Yet another disturbing sign of our increasingly polarized culture in America is the recent schism in the Methodist Church over same sex marriage and acceptance of the LGBT community.
I generally accept and even applaud people who stand up for what they believe. My acceptance and respect falter, though, if they believe (however passionately) that the moon is made of cream cheese, that there is no such thing as global warming, that people should be stoned to death for working on the Sabbath, or that eating shellfish is an abomination (see Leviticus in the Old Testament). Those folks love the Bible most when they can use it as a weapon to interpret their own fears and prejudices, seeing in it what they want or need to see. Think also of the Pharisees in the New Testament and how they twisted the message of Jesus to suit their own selfish purposes.
For centuries, people who called themselves Christians have cherry-picked their ways through the Bible to assuage their personal “feelings” (aka “convictions” for many). Too often, however, “faith” becomes a kind of cover for views that all but erase compassion and even common sense. Walls and other barriers seem now to be quite in fashion for those who feel that their power and control are somehow being shared a bit too generously with “others,” (those nameless but vast hordes of invaders).
No one has been able to provide a rational explanation as to why sharing the rite of marriage with the LGBT community alters in any way the sacred quality of that tradition. Why is its expansion so terrifying? I suppose anything that appears radically new (Love is not new, folks.) can seem strange and threatening. During the previous century, there were many in fundamentalist churches, who believed pianos, organs, radio, and finally television were sinful and ought to be banned. But those fears didn’t bar human beings from loving whom they wished. That terror came later when love between gays (which had always existed, mostly in secret) approached the idea of legitimizing it through marriage. That is when tradition in all its smug, self-righteous, and pontificating power reared its ugly head. It had, perhaps, always existed among worshippers in the Methodist and other churches, but battle lines have now been drawn. Accommodating change (even through compassion) is simply not possible for those who cling to a past that is just too cozy and safe to relinquish.
Exclusion of loving, honest, devoted Christians because of sexual orientation is the last thing I would have expected in the 21st Century, even though Methodism’s roots certainly go back to the early 18th Century with John Wesley. The appalling truth is that many think the world is already changing too fast, and that they have a sacred duty to boycott and eliminate the possibility of having to share God with those who are different, not in terms of evil but in terms of whom they love.
It seems to be almost a replay of the nonsense from past centuries regarding Blacks, excluding and belittling them, even with church doctrine, as though straight people were being forced to wed gay and lesbian folks, which would, of course, be untenable. Hypocrisy is still hypocrisy, no matter how one tries to gild it. Equivocation can be the ugliest form of evil. Eventually, people will look back in horror and disgust at the unnecessary snubbing and abominable treatment of the LGBT community across the nation, treatment now being condoned by some religious leaders and congregations. It’s almost unfathomable.
I do understand the unsettling and ridiculous stereotypes that come from some trucker dykes, and men dressed in ballet tutus on glittering parade floats down avenues and other thoroughfares of cities across the nation. They make sensational news stories that rivet readers’ attention in cheap tabloid, Jerry Springer ways that make exclusion and persecution seem so much easier and deserved by the public at large. Gay doctors, teachers, humanitarians make such judgments and bad treatment so much uglier and more unmerited, even though the extreme folks on those floats make more interesting copy and foster more effective targets for exclusion and with much greater ease.
Future generations will, I believe, look back at our current prejudices and cruelty about religion’s rejection of gay marriage the way we now look back at the inhuman and savage treatment of so many innocent, civilized and productive lives of past centuries. It’s almost as though a big time machine has sent us back to a comfortable (for some) ignorance that was for so long accepted as correct and justified. For some people, social change has come too swiftly for them to accept it or keep up. This terrifies them. That leap of imagination required to see and understand that love between a man and a woman in marriage is still sacred and cannot be relinquished or altered by the addition of gay marriage, is still beyond many, because they remain in a terrible quagmire of fear, ignorance and hatred of what they cannot or refuse to understand.
The world is indeed changing too fast for them, but this should not mean that so many need be deprived of having the sacredness of their own marriage commitments eschewed by reactionaries whose compassionless stands will be viewed in the future the way most of us now look back upon human beings sold as property or people being burned at the stake, because they believed in the “wrong” God. We now have such a grand opportunity to get it right and to bring people together as a human family, instead of further fragmenting them. Understanding requires work and knowledge, which are at hand, if we wish to put forth the effort to bring about change in uniting instead of separating our brothers and sisters, all of the same species. JB