Tevye wonders how far he can bend. Can he accept the Gentile boy his third daughter, Chava, has fallen in love with? Is he being forced to choose – his faith, or his family … if he loses one, will he lose the other as well? Who are the winners? The losers?
We United Methodists are in the news again, and the subject is the same. What to do about the practice of homosexuality in our church? Bishop Martin McLee (New York Conference) announced Monday that there would be no trial in the case brought against Rev. Thomas Ogletree. A “Just Resolution” has been arrived at requiring that Rev. Ogletree participate in a public forum later this year — “a broad discussion about divisions among Methodists over gay relationships and about how the church deals with human sexuality.”
Bishop McLee’s decision is considered a “victory for Methodists who have defied the church law that considers homosexuality ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’.” So say reports in USA Today and The Washington Post. McLee said he believes church trials “produce no winners” because they “result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
Some would disagree with the bishop, suggesting that what he is actually saying is that church trials tend not to produce the “winners” he would prefer. When your side doesn’t win, it can feel like there are no real winners. And of course, there are many who feel they are on the ‘losing side’ of Bishop McLee’s decision, regardless of the fact there was no trial.
Good News, a movement within the United Methodist Church whose mission is “to lead United Methodists to a Faithful Future”, posted an article by editor Rob Renfroe on February 28 in which Rebfroe states: “The truth is we may not be able to live together as one church.” Renfroe continues in an ominous tone: “The truth is if our bishops do not act swiftly and decisively to uphold our process of holy conferencing and enforce our Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church will be lost.” This statement was made a week and a half before Bishop McLee’s announcement on Monday.
The editorial breaks us all down into two categories, “Progressives” and “Traditionalists”. And Renfroe doesn’t believe these two groups can coexist together and remain faithful to the Gospel. With regard to the continued decline of the United Methodist Church, Renfroe writes: “Progressives are convinced the reason [for the decline] is our lack of being open to all people. Traditionalists believe one reason is that many of our people cannot abide to stay in a local church or an Annual Conference where the Gospel is not preached, the Bible is not respected, and the Book of Discipline is disregarded.”
I have dreamed and hoped and prayed and yes … I’ve even believed … that Jesus was bigger than our divisions over this issue. But it is becoming apparent that is not true. It is becoming clear that this is a “go to the mat” issue for many in the church such that any hope of finding some middle ground, some “third way”, is simply not going to be tolerated.
First UMC Burlington had a Conversation following worship on February 9 where we discussed recent decisions regarding Rev. Frank Shaefer. We attempted to create an environment in which people could speak honestly about their opinions and feelings. We asked people to be respectful. We were not to try to prove we were right or anyone else was wrong. And most important, if you came to the conversation, you had to commit to the church – that you would not leave, regardless of how the conversation went. We held no vote and took no polls. We wondered if we might take a step towards love for one another and commitment to Christ that would transcend strongly held opinions. I don’t know if we succeeded. We tried very hard to avoid the “winner / loser” trap; but I’m not sure we landed safely on any “middle ground” or “third way”.
I hope First UMC Burlington has more such conversations. I hope we keep trying, keep working at it, keep asking which is more important – our opinions, or Jesus’ love for us all. And I do believe there is “victory”. Like the old hymn says: O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever! He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood; he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him; he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.
In Christ, forgiveness is proven to be stronger than sin. Love has conquered hate. Life is victorious over death. Bond or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile, gay or straight – those divisions are not what matter anymore. Men – celebrate this wonderful news: Women have won, too. White folk – rejoice in this wonderful news: People of every color and hue are winners, blessed and talented. Religious people – accept this amazing fact: Jesus assures us our love for him and willingness to care for him in each other – that’s sufficient for anyone to win salvation. Straight people: a human being committed to another human being, cherishing them in their heart, vowing to love, protect and be faithful to them – that is cause for rejoicing, whatever their gender. Where love is, winners are there, too.
I do believe the only way we can have “victory” without creating winners or losers is to trust that, because Jesus has won, nobody else has to.
It’s Tuesday. Whatever else happens to you today, remember this: You’ve won. A blessed day to you.
Do you feel about me the way they feel about you? – Chava meets Fyedka
Tevye – “How far can I bend?” (Audio Only).