To my “Traditionalist” friends:
First of all, let me explain what I mean by “Traditionalist”: I mean basically any Christian (Methodist or otherwise) who holds to any degree of theology that limits or excludes LGBTQ+ Christians in the church. I use the word “Traditionalist” as a way of separating out “Conservative” or “Evangelical” because the truth is there are conservatives and there are evangelicals who are for the full inclusion of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the church. The word “Traditionalist” comes from those in the United Methodist connection who support the “Traditional Plan” passed at the UMC special called General Conference session last February, and/or the uphold the current language in the UMC Book of Discipline that limits the membership of and ministry with and by LGBTQ+ people. But is not limited to Methodists. By “Traditionalist”, I mean anyone who upholds these kinds of theologies and interpretations of Scripture.
So with that out of the way, my dear Traditionalist friends, we have to talk:
As my denomination sifts through the muck of clarifying where LGBTQ+ people fit in (about which February’s legislative actions said they and their allies do not) the conversation quickly turns to what I would define as “straight fragility”. As conversations begin about the harm inflicted on LGBTQ+ people by and through these theologies and the defense and practice of them, the traditionalists often and quickly get offended at the notion that they’ve inflicted harm, and then turn the conversation around by citing their own harm in being labeled things like “harmful” or the oft used “bigot”. I get it. I’ve been there. No one wants to be labeled a bigot. Furthermore, few believe they are. Your intentions are not to be bigoted nor to do harm. Your intentions are to love and to live out the Scriptures as faithfully as you can in your understanding of them. I believe that many, if not most of you, truly intend no harm and are aghast by the notion of being labeled a bigot.
But here’s what: The theology and ideologies that limit and exclude LGBTQ+ people in the church are indeed harmful and they are bigoted. And I know it hurts to be labeled as such, but to believe in and practice such theologies and ideologies necessarily makes you harmful and bigoted as much as you intend not to be. I resisted this for over a decade, and when I came to grips with it in my own life, I was sick to my stomach. I thought I was just being faithful, and I was, but what I was being faithful to was indeed harmful and bigoted. This is why we cannot make room for it. This is why these conversations often get silenced. They are harmful. They bring harm to humans. These theologies do harm, and this is a simple fact that you must begin to come to grips with. I no longer will tolerate hiding harm him “tough love”. The theology is literally killing people.
But here’s the good news: You do not have to compromise your faith nor the Scriptures to let go of these harmful theologies and interpretations and embrace full inclusion. No matter what anyone else tells you, you simply do not. I know it’s scary to imagine letting go of these theologies, and doing so does come at a cost, but that cost is not your faith even though scores of religious leaders may tell you that it is. It took me a solid decade of deep, painful wondering, but I finally came to see the harm my theology and my subsequent practice of it was inflicting. I changed (as have many), and not only did I not lose my faith or the Scriptures, I found that I’ve gained them both. My faith is deeper and more vibrant than it ever has been. The Bible has come alive like a wild and untamed but beautiful, loving and life-giving, beast. I feel liberated like never before.
You will not lose your faith. You will not lose the Bible. You will not lose Jesus. However, you may lose your current church (and this is a painful reality). You may lose friends (I did). You may lose ministry opportunities (I did). Some of you may even lose your job. People will tell you that you’re “backsliding” or that you’re headed down a slippery slope. They may accuse you of compromising your faith and the “inspired word of God”, but you are not. It’s a scary road, but it’s a good and navigable one, and I believe that as you come around the corner toward inclusion you will find life and faith like you never knew. Trust me. I speak from experience. You can let this go and still be a faithful, Bible-believing, and even evangelical Christian.
Again, I know many of you truly mean no harm. But meaning no harm does not mean that you are doing no harm. Furthermore, do not tell me that I am doing you harm, but telling you that you are doing harm. That is merely a thin closed minded defense designed to maintain a status quo. Defending and practicing these theologies simply is doing harm. If you truly want to “do no harm”, you need to rethink these theologies and interpretations of Scripture. It is scary, hard work. But it’s good work. And there really is liberation and abundant life on the other side.
If you’re interested in an honest conversation about this (I’m not up for a theological debate- I’m done with that), let me know. I’d love to chat.