It’s About How We View God

Totems and Statues of Various Gods and Goddesses, Sigmund Freud’s Desk, London

What’s wrong with us? That’s the question on my mind as the Judicial Council begins to meet this week. Why can’t we fix this and move on? How did we get to the point where these “issues” became issues? We are where we are. There are far more important topics we, as a church, should be addressing. War is coming to northeast Asia and Russia’s growing threats to liberal democracy are the first which come to mind. I don’t know what the United Methodist Church can do about thermonuclear war but that’s far more important to humanity than removing (or even considering the removal of) Bishop Karen Oliveto.

In one way we are distracted by a sense of our own self-importance. We believe our attempts to resolve ancient debates between scripture and Christian doctrine matter more than they actually do. We are in love with the perpetual crises which are keeping the denomination on life support. These issues matter to us and we are a fairly small audience at the moment. Focused inward, we get to justify our ignorance of the world around us. The world is concerned about Marine Le Pen (denier of the Vichy regime’s role in the Holocaust), a government shutdown, and a nuclear war in Korea at the moment. Methodism’s ongoing battles aren’t figuring in large in global affairs. I worry the world has moved on and is now in far too dangerous a place for us to be leisurely considering human sexuality as if it’s not one minute to midnight.  We don’t have time for this.

We live in a world where gay and lesbian people, Christians, atheists, believers, and non believers must coexist.  I don’t mean the bumper sticker on the back of a Subaru kind of coexistence.  The world is far too dangerous a place to exclude anyone qualified from the church’s ministry.  Our doors should never be closed.   We need all the help we can get. Are United Methodists going to be the only denomination still debating the place of lesbian and gay persons in the church if Kim Jong-un obliterates Seoul? At this rate, I’d say so. That, I’m afraid, will make us look behind the humanitarian and theological curve.

To some observers, United Methodism’s problems are systemic: there is disrespect for the Book of Discipline, church tradition, Episcopal authority, and scripture itself. I see the basis of these critiques and understand them. Yet, I don’t think they point to the real problem. Methodists, on either side of the human sexuality debate, have vastly different ideas of God. Apart from dogma, the Discipline, or even Wesleyan tradition; there is a fundamental divide among how United Methodists view God.

Is God love? Do we say God is love and when we say God is love do we mean it or are we lying to ourselves and others? Do we believe in a loving God? That’s the line. Is it possible to believe that God loves her creations and then condemns them for being who she created? I argue no. So yes, I will deny the Bible’s authority on this issue.  However, I will not question the evidence of God’s love I see before my eyes.

–Richard Lowell Bryant