Oh, I’m probably going to tick all sorts of people off….

Earlier today, a buddy of mine sent me a link to an interview on the Believe OutLoud website with Amy DeLong, who was recently tried for being an open lesbian and for performing same-sex marriage/covenant ceremonies. In the end, she was acquitted on the first charge for she refused to talk about her sexual practices with her partner, and suspended for a short time in regards to disobeying the discipline of the church related to the second charge.

I won’t go into any commentary about about the validity of the trial, the charges, her defense, or the decisions made in the case. They are what they are, and will likely lead to even more argument and legislation at the next General Conference.

However what jumped out at me in the article was one sentence in one paragraph which I highlight below:

BOL:  What do you hope to accomplish within your denomination as an out and proud lesbian?

Rev. DeLong: I hope to help the church move closer to being authentic to its proclamations.  God loves us all, we don’t have to change, and that is what grace is all about.  The church should operate out of grace, not legalism and punishment.  I want to help the church become better than it is.  Right now the church is hurting a lot of people; it’s killing a lot of people.  We know that the suicide rate among gay youth is 3-4 times higher than that of their heterosexual peers. I believe this is due, in no small part, to the negative messages they receive from the church.  We need to help the church send a more positive message, one that assures all people that they are loved and accepted.

Really? God loves us so we don’t have to change our lives in any way? That is what grace, the unmerited love of Jesus which led to his crucifixion, is all about? There is no requirement for a reorientation of our lives? Really?

I am sure that John the Baptist would be shocked to hear that. After all, he came to the Jordan preaching repentance — the reorientation of one’s lives away from sin toward God’s kingdom values. Yes God offers love and acceptance, but sin was (and is) a reality and those who follow are called to turn in a different direction.

I’m sure the rich young ruler would be surprised to learn this teaching. After all, he wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus told him that he would have to change his life and sell all that he had in order to truly follow. That required a radical reorientation of his life — a repentance of sorts, turning away from his riches, and when he couldn’t do so, Jesus watched him walk away. It sure seems like the grace that Jesus offered required some form of change in his life.

In these examples, I am not trying to suggest that sexual orientation and/or practice are inherently sinful, nor am I saying that homosexuals are anything other than persons of sacred worth, deeply loved by God. I am not trying to make an argument that they have to repent of an identity formed in them by God. This is not a rant against sexuality at all — in fact, I believe there are valid theological arguments to make for the inclusion of GLBT folks into the full life of the church.

However the argument that Amy makes above is not one of them, for it ignores the central reality that Christ’s gospel is deeply connected to transformation, which inherently involves change. The call of Christ is to count the cost, to take up the cross, and to both change and be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I fear that the statement above comes across as nothing more than what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” that is, a grace which has little meaning and fails to recognize that it cost Christ his life. “When Christ calls a man {sic} he bids him to come and die,” Bonhoeffer wrote, representing the ultimate change in dying to self to follow Christ. Transformation (metanoia) almost always requires that we give up something to take on something new.

So yes Amy, I believe that all are worthy of love and acceptance. I certainly don’t want the church to operate out of legalism and punishment, and expect the church freely and radically love all people, offering that love especially to our vulnerable teens who need to know that they have a safe place of acceptance.

Let’s just not promote a bad theology which when pulled apart ultimately suggests that discipleship requires nothing of us. I am battling the voices of 1950’s United Methodism in my church who believe that faith requires little to nothing of them and that they aren’t required to change, leading them to justify their cultural homo and xenophobia as appropriate to life in the church. All of us, every last single one of us is loved by God, and called to be changed, to be renewed, to be conformed to God’s image of us. It isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s part of the hope we hold on to.

25 thoughts on “Oh, I’m probably going to tick all sorts of people off….

  1. I think you’re misunderstanding her point, and applying a quote more broadly than it deserves.

    Christianity is obviously about transformation. We are called to change, even to die.

    But we have to change some things and not others. As Paul says, slave or free, man or woman, Jew or Greek, Scythian, barbarian, etc. are all one in Christ. Clearly you don’t have to change those.

