The world is watching the UMC Special General Conference today, waiting to see whether or not the Traditional Plan will become the settled law of the church with regards to human sexuality and marriage. During yesterday’s session, a young gay man named JJ Warren became an overnight sensation with his passionate speech on the floor, calling upon the Church to seize this moment to show the love of God to all people. You should take a listen:
I was moved by his passion and his words, but something wasn’t sitting right with me about the whole thing. Later that night I posted these thoughts on Facebook and Twitter (@holtz517):
“They didn’t know God could love them because their church said God didn’t.” ~JJ Warren #GC2019
I was not as moved by the impassioned speech given today by a young gay man aspiring to be a UMC pastor as the rest of the world, it seems. Not because it wasn’t a good speech (it was) but because it’s passion and conviction seemed misdirected.
I have been a bleeding liberal and a rabid conservative on this issue over the years. I’ve known good and godly people who love Jesus and the Bible in both camps.
I’ve never heard a traditional Methodist church say to gay people that God doesn’t love them. That may be what they *hear* through our policy, but that isn’t the message, nor it’s intent.
As a staunch progressive, I’ve been guilty of preaching a vast, feel-good love of God. I was passionate and sincere, to be sure, and I trust God used it in spite of the fact that this “love” only told half the story. Perhaps I was doing what Paul called “proclaiming Christ from selfish ambition” (Phil 1:17), of which he was gracious enough to give thanks for anyway.
But the love of Christ is not a gushy love affirming me and the world as we are. Certainly it’s a love that loves us no more or less at any time in eternity, but once we are aware of this love, it becomes a consuming fire, making us born again. We are no longer our old selves, but new creations(2 Cor. 5:17).
Traditionalists do not believe God doesn’t love gay people. They believe that God loves all of us broken people the same – gay, straight, addicted, confused, prideful, rebellious – that God has a particular design and plan for human sexuality and marriage and any deviance from that is not a sign of how bad you are but a recognition of how badly we need Jesus to redeem us. If not in this life than the next. Our identity is not our sexual preference but sinner and saint.
There is something beautiful about a life that is surrendered fully and completely to the will of God, who says not my will but His, not my body, but Yours. God’s love is not sentimentalism, but a power great enough to sustain, even thrive, a person through the painful crucifying of the flesh. That is the promise and hope of the Gospel, which is an invitation to come and die. Yet live.
Traditionalists do a poor job, perhaps, of conveying that love properly, and progressives have a hard time hearing it for what it’s worth. That’s what today’s speech helped me see.
Praying for grace and peace.
Some of the comments I’ve received conveyed concern that I am doing harm to queer folk by my words. That is certainly not my intent. One of my biggest concerns about what is at the root of what’s driving our Church’s current divide, and expressed well, I think, in the passionate speech above, is how much our culture has dumbed down the word “love” and how little we understand it’s radical, transforming nature.
Love, as I understand it, is the very definition of God, the same God who calls every one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, a sinner. We are born into this world as “enemies of God” (Rom. 5:10). Every being alive needs to be born yet again (John 3) and have their entire inner world conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
Is God doing harm to us by calling our natural selves – the me I wrestle with daily – sinful and at enmity with Himself? I don’t think so. It’s the most loving thing for God to bring to our awareness our great need for him. The Apostle Paul, after serving Christ for nearly 23 years, still struggled with this inner man at odds with the will of God. In Romans 7 he cries out in anguish over this battle going on between his flesh and the Spirit. He recognizes that the only relief is to cry out to God in Christ and give thanks that he is being delivered from this body of death.
Paul is a saint not because he was free of struggles but because he humbly submitted and crucified all that he was – desires, thoughts, actions, will – recognizing his great need for Christ.
One of the comments left on my page, insisting that I am doing harm by saying what I said above, wrote that the subtext behind support of a traditional, orthodox view of sexuality is
1) being queer is sinful, 2) when we actually encounter Jesus/get saved, we leave behind our sinful ways, and 3) therefore, if queer people don’t leave behind their sin, they haven’t actually encountered Jesus. (Chris Boeskool)
I responded quickly, and admittedly there is so much more to be fleshed out here but my take on those three points is as follows:
1) it’s not being queer that is sinful – it’s being human. Every one of us – straight AND gay – are born with broken sexuality that gets played out in a myriad of ways. 2) When we enter into a life with Christ, we only BEGIN what will be a life long journey of dying to self and living for Christ. It doesn’t happen over night and some things are more weighty than others, like our sexuality. 3) Those struggling to leave behind their sin is no indication that they haven’t encountered Jesus. It’s merely evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their life and they need support, love and encouragement on the journey just like everyone else – just like I need.
This post is already longer than I intended, and yet there is so much more to say. I’ll leave you with this: I don’t believe that it’s anyone’s desire to intentionally harm any child of God – be they gay, straight, transgendered, unsure, traditionalist, progressive, centrist. What I have learned, however, is that what I once considered harmful towards me in the midst of my own sexual brokenness was, over time, God’s mercy and love. I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that, however, until I was broken and crying out with Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?!”
I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me (Psalm 119:75).
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees(Psalm 119:71).