Tag Archives: UMCGC

Love, Sex, Harm and Healing: What’s happening in the #GCUMC is for all of us

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).

Jesus heals more than our shame

The convergence of two events this past week – The special called General Conference of the United Methodist Church and the release of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Shameless, A Sexual Reformationhas me thinking a lot lately about how broken we all are.

Everywhere we turn there is sexual brokenness to be found.     The brokenness is found in the big and obvious ways, like the daily stories of sex abuse we learn about both inside and outside the Church, the 97 billion dollar pornography industry, the ever growing sex trafficking industry, the never ending news of adulterous affairs and sexual deviance among everyone from our highest political offices to celebrities to our neighbors.  And, of course, it’s present in more subtle, less obvious ways, like how it’s getting increasingly difficult to find much that is taboo or blush-worth, or how something so commonplace and celebrated is so difficult to discuss with one’s children or peers.

Many among us today survey the scene of brokenness before us and conclude religion is to blame.   Purity culture, they argue, because it uses shame to toe the line, has created the environment where abusive and illicit, secret sex thrives.   Nadia Bolz-Weber wants to bring a sexual reformation to a broken world by relieving us all of our shame around sex.  The purpose of faith, the reason Jesus lived and died and rose again, is so that you and I would no longer live in shame.   So long as you are not hurting yourself or another, eat, drink, copulate, and be merry.

I am no stranger to shame.  As a recovering addict, washed-up pastor, divorced man, mediocre (at best) father, shame has long been the garment I’ve sewn together and hid behind for many years. Wallowing in my shame was both the fuel and the excuse for my addictive behavior.   As debilitating and harmful as shame is, though, there is something far worse:  The sin beneath it.

Shame, which whispered to me that I am a bad person, that I am beyond repair, that I am unworthy of being loved, that I have gone too far, that I would be more useful dead, is the result of some breaking away from God.   It’s genesis is sin.   Prior to Adam and Eve partaking in that which was forbidden, they were naked – laid bare before each other and God – and knew no shame (Gen. 2:25).   But when they sinned against God, taking a bite from something which in their eyes seemed harmless, good, even desirable, they experienced shame.

Imagine telling Adam and Eve that the problem isn’t what you did (disobeyed God) but the feelings you have over what you did.   That might seem absurd, but that is precisely the argument increasingly being made today:   Jesus didn’t die so much for what we have done (disobeyed God) but to free us from the bad feelings we have over what we do.   Because after all, what we do is good (so long as it’s harmless, good, and desirable (like the forbidden fruit)), so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Friends, we are being sold a bill of goods.  The enemy of this world, the same one who deceived Adam and Eve, is a master at presenting us with lies wrapped in light (2 Cor. 11:14).   When I was wallowing in my shame I yearned for a God who would alleviate my shame and make me feel better about myself.  Such a God was very attractive to me.   But what I needed most was a God who, with kindness, mercy and love, brought me to the end of myself, showing me that my real problem was a sin problem, not a shame problem.   I needed to cry out like the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death!?” (Rom. 7:24-25).

Jesus didn’t live, die and rise again to make us feel better about ourselves (although we will).  He did all of that to make us new (2 Cor. 5:17).   The good news of the gospel is that the chains of sin and death are broken, we are reunited with God our Father, and as heirs of the kingdom we can now walk in the Spirit, not in our flesh, which God knows will lead to more brokenness, more shame.

May God’s holy Church repent of her designs to rid the world of shame and instead redirect our energies to that which God through the Holy Spirit directs his:  convicting the world of sin and leading them to Jesus, the forgiver of sin.   Amen.