In 2008 I was a seminarian and student pastor serving a rural United Methodist Church. I began a blog around that time with the intent of taking the theological discoveries I made at Duke Divinity School out for a test drive with the public. I discovered quickly that the more radical my ideas, the more provocative posts, the more hits my blog received. What began as a hobby devolved into my primary pulpit, and pixelated “amens” took precedence over the parishioners in the pews.
The topics that got me the most views were homosexuality and hell. I was one of just a handful of vocal allies in the UMC at that time, urging the denomination I expected to ordain me, and the “bigots” around me, to change. I remember being cautioned by well-meaning church leaders that my blog posts could negatively impact my future as a UMC pastor, particularly in the south where I served. I blew off such counsel, convinced my cause was just and that I was right. Imagine it! Me, a second year seminarian still so green behind the pulpit being utterly convinced I knew better than all the witnesses to a faithful sexual ethic and theology of the body who have gone before me.
They say we stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before us. The weight of my pride would have crushed and silenced them.
The recent special General Conference of the UMC where the church voted to retain it’s position regarding same sex relationships has caused me to marvel at how much has changed in just a decade in American Methodism. Ten years ago a United Methodist pastor could lose their job or at least jeopardize their future (as a candidate or member in full connection) for being a vocal ally supporting full inclusion. Today, any trepidation people may have once had is gone. Today in America, those holding to a traditional, orthodox view on sexuality and gender are more likely to be called bigots, close-minded, unwelcoming viruses infecting the church, distorting and thwarting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today in America, I find myself again to be in the minority, just as I was only a decade ago.
The testimony I wish to share today to the Church, if I may be so bold, is that what I see happening, and what I saw happen at #GC2019, is that indeed there is a virus infecting our Church, but it’s not that which was proposed at the General Conference.
This virus’s name is not Orthodoxy, but Pride. And perhaps those of us who have been so infected and destroyed by this virus have been given eyes, by God’s mercy and grace, to see it.
My concern for the progressive wing of the church, of which I was once a rabid advocate, has less to do with the position you hold but the arrogance with which you hold it. The Church’s theological arrogance on the issue of homosexuality seems to be a mirror image of the World’s sexual arrogance insisting on complete autonomy. It is virtually impossible to distinguish today’s cultural sexual ethic from the sexual ethic of the Church, insofar as you don’t abuse anyone. So long as you “do no harm” all is well in both church and culture.
Sneers are to be expected when preaching to the lost that God owns our bodies, that our fleshly desires and impulses are not “good” just because we have them, but must be surrendered to a holy God who desires to make us born again in the Spirit. The spirit of this world causes most to recoil at such a “traditional” notion. But this same spirit has infected our Church and Christians now mimic the world, insisting that God affirms their sexual identity. Anyone who does not is unloving and unlike Christ.
Our collective hubris has ascended the peak of Babel. Is it any wonder that we are now a scattered people, each with a different language for love?
Pride is the virus most infecting our churches today. The way I understand God to deal with pride (which he hates more than our sexual sin, by the way) is by blowing up the status quo, destroying our ivory theological towers, and scattering us far and wide. But as I also understand God, his judgment is meant to wake us, and if those of us called by His name would but humble ourselves, and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways, then He will hear from heaven and will forgive our sin and heal our land (2 Chron.. 7:14).