by Charles S. Garabedian
A UMC Lie Frozen in Time on February 26, 2019
I pray and hope that all of you are doing well this evening. Unfortunately, I have been in shock, heartbroken, and feeling down since last Tuesday’s vote on LGBTQ issues at the conference of the The United Methodist Church (UMC) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Most of you have already heard about the results of that vote. For those of you who have not, a majority of the delegates voted for The Traditional Plan, which is an unloving, harsh, inhumane, iron-fisted version of anti-LGBTQ hate and bigotry within the UMC. In other words, on this particular issue, the UMC has bought into the same Biblical literalist, inerrantist version of scriptural interpretation and understanding that pervades the ridiculous Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches in the United States. In the midst of my heartbreak for LGBTQ Methodists in general and the LGBTQ members of my extended family here in the American South, I have just been trying to mentally and emotionally process what happened in St. Louis, why it happened, and what it means for the future of the UMC.
A fishing scene is shown in the famous movie entitled A River Runs Through It. The Christian minister father talks with his two sons about matters of faith and the church. One of the memorable moments in that talk comes when the father utters the following words:
Methodists are Baptists who know how to read.
I know exactly what he meant from growing up with the various stripes of Baptists and Methodists in the American South during the 1950s and 1960s. Last Tuesday, The United Methodist Church—my home church—decided to forget how to read and took its first walking step down the road to becoming an ignorance-saturated church—just like the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches.
A couple of weeks ago, before the big vote in St. Louis, I telephoned an old friend of mine in South Carolina. He and his wife are members of a UMC. After a few moments of chatting, I asked him what he thought about the upcoming meeting and vote. The first words out of his mouth were “schism probably.” I suspect he is correct about that.
Right now, I think everyone in the UMC is in the sudden shock stage of grief. The next stage of grief is anger—and that will be when the true schism begins. In the months leading up to last week’s conference meeting and vote, a few authors in various periodicals were certain that this schism had already been silently and fully achieved within the UMC—and everyone was just pretending that it had not already occurred. I am beginning to think that was probably correct. All it needed was an initial spark to make it explode out into the open with highly visible smoke and flames. The vote on Tuesday was probably that spark. All of the UMC smoke and flames of schism will gradually billow forth into the open air across this year and into next year—meaning it will be a slow motion explosion.
In depressing times like this, I tend to think the UMC needs an all powerful, top-of-the-heap leader like Pope Francis. If I were Pope Charles of the UMC, I would have to look much deeper into this LGBTQ matter and the implications of a schism for the entire church. The Devil (or in this case Jesus) is always in the details. That is the deep and thoughtful aspect of Pope Charles.
The emotional, knee-jerk side of Pope Charles, the one I am listening to right now in the depths of my grief, would be more inclined to take the following actions:
(1) Hey!!! Listen up UMC delegates and church members who voted for or supported The Traditional Plan:
You have no business in the UMC. You are a man or woman whose thinking is theologically out of place in an American UMC in 2019. Run on down to a Southern Baptist, IFB Baptist, or Assemblies of God church where you can be with your own (expletive deleted) kind.
After about three months of insane fundie ideology and spiritual abuse in one of those churches, they will be running back to a UMC begging for an opportunity to be kind, loving, merciful, and accepting of LGBTQ people in the church—and those few who do not return—good riddance.
(2) I would look across the oceans to Africa, the Philippines, and other such places with a razor-edged papal edict to the members of those UMC churches. In capsule, that edict would say:
You may have been saved by itinerant Christian fundamentalist missionaries from other churches, but you are not bringing their extreme Biblical conservatism and outlandish teachings into a local UMC in your overseas locality. You are required to quack like a UMC duck, waddle like a UMC duck, and look like a UMC duck when you are a member of a UMC. If you cannot do that, set your eyes on the doorway beneath the Exit Sign and go build a crazy, abusive IFB church of your own that is more to your liking. If they refused to go, I would excommunicate every last one of them from the UMC and ask the local authorities to arrest and jail any one of them caught trespassing on UMC property. No one in an overseas land is turning the UMC into a Christian fundamentalist denomination here at home or overseas. Never—Ever. Capiche?
Yours truly does not wish to hate any person of faith or nonfaith. However, as most of you know, I despise Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism—those two wicked and abusive “isms” that kill and injure people. I operate with the same passion for resistance that Queen Elizabeth I and her court exhibited with regard to the religious and political excesses of Philip II of Spain and Mary (Queen of Scots)—two people hellbent on scheming, murder, and warfare to advance their shared version of Roman Catholic orthodoxy:
In the depths of my emotional grief over the newer, harsher version of The Traditional Plan adopted last Tuesday, I sent an e-mail message to my new UMC pastor and his secretary. The last time I sent an e-mail message to our previous pastor, he waited for what seemed like several months to reply. In fact, after waiting so long, I was truly surprised to actually see a reply in my Microsoft Outlook inbox one day.
