Methodist Church Billboard: “Being Gay is a Gift from God”

Toledo Ohio is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the hotbeds of gay activism in the US, nor the United Methodist church for the vanguard of the move for lgbt inclusion in church. That’s what makes this story important – even in middle America, and even in middle-of- the- road Mainline Protestant churches, the momentum is towards LGBT equality, and replacement of the view of that homoerotic sexuality is sinful, with one of giftedness – and hence of grace.

TOLEDO — If you’ve driven down Monroe St. recently you may have stopped and did a double-take when you saw one message pop up on the electronic billboard. The message reads “Being Gay is a Gift from God.”

Dan Rutt of the Central United Methodist Church is one of the faces behind the new campaign.  He expected not only that everyone who saw the message would be pleased, but that they would encourage the conversation it brings about.  “People who seem to have a different perspective…we welcome that and look forward to that, so let the conversation begin.”

-Toledo on the move

Strictly speaking, it is impossible for this particular conversation to “begin” – it is already well advanced. Some denominations major and minor denominations, in the US and in Europe, have practised full inclusion and welcoming for LGBT Christians for years. Others have done so more recently, and almost all are engaging in serious debates.

Full Inclusion for LGBT Clergy

Over the last two years, the ELCA and the Presbyterian Church of the USA have voted to remove obstacles to the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy in committed, publicly accountable partnerships. (Final ratification of the PCUSA decision is likely within the next month or two). They join the United Church, which has welcomed queer clergy for years, the Episcopal Church, was has ordained two openly LGBT bishops (and nominated others), and major Protestant denominations of Europe, for whom the acceptance of partnered gay or lesbian clergy is frequently just not an issue.

The United Methodist itself has been conducting this conversation for years: like the ECLA and PCUSA, resolutions to permit the ordination of queer clergy have been regular features at national assembly for years, so far without success – but that success will come, just as it has already done elsewhere. Just this year, 33 retired bishops of the church published a public statement calling for inclusion.

Same Sex Weddings, in Church

With the acceptance of partnered gay clergy subject to the proviso that these partnerships should be committed, faithful and publicly accountable, just as conventional marriages are, the obvious next step is to find ways in which these can be formalized and witnessed by the church community. In some cases, this has already led to the full acceptance of church weddings for all couples without discrimination, for example in the United Church, in the Lutheran Churches of Sweden and Iceland, and in several local jurisdictions of other denominations. (The most striking example of this was the high profile wedding in Boston Cathedral of two lesbians, both senior priests in the diocese).

Where full weddings have not yet been approved, many local churches are going ahead with church blessings for couples who have undergone civil marriage or civil unions. As secular marriage equality continues to spread, we can expect these formal approval of these church blessings to do so too. Even where formal approval has not been granted, some individual pastors have been conducting full weddings or church blessings without approval – and frequently, without penalty.

Just as the question of ordination of LGBT clergy has been a perennial topic at national assemblies of leading Protestant churches, so has the proposal to approve same sex unions. Support for these has been lagging that for ordination, but with the constant discussion and study that has accompanied the resolutions, the minds are being changed. This too, will become mainstream within the next few years.

Re-evaluation of Scripture and Theology, and the rejection of “Sinfulness”

Beyond the obvious, direct effects of these changes in church rules and practice, the most exciting feature of this is the origin of the reconsideration. Out of the intense discussions and study groups that precede the votes at national assemblies, and the local votes for ratification, is emerging a recognition that that the accepted, traditional interpretations of the Bible texts and traditional theology have been misguided. A few decades ago, the terms “gay theology” and “queer theology” would have been a contradiction in terms. Now they are accepted academic sub-disciplines, and the trickle of publications that began forty years ago has become a steady, growing stream, as Publichers Weekly reported this week:

The old idea that homoerotic expression is obviously and inherently sinful is rapidly becoming a minority view, with change now visible in all denominations. Even younger evangelicals and some of their older pastors have rejected the old assumptions, while a substantial proportion (possibly the majority) of Catholic theologians believe that it is time for a rethink. Ordinary Catholics have already done so, and no longer believe that homosexuality is a moral issue. Even some Catholic bishops are starting to stress that consideration of the quality of relationships is more important the genital acts involved.

The Gift of Gay

Recognition that sexuality is a gift from God should follow naturally from the widely accepted evidence from biological and social science, and from human history, that homoerotic sexual orientation is entirely natural. (Some religious traditions have seen sexual and gender difference as a sign of special spiritual gifts).

The final step in the recognition that gay sexuality is a God-given gift, follows directly from the parable of the 10 talents: the gifts we receive from God are to be used.

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