This Epiphany season I am preaching a series of sermons on “How We Know God” using Wesley’s Quadrilateral as a template. Each Sunday in worship I will be talking about one of the 4 sources we use to know God: Scripture, Experience, Tradition, and Reason. Here, in anticipation of the General Conference on A Way Forward coming up in February, I will be writing about how these 4 sources of knowing God have informed my current opinions on the involvement of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. May these reflections spark you to reflect on your own opinions and how God has been present in shaping and changing your beliefs.
Reason is the smallest side of Wesley’s quadrilateral because throughout history we have often used scripture to justify injustice. During the era of legal slavery, slaveholders and their churches justified their treatment of people as property by proof texting and twisting the scriptures. And yet at the same time, abolitionists used scripture to condemn slavery. Reason can be a dangerous tool when used without the other 3 sides. With that said, let us tread lightly.
2 Greatest Commandments
For me, reason makes us examine the world through the two greatest commandments. Love the Lord with all your being. Love others as you love yourself. It’s easy for us to say we love, but the other side of that question is just as important: Do others experience what we are doing as love? I can abuse someone and say it is because I love them. However, those harmed or even those outside of the abuse may see those actions as unloving. They may say, “That is not what love looks like.”
The acts against LGBT people have often looked unloving. Keeping them from caring for each other in sickness and health looks unloving. Keeping them from using their gifts and abilities because of who they cherish looks unloving. Keeping them from expanding their homes to love children looks unloving. Telling them they have no place in God’s family looks unloving. Forcing them to choose between romantic love and agape love looks unloving. Even worse, encouraging families to disown LGBT family members looks unloving. Jesus reminded us to be concerned more about judging ourselves rather than those around us. Let us first love correctly ourselves before we argue about the appropriateness of others' love.
3 Simple Rules
John Wesley used three simple rules to help him reason. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
Do no harm. When we look at LGBTs in marriage relationships, are they harming others? No, their marriage harms no one. By not allowing marriage, are we doing harm? Yes, we are keeping committed adults from making decisions for their loved ones in hospitals and allowing only one parent to have legal guardianship of children. Denying marriage has implications that hurt families.
Do good. Are LGBT people keeping us from doing good? No. By excluding them, are we keeping them from doing good? Yes. The church is often the place where we band together to transform our communities and by excluding LGBT folks from leadership, we are getting in the way of them do as much good for the world as they can.
Stay in love with God. Is the inclusion of LGBT people in our congregations keeping us from growing closer in love with God? No. Are our policies keeping LGBT people from nurturing their own faith development through the church? Yes. We are keeping people from following God’s call on their lives. Our exclusion of LGBT folks tears them a way from the church. When it comes to ordination, we have alienated younger generation who recognize this is not a loving position. If you believe as I do that the church is God’s community to provide support and accountability and administer his grace, than forcing people out of the church is not good for their love for God.
It seems reasonable to me that God would invite people into all parts of the church and into committed relationships. It seems reasonable to me that scripture, experience, and tradition all support this as well.