One of the problems with my particular UMC is that we seem to always get an old guy for a pastor—an old guy on the verge of retirement. Our new UMC pastor is leaving for retirement almost as fast as he came. Therefore, I suspect he will deftly side-step my grief-ridden e-mail message and escape into retirement so he does not have to deal directly and long-term with LGBTQ issues, The Traditional Plan, and church members like me—who have chosen not to hate LGBTQ people. Indeed, I suspect that is one of the reasons the UMC in general has been declining in membership since the 1960s. It tries not to make waves and be all things to all people of faith—and in so doing—waters itself down so much that no one ever takes an open, bold, and firm stand on major issues facing the UMC. The UMC, founded in 1968, is a denomination where “wishy-washy” has long reigned supreme—except for approving women pastors and the recent vote on LGBTQ people. It really surprises me that otherwise sane UMC members have chosen this particular LGBTQ hill to die on.
I had sincerely hoped the UMC would realize that the church abides in the new covenant of Jesus Christ, rather than in the long ago and now gone Old Testament covenant of law and legalism. The new covenant is where kindness, love, forgiveness, and mercy are supposed to prevail. Other Mainline churches in the United States have recognized those things and extended an open hand toward LGBTQ people. The hierarchical upper crust on the UMC organization chart clearly wants to do the same. Unfortunately, LGBTQ people are being held hostage by the prejudices, bigotry, and hatred that reside in some UMC hearts—and they are using a Christian fundamentalist approach to the Bible as the cover for it.
Worst of all, most of these people are profoundly ignorant about human sexuality and what makes LGBTQ people—become LGBTQ people. They think it is a simple choice people make:
Shall I have chocolate ice-cream or vanilla ice-cream?
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. All you have to do is talk to a male or female gay person who at age 11 was planning to grow up, have an opposite sex spouse, a family, and children. Then they awakened from sleep one early pubescent morning—discovered that the desire for sex exists within human beings—and unlike their best friends—they were attracted only to the same sex—usually to their total surprise and horror. It was not something they requested. Being gay was not something they chose. It was imposed on them against their will by some natural force—one that is still poorly understood scientifically—and they had no choice in the matter. Talk to a gay person sometime rather than running away from them. I have talked seriously with my gay friends—and that is exactly what happened to them—just like heterosexual attraction first happened to you one fine pubescent morning.
The Bible treats addiction to alcohol as a sin, and the Apostle Paul says that drunks will never see the Kingdom of Heaven. For 1,950 years of Christian history, substance addiction was viewed as a purely moral failing that was 100 percent within a person’s ability to control at all times. Christians viewed drunkenness as a simple, sinful choice. You know the classic mantra:
Drunks are obnoxious, vile people willfully sold out to sin.
Suddenly, in the 20th century, French scientists made a shocking discovery. About 15 percent of all human populations are genetically predisposed to substance addiction. Moreover, within this 15 percent (faster in some and slower in others), the intake of alcohol or other addictive substances physically changes the neuron structure inside the human brain and renders people unable to quit using an addictive substance. The brain becomes biologically changed and quite literally must have the addictive substance just like you absolutely must have water and food.
I know this well from firsthand experience. A member of my family was addicted to the nicotine in tobacco. He was a devout and faithful deacon in his highly conservative Missionary Baptist Church. This kind and loving man tried to quit smoking numerous times—always ending in failure. When he finally came down with terminal lung cancer, he was still unable to escape from the nicotine that had restructured his brain. In his few last conscious days, I saw him sitting on the toilet bowl in his bathroom. The white vinyl floor covering around it was littered with numerous black cigarette burns. There he sat near death with a disconnected oxygen tube in his nose and a lit cigarette in his hand—trying to push out poop. It was one of the most pitiful sights I had ever seen.
It was not a matter of choice or sin for this poor man. He was a member of the 15 percent—and the nicotine restructured his brain such that he quite literally could not quit smoking—no matter how hard he tried. He was never kicked out of the church for his very open addiction to tobacco. No one ever told him that he could not be a church deacon because of his smoking, which he did even on Sunday mornings on the front porch of the church.
Does anyone seriously think God is going to reject the entry of this poor man into the Kingdom of Heaven because he became unwittingly addicted via his own genetics and biological forces beyond his knowledge or control? You know what the mountain fundies of the American South would say:
Heeza goin ta Hayul!!! Heezuns shoulda got high on Jeezis instayud!!!
Sigh………………. Thus far, the American scientific community has not discovered what makes LGBTQ people become LGBTQ. Overly eager Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical bigots often cite this as proof positive that being LGBTQ is a simple, sinful choice. These same people easily forget that modern science has not found a cure for cancer either. However, that does not mean that a cure is not out there somewhere—yet to be discovered.
Personally, as a professional scientist, I feel confident that an identifiable reason for LGBTQ folks—being LGBTQ folks—will eventually be discovered—and when it is—it will be both surprising in nature and scientifically clear. It will demonstrate that being LGBTQ is more about how God (or some aspect of nature) made them—rather than a chronic sin condition of simple choice. When that day comes—and it eventually will come—the ultra-conservative faction in the UMC is going to have egg all over its face. However, right now, egg on its face is not what it most needs. Because of this conservative faction’s vote in favor of a harsh version of The Traditional Plan, the one thing ultra-conservative LGBTQ bigots in the UMC need most is a swift kick in the ass.