Reconciling Questions and Responses

1. What is LGBTQA? LGBTQA is a community of persons of sexual orientations that are known as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer/questioning and allies.  This is one way a person may self-identify with a movement toward understanding.
2. Why are we talking about this?

Our Affirmation of Welcome Statement says that we are inclusive of all people. The Faith and Reason Sunday School class has been looking at this particular issue and has taken it a step further. Our hope is to join together with other forward thinking congregations.

 

3. What does it mean to become a “Reconciling Congregation?”

It would mean that we, as a congregation, are willing to put ourselves out there on behalf of justice and an oppressed minority; for changing our denominational position on LGBTQA persons and greater welcome. It would reveal our courage and resolve to stand for equality and with the disenfranchised of society. It would reaffirm and strengthen our welcome statement in the bulletin each week, as we add the word “reconciling.”

 

4. What other churches in Ames and Iowa are reconciling?

There are five Iowa United Methodist congregations listed on the Reconciling Ministries Network website:

http://www.rmnetwork.org/find-a-church/

They are: Collegiate UMC, Ames; Grace UMC, Des Moines; Trinity UMC, Des Moines; St Timothy’s UMC, Cedar Falls; Walnut Hills UMC, Urbandale; the Wesley Foundations/Communities in Iowa City, Cedar Falls & Ames; plus a sub-group of Clinton-Commanche at Bellevue.

In Ames there are other denominations that are also reconciling and include: St. Andrew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), United Church of Christ (UCC), Collegiate Presbyterian and St. John’s Episcopal.

 

5. Where does the Iowa United Methodist Conference stand on this issue?

The Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC has supported legislation to remove language from the Book of Discipline which prohibits the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church. When attempts to change the Discipline and make the UMC a more welcoming denomination failed, many lay and clergy members of the IAC responded by pledging to support the LGBTQA community. “Do No Harm Iowa” lists nearly 600 supporters of covenant on their website:

http://donoharmiowa.org/category/news/

Do No Harm Iowa has two covenants. The first, entitled, “Do No Harm,” states, “in accordance with our membership vows to ‘resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,’ and in obedience to the first of our General Rules, “Do no harm,” we, the following laity and clergy of the Iowa Annual Conference, covenant to obey the law of God.”

The second is “A Covenant of Conscience.”  Citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who wrote from his jail cell in Birmingham, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” pledges, We, United Methodist clergy, in accordance with our ordination vows to “seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people,” commit to marrying without bias or discrimination all people who seek the blessing of the church and are prepared to assume the privileges and responsibilities of a loving, committed, covenant relationship.”  It adds, “each of us, clergy, laity, and congregations, pledge to one another our spiritual and material support in fulfilling this covenant of conscience.”

The complete texts of both covenants are available on the website.

Bishop Julius Trimble’s “Be Encouraged” blog posting of 2/3/2014 summarizes his feelings…

http://www.iowabeencouraged.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2014-02-28T09:59:00-06:00&max-results=1

 

6. What is the opinion of the General Conference of the UMC?

The General Conference is divided with the conservative south and international delegations carrying votes to defeat statements of affirmation designed to reform the Discipline. Thus, statements remain that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching…,” and prohibits the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, utilizing United Methodist Church buildings for same sex unions or UM clergy from conducting same sex weddings. In spite of a failure to reform, many bishops and leaders within the UMC continue to protest and challenge our official position by becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network and/or engaging in loving acts of conscience in defiance of official positions. Several high profile church trials have been in the national news within the past year. There is a clear movement to avoid highly publicized and expensive church trials which tend to push the UMC toward schism. Bible and theological leaders from diverse perspectives will continue to make their cases in our churches and to the 2016 General Conference. We are the church and it is for us to decide as the Holy Spirit guides, what Jesus would do. As disciples, we are called to do likewise, to act with compassion and grace.

