Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Listing the harms

I seem to have brought a cold home with me. A scratchy throat yesterday developed into the works today. I took a four hour nap and am feeling better, though not completely over it. I'm thankful the cold waited until I was home and didn't interrupt the vacation.

Bill Wylie-Kellerman is a pastor in the United Methodist Church. His daughter Lydia is lesbian and recently married her partner Erinn. Bill, in spite of denominational bans, took part in the ceremony. He wrote a letter to the delegates from the Detroit region to the General Conference held last May. I just now got a copy of that letter. It is beautiful.

As part of it Bill ponders a question. The Book of Discipline says there are harms when a pastor flaunts the rules of the church. What are those harms? He lists them. He also lists the harms that result when the Book of Discipline is followed.

First of all, the Book of Discipline is contradictory. The Book says war is incompatible with Christian Teaching, yet a pastor is not brought up on charges if he becomes a soldier (or blesses one). There is also contradiction between "welcoming and affirming all persons" as having sacred worth yet declaring homosexual practice as incompatible with Christian teaching. How can we affirm a gay person while also saying they are incompatible?

When one disobeys a law, there is harm to the order of law itself. But what if the particular law is unjust? Then, according To Martin Luther King, defying an unjust law holds the just laws in deep respect.

What about the harm done to a congregation that is not ready to face the issue of homosexuality? Time and again the issue tears congregations apart. Jimmy Creech documented that well in his book Adam's Gift. But, according to MLT, the harm is already there. Discussing it only brings it into the open. And that is the only way to heal that harm.

There is the harm that gay members and gay potential pastors are driven from the denomination, depriving it of their talents, service, and gifts.

The present church policy harms marriage. Gay relationships are driven into the closet, depriving the couple of the full care of the pastor and the rest of the congregation. They suffer isolation and stigma. Marriage is exclusionary and more couples wonder if it is worth the bother.

There is a claim that gay marriage harms straight marriage. Bill had trouble with this one. Can someone explain it?

The feeling of exclusion from important church institutions harms gay couples.

The pastor is harmed by the contradiction between the dictates of the Book of Discipline, members of the congregation crying out for full pastoral care, and the fear of being removed from their position.

The gay pastors are harmed by the Book of Discipline that lists sexual orientation along with immorality, infidelity, crime, child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and racial or gender discrimination as chargeable offenses.

Bill's conclusion is there is a lot more harm in following the Book of Discipline than in defying it.

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