    In Paul’s time the questions were all about the Jew vs. Greek distinction–whether gentile Christians must circumcise, and whether Christians must keep kosher. To both questions the early church answered “no.” Such a transformation wasn’t necessary, because the transformation God wanted was of the heart; thus Christians could be righteous by being “circumcised with respect to the heart,” and that was enough.

    The question is therefore whether gay or straight is like Greek and Scythian, or not. Or, turned another way, whether love can be righteous even if it is not straight.

    1. I believe that Tom is correct; the quote is taken out of context. The preceding sentence before the sentence you bolded states that she wants to help move the church to perfection. Clearly, that movement implies sin and denotes a change that is made as a response to the presence of the Living God. We do have to respond to God’s grace. We do have to make important changes. One such change is to end our tradition of giving a religious facade to homophobia and heterosexism.

  2. You’re both right. She’s using a common shorthand, an exoression used within the gay community, especially with those associated with ex-gay ministries. “I tried to change,” “back when I was trying to change,” “I thought I needed to change,” I use this expression all the time, only for sexual orientation. That’s why it was so odd when people against me as a gay person would write “Don’t ever change,” a common thing at the time to write in annuals. It confused me until I realized they were writing it in everyone’s annual. Now, with your post, I bet no one has been understanding what I mean when I refer to the years I worked to try to change my sexual orientation as “back when I was trying to change.”

  3. Jay,

    Thanks for the commentary.

    Yes, of course, all are called to be transformed– all. I’m glad you said that here. Methodism, of all the denominational families, may be historically the most committed to that. Striving after entire sanctification, perfection in love in this life, requires (and blesses us with!) vigorous ongoing change.

    My strong hunch is that the statement you highlighted may well not mean quite what it says on the face of it. What gets reported in the press and in interviews and what one actually means (or meant to say) may not always be the same thing. This isn’t usually the result of any malice on anyone’s part, but rather writing deadlines and limits of story length that restrict the capacity of the reporter to give the fullest context for every comment.

  4. For me, this is most clearly a reminder that everything we say matters, and we need to be very, very careful how we speak–the preachers among us should take heed. Even if means “we don’t have to change” as in “homosexuals should be able to live out their God-given sexuality without condemnation,” what she said is, as you have noted, a pretty indefensible argument. I especially appreciate your notion that God calls us to change our deeply seated biases. Thanks for this.

  5. For the record, I agree that what Amy said was directed to a specific audience and was an attempt to convey that God’s love is wide and open and open to all. Christ comes to us as we are and offers lavish love — which is in fact what grace is all about. That is true for GBLT folks who have lived with the voices suggesting that they are bad, and for straight folks who have heard different voices telling them that they are unworthy and need to attack the other as a means of building themselves up. The fear for me is that in making our blanket statements of love and grace we fail to also communicate and take seriously the demands of Christ, and the demands that being a part of a community of faith places upon us.

  6. I think Amy is likely using “change” in reference to her sexual orientation and those who would be considered gay, lesbian, transgendered, etc. I doubt she would suggest that following Christ requires no change at all. If so, she is, of course, mistaken. In fact, as your comments suggest, Christ’s call is one of complete transformation – hence the notion of being “born again.”

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Jay!

  7. Aren’t we missing a point? Setting aside the issues above, what can be said about the vows taken at ordination? Wouldn’t it be a stronger message, and a show of character, to leave the church because you could no longer honor the vows taken? I was lead to believe that vows were yes or no, not multiple choice.

    1. are you striving after perfection? do you live out all the tasks/duties of ministry as set for in the BOD and by Wesley? how fully have you been devoted to the vows you made?

  8. You deliberately misinterpreted what she said. She obviously meant God doesn’t require us to change our sexual orientation.

