Rev. Frank Schaefer, (as of today) a former United Methodist pastor, married off his son to his partner in a church wedding. He and his many supporters and advocates saw this as a sacred act of compassion and love for his son and a necessary, conscientious act of disobedience to church law. After a painful church trial which found him guilty, a 30-day suspension, and massive protest, the Board of Ordained Ministry from his Annual Conference removed his credentials as an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church.
Phil Robertson, star of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, also spoke out on homosexuality, calling it sinful and lewd. Today the A&E Network indefinitely placed him on filming hiatus. His numerous supporters call this a breach of personal free-speech, protesting A&E’s actions as punitive, discriminatory, and intolerant. Meanwhile, members of the LGBT community are angered and hurt.
Two men. They represent polar opposite positions of a contentiously emotional debate. Both got fired for standing up for what they believe to be right. Is there a message or at least a lesson to be learned?
I think so.
This message would appeal to most people but offend passionate believers from both sides of the LGBT debate. There must be a way to honor each other, talk and act respectfully towards each other, and give space for each other to exist. Time will continue to bring about change, and I imagine that in generations to come, there will be no relevant debate. But for the time being, we must learn to allow space for all in the same room and at the same table.
In no way do I believe that these polar views on LGBT to be reconcilable. One side finds the views of the other equally appalling and morally detestable. But until the day in which one view becomes the prevailing view of most, we can find ways go forward together without violence or collateral damage.
I believe the church can and should lead the way to discovering a mutual way forward. That’s because in the church, we all claim one Christ, we are one family of God, and we love each other as brothers and sisters… well… ideally. It’s all a work in progress, and certainly the struggle over LGBT is testing our mettle.
But the Apostle Paul just might provide a model of unity we can apply to our struggle. In the First Century church of Rome, there was division among those who ate meat purchased in the market place and those who believed that eating this meat was blasphemous because it was first used in idol worship as an offering. (Remember the Second Commandment!) The division was so irreconcilable that these two groups refused to eat together any longer. That was a big deal because shared meals were majorly important to the life of the church. Why? These meals were the celebration of the Lord’s Table. One group saw that eating meat was perfectly fine; the other thought this to be utterly sinful. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
Paul’s solution stated in Romans 14:1-15:13 was ingenious. And I believe it is quite applicable to our struggle to find unity in the church over the presence of LGBT people. Please take the time to read this passage for yourself, but here are the highlights:
- We are all God’s servants, so who are we to judge fellow servants who belong to God?
- Whichever side we’re on, as Christians, we are both convinced that what we do and believe, we do for the Lord.
- Treating others with contempt because of their divergent convictions opens us to the judgment of God.
- Respect the fact that what one calls sin is to them truly sin. Acting in a way that distresses them is not love. So don’t let something one calls good to be spoken of by the other as evil.
- Do not let your convictions be a stumbling block to another. Rather do anything necessary that leads to peace and mutual edification.
- The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but rather peace, righteousness, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Could we also say that the kingdom of God is not about sex and marriage? Jesus says as much.)
- Whatever you believe, keep it between yourself and God.
- We are called to bear with each other, especially when we find the faith of the other to be weak.
- Accept each other since Christ has already accepted each of us so that we can glorify and serve Christ together.
That’s the gist of it. But imagine what the church would be like if we operate this way towards each other, in the gracious love of Jesus Christ. Larger still, imagine a world in conflict that loves each other this way… Perhaps if we did, Rev. Frank Schaefer and Phil Robertson would still be employed today.