Thursday Reflection: Tripping Over Being Right

According to the World Health Organization, falling is the second leading cause of accidental deaths worldwide. And we all know what precedes a fall…

There is no shortage of pride these days. Plenty of people are sure they are right. As a result, there seems to be a dearth of humility. The flash point for much of today’s certainty is people who are gay, or queer, or transgender. They are both the heat source and the fuel for the moral and theological fires that rage across faith communities and secular society. Under the guise of protecting religious freedom, and under the banner of claiming to know exactly what God wants, churches and legislatures use this relatively small group of people to travel multiple avenues that let us – or inspire us to – vent our rage, act out our fear, or at least to live comfortably with our own prejudices. It doesn’t matter what side of the issue you might be on – there is plenty of company to assure you that you are correct in your opinion, absolutely, without any need for doubt.

United Methodist bishops speak for and against the current position in the church’s Book of Discipline. One United Methodist clergyman who recently brought charges against another because he officiated at a same sex wedding has a piece in his church February newsletter: “I love hearing stories from people about how warm, friendly and nurturing the Central Church family is,” he writes. “I am proud of this dimension of our family which is so clearly distinguished among our ranks. Let’s continue to excel in our strengths and  play to a sweet-spot.” A community that is warm, friendly and nurturing – and has a reputation for being so – does have something to be proud of. But to bring a charge against a colleague, and then to express disappointment because the punishment did not, in his opinion, adequately fit the severity of the crime … it seems more than a little disingenuous to claim “warmth, friendliness and nurturing” as defining qualities for his community.

ArizonaWhat were you thinking when you passed that legislation? Were you truly believing that such a law would honor the right to more freely practice one’s religion? There is no joy in that law getting through the legislature; nor is there any “victory” in Gov. Jan Brewer having vetoed it. It seems the prevailing pressures were economic, not ethical or moral or religious.

Uganda … What are you thinking? Life imprisonment for being gay and having sex? And what “victory” is there in The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark withdrawing aid to the Ugandan Government? What is the pride-point in redirecting funds from the government to non-governmental agencies? Spokesman Ofwono Opondo believes these cuts are a good thing. Foreign aid, he says, is “actually a trap for dependence”. If that were the case, why did the Ugandan government accept the aid in the first place?

We are – all of us – tripping badly over our own self-righteousness, all the while being proud of it.

So … What should we do? What if we decided to allow people to marry the person of their choosing and hold them accountable to that commitment? What if we were to ordain the people of God’s calling as best anyone can know or discern what God wants, and stop equating moral purity and religious faithfulness with gender preference? What is it that perpetuates this personal, national, global obsession with sex? Honestly, I don’t think one has to be looking at pictures of naked people to be addicted to pornography. Let’s insist on consent and commitment when it comes to sexual intimacy – and beyond that let’s stop allowing what other people do in their bedroom to dominate the secular and sacred agenda. There’s no pride in this recommendation. I won’t even claim this approach would be the “right” approach. At this point it seems to be more of an appeal to common sense.

A gay man was responding to a young woman whose sister had just “come out” to her. Given the tension between her love for her sister and her love for her family and the conservative church of which they were a part, she was wondering how she should relate to her sibling. This is what he said: We don’t need someone to tell us the seven badger verses as if we’ve never heard them before. We don’t need a moral lesson about God’s will from anyone who has already forgotten what it was like to fall in love for the first or second time, way back when. . .What we need is someone who will come alongside us and remind us to walk in integrity and commitment with the person we are falling for and to pursue a complete (another word for holy) relationship that includes all aspects of life.

“Integrity”. “Commitment”. “Holy”. Relationships that “include all aspects of life”. I think he’s got it right – simply, humbly right. There’s not a lot of pride there, which means there is much less a chance that he will trip and fall.

Today, let’s watch our step.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.