 

7. Does our church have known friends and members who are LGBTQAs? First United Methodist Church does not inquire about any person’s sexual orientation, therefore, we have no answer to this.  A general fact is that a percentage of the population self-identify as being included in this category. We DO know that on occasion, persons have sought out churches that welcome LGBTQAs.  Some have visited us, but others have not found us because we are not listed as a Reconciling Congregation within the Iowa United Methodist Conference.  The good news is that we ARE included in the central Iowa LGBTQA newspaper as one of the places in Ames that is open and welcoming.

 

8. What would FUMC look like if we became a reconciling congregation? The outward change might not be all that noticeable, but the hope is that there would be significant spiritual growth as people generally become more biblically informed and come to see God as loving fully all persons, all creation, equally and without condition (agape). United Methodists seeking a congregation which is willing to advocate positive change would be more willing to at least check FUMC out.  There likely would be an attitude shift within the congregation.
With more inclusion of the LBGTQA community in Ames, hopefully we would see a transformation within our church membership.  A visible change might be a support group for LGBTQA individuals, or some other groups that focus on their needs. FUMC would openly welcome individuals of the LGBTQA community by updating the church’s Affirmation of Welcome Statement to explicitly include this group.  The current Affirmation of Welcome Statement is found on the FUMC web site at: http://fumcames.org/about/welcome/ FUMC would also update printed materials, its Facebook page and other electronic media and social media to be consistent with this change in the Affirmation of Welcome Statement. FUMC would be listed on the various web sites for reconciling churches.

 

9. What is the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation?

Below is a summary of the steps that are usually taken for a church to work through the process of deciding whether or not it becomes a reconciling church. The Administrative Council of FUMC has passed a resolution of support for the Faith and Reason class to lead this process within our church. The process is designed to be one of sharing information and facilitating discernment for members as we discuss the issues of a reconciling church and open acceptance of the LGBTQA community.

The steps are:

  1. Establish a steering committee from a core group, (Faith and Reason) to lead the process.
  2. Initiate open discussion of this issue for all groups and individuals within the church.
  3. Schedule meetings of larger groups to view informational materials such as videos and presentations with open discussion for all members.
  4. Schedule small groups to continue the education and discussion process.
  5. Evaluate the process and make modifications to respond to the issues, questions and needs that are identified in prior steps. This may take the form of a church wide survey.
  6. Continue this process until the congregation is ready to move forward.
  7. Schedule a church conference and conduct a vote of the members on the desire to become a reconciling church.
  8. If it passes, then work on updating the Affirmation statement, web site and other materials to reflect the change.
  9. Begin to incorporate a reconciling process within the church functions and activities as an ongoing process.Aan open invitation to all FUMC members, to attend an information session this summer. Three sessions will be offered, to provide access to all.   (Gen. 19:1-25)
  10. God had pronounced judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah through the following sequences:
  11. The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
  12. Below is a brief summary of many of the verses and issues that have been used to exclude and denigrate any homosexual individual.
  • God sent two angels to Lot
  • Towns-men demanded the angels come out in order to rape and abuse them
  • Lot refused and offered his two virgin daughters instead and the towns-men refused them
  • Angles blinded the towns-men
  • The town violated cultural rules of hospitality – the issue concerns violent physical abuse and the power of a majority over a minority
  • Ezekiel 16: 48-50 – God declared that Sodom was over-fed, arrogant, that nobody in the city helped the poor and that they worshiped idols
  • Luke 10:10 – Jesus Christ confirms that Sodom’s sins were abuse of strangers and total disregard for hospitality
  • The story of Sodom and Gomorra has nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with inhospitality and abuse of power

 

Thoughtful and objective evaluation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah could very easily turn the tables on churches or congregations that reject and/or do not welcome “all individuals” including the LGBTQ community.

 

Leviticus Code

Leviticus 18:22, “thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13, “If a man also lies with mankind as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood be upon them.”

God was preparing the Israelites to enter Canaan. God did not want the Israelites to do what the Egyptians and Canaanites did. Leviticus 18 begins with “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.”

