of the homosexuality topic in the UMC. I recognize the points of each and see them as valid. What I've heard from the non-ordination side is that homosexuality is a sin, but should not keep people from being a part of the church. The ordination side never say whether it's a sin; they would rather err on being too merciful.

    Curious as to your thoughts. Also, hasn't this issue been around for about 30 years? That's a long time. I hate that this issue is what people are coming to know of the UMC and it overshadows all the great things we do as the church.