What a wild ride Methodism has been the last few weeks! I have really fought the urge to comment on the Council of Bishops meeting, the recommendation that charges be brought against Bishop Talbert and, the gorilla in the room, the Rev. Schaefer trial. Why would I comment? I don’t have a dogma in this fight.
To compound matters, Westboro Baptist had announced their intent to protest the Texas Tech vs. Baylor football game at Cowboy Stadium, as well as at JFK 50th Anniversary events, these last two being in my neck of the woods. The nebulous connection between their protests and the stated belief that “God Hates Fags” more times than not eludes me. The one thing that is clear…they hate the LGBT community and all that are supportive of rights for this community.
Hate is a strong word, exemplified by many deeds and misdeeds. I started public school in 1964, shortly after the Civil Rights Act was enacted and the year following the Kennedy assassination. Being a person of color, I experienced these deeds and misdeeds firsthand. Some of these experiences were physical assaults; some verbal and emotional. All caused me pain and continue to have some effect on my life. I regularly heard the terms, beaner, spic, greaser and wetback in school and on the streets near my home. There were times, both in California and Texas, that the verbal abuse became physical. I kept this to myself for many years, thinking I could leave it behind after some time had passed. Now hate arises in my community and in my Church in a very public way. It can never be left behind. My boys will be witness to it. I will have to explain it to them.
Westboro Baptist Church makes a practice out of similar name-calling as to that I grew up experiencing. It does so in the name of Christ. As I read the comments attached to the articles describing their proposed protest, it becomes apparent that those critical of Westboro also have developed hearts filled with hate. But are they “Christian”? What separates Westboro from other churches and denominations? It sometimes appears to be the name-calling only. It sometimes appears to be in doctrine and dogma.
As I watch the actions of both sides of the LGBT issue within my much-loved United Methodist Church, I have to ask myself “What is won and what is lost by this battle?” As the battle lines are drawn, it seems to me that, this too, is a matter of dogma and doctrine, not scriptural obedience. That being said, how does one reconcile the difference between the Book of Discipline and Wesleyan theology as it relates to prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace? The trials continue, is the Church any better? Can a homosexual go on to perfection? Can a person of color? Can anybody different than those who attend General Conference and vote with the majority be excepted for who they are and not what they are?
During my last lecture of the semester this week at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law (I teach in the Death Penalty Project, a defense-oriented capital defense clinical program), one of my student’s asked the inevitable question, “What would you do if someone killed your son or daughter?”
Well, asking myself a question in the same vein as this, I have reflected what I would do if doctrine or dogma interfered with my children being afforded the opportunity to experience my Church. How would I explain Westboro to my 6-year-old and 8-year-old? How would I differentiate between what has occurred in Pennsylvania this week, as well as at the Connectional Table meeting and Council of Bishop’s conference and what has happened in Texas to them? How would I explain remaining a United Methodist in spite of raising them with values my Church doesn’t seem to possess?
I have no answers that come to mind readily…maybe the Council of Bishops can help me here.
Guess the urge to comment got the better of me.