  • Egyptians and Canaanites practiced idolatry, worshiped many gods and practiced many fertility rights consisting of sexual rituals.
  • These sexual rituals were believed to bring blessings of the god or goddess onto crop and livestock production.
  • Rituals consisted of whole families, with extended family members, all having sex with one another, fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles etc.
  • Ishtar was the goddess of love and fertility with temples and priests, mostly male. The patriarch having sex with the temple priests was believed to be especially effective in gaining favor with the goddess as well as guaranteeing one’s immortality.
  • Both chapters 18 and 20 contain a long list of sexual practices in the cultic rituals and Chapter 20 begins with an injunction against the pagan practices associated with a god named Molech.
  • If all of the Leviticus code was to be applied as these two verses, then;
  • any adulterers must be stoned to death
  • Two different types of seeds cannot be planted together
  • You must eat no shellfish
  • Injunction list of each specific family member with which sex is prohibited
  • Anyone who turns to mediums and spiritualists to prostitute themselves by following them, must be put to death
  • Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death

 

When read in textual and historical context, the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are clearly directed at homosexual temple prostitution.

 

“Man-Lyers” and Other Phrases

(1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10)

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul condemns those who are “morally weak” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.”

Using the words (malakoi oute arsenokoitai:

Scholars tend to differ on the full extent of Paul’s intended meaning of the words ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’, but most generally agree that he is referring to some form of prostitution, either relating to paid-for-pleasure of others, or self-gain through cultivation of someone wealthy or often elderly in order to favor inheritance. Additionally, it was common practice for men of means to kidnap or enslave young boys for sexual purposes. Many higher-ranking military leaders took these young people with them on military campaigns.

Paul, in these verses, is focusing on wanton, lewd, exploitative and abusive sex, possibly between men, though not necessarily exclusively so. Across the entire range of sexual matters, the Scriptures call for mutual respect, caring and responsible sharing, in a loaded word – Love. The violation of these virtues specifically, is what the Bible condemns. From the verses of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, this principle of mutual respect and caring love. applies equally to heterosexuality and homosexuality.

 

Biblical Endorsement of Same-Sex Relationships

The Bible does not condemn homosexuality outright but solely in terms of idolatry, exploitation and abuse. Beyond that, positive models of committed same-sex love can be found in the Scriptures, both explicit and implicit. Their presence suggests that the Bible recognizes same-sex love more directly than most people realize.

  • The presence of such relationships is a valid argument that acceptance of homosexuality is completely within the scope of biblical teachings.
  • There are numerous references of David and Jonathan’s love for each other described in 1Samuel that clearly describe same sex attraction and love.
  • Ruth and Naomi declare their love for each other in Ruth 1:16-17.
  • Daniel and the Chief Eunuch are in Dan 1:9 “Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the Palace master.” Another translation reads “chief eunuch.”
  • The Centurion’s male lover whom Jesus heals without hesitation, question or condition, in Mat 8:6 or Luke 7:2 is another example. Not for a moment does Jesus suggest the slave’s illness might be punishment from God for “sinful behavior;” nor does he refuse to heal the slave on the grounds that it would enable an “abominable relationship” to continue. He simply heals compassionately, without hesitation or condition.
  • Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch – even though socially outcast, are in Acts 8:37. Philip does not refuse the man when the eunuch asks to be baptized. He simply says “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He asks no questions of his sexual orientation or makes no other demands. Philip simply baptizes him. Philip’s response reveals that the man’s sexual orientation had no relevance for his receiving Christ.
  • Recent serious scholarship has all but established that servants of the court, or eunuchs, were far more frequently homosexuals than the traditionally presumed castrated heterosexual men. They are described as ”man-made eunuch” or “natural” or ‘born” eunuchs. Interestingly, this is entirely in keeping with comments of Jesus himself in Matthew 19:11-12. “It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. There are eunuchs born so from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs made so by human agency and there are eunuchs that have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

 

In summary, where Scripture deals with committed, loving same-sex relationships, they are affirmed, but by stark contrast, Biblical passages used to condemn and reject gay men and lesbians are set firmly in the context of sexual behavior that is abusive, promiscuous, exploitative or idolatrous. Ignoring the former, many Christians have latched onto the latter and, over time, established it as Biblical truth to be unquestioned. Therefore the entire focus of this issue is drastically altered.