  9. the Rev. DeLong does not make a blanket statement about no need to change. She speaks contextually and specifically about the church’s attempt to change GLBT persons into hetero-sexual persons with its claim that being GLBT is in disagreement with scripture and thus sinful. you are basing your argument is something that no one has declared or made notion of. why do you try to turn her statement into something it is not? of course God calls us all to a life of transformation in growth and maturation. the Rev. DeLong notes nothing to the contrary. her words are only about there not being an actual need (as in opposition to UMC polity) of GLBT person to repent as in becoming hetero-sexual. God loves, accepts and affirms all persons, including GLBT persons. That is her point. A point which you seem to miss and/or dismiss within the guise of correcting one’s theology, that needs no much correction!

  10. Interesting. I find it very interesting that the most vocal and most earnest comments are those that suggest that Ms. DeLong’s statement is not what she meant. Why do the commentators feel they have to defend her? Interesting.

    1. No, I am not at all suggesting that Rev. DeLong meant something other than what she said. Rather, what several commentators are asking for is for responsible treatment of her words. We must appreciate and respect the sovereignty and the context.

      Why do we have to defend our colleague? Well, because she is under attack. Her words were misconstrued to mean something other than what is in the text. The conception is that GLTBQI persons and their allies are down with a free-for-all, do whatever you feel, amoral life. That is simply not true. Most GLBTQI people tend to believe in sin; they have a real keen understanding of it. After all, it is sin that keeps them from obtaining equal treatment in the eyes of the church or the world. In order to understand what DeLong was saying, one needs to understand the history, culture, and/or grammar of the GLBTQI community in order to get the gist of what DeLong was saying. Or, one could realize that she is talking about homosexuality throughout her piece–she was put on trail for matters related to gay and lesbian community and BOL is a GLBTQI affirmative group.

  11. Hey “Over Here!” I didn’t really think I was defending anyone (if I’m one of the ones you’re commenting on). I just know that “change” to me says something totally different than it seems to mean to most people and wondered if that’s what happened with her statement. It was a love can build a bridge sort of thing, lol.

  12. Here is my problem with the “misreading” that even Jay admits to have made. The Rev. DeLong misquotes the position of the church that she claims is killing people. The church does not require people to change their “orientation.” It teaches that they should refrain from specific sexual acts.

    So, to say the church asks people to change who they are is simply to misread the church’s position and official language. If we are going to jump on Jay for misreading and misrepresentation, should we do the same with the Rev. DeLong?

    1. Except it asks for a denial. If one is in a committed same-sex relationship and wishes to be ordained, then one must change who they are to be ordained. Or, sadly, even to be members of a local church.

  13. KDH, not true on either count.

    There are forms of sexual activity that an ordained (or appointed) pastor cannot engage in and be true to the vows they take. I understand there is a whole debate about whether that should be the case or not, but for the purposes of ordination vows, homosexual sex is treated exactly the same as sex by a non-married heterosexual. They can’t have sex, but there is not a word in the Book of Discipline against a loving and committed same-sex relationship. The issue is sexual activity.

    As for local church members, the rules do give a pastor the right to deny membership to a sexually active homosexual, but the rules do not require it. It is a matter of pastoral discretion.

    I understand 100% that people don’t like the UMC position as written, but the rules are quite clear and apply to specific things. They do not require anyone to somehow cease to feel a certain set of feelings. They do require that they not act on them. To some that is an unreasonable expectation, but it does not advance the conversation to misrepresent what the plain language of the Book of Discipline says.

    1. John, I agree with you to a point. The rules about sexual activity outside of marriage are clear. Regardless of the “Relationship” orientation, heterosexual or homosexual, the sames rules apply. Why single out a particular group of people and deny them full church membership? Is this discrimination or bigotry masquerading as Christianity?

      1. Well, the only case I know of is a pastor who determined sex outside of marriage (in this case homosexual) to be incompatible with taking the vows of membership (I don’t think baptism was a question here, but I may be wrong about that.)

        The pastor said an ongoing state of unrepentant sin and membership were not compatible. Initially, the pastor’s bishop over-ruled him, but the judicial council of the UMC said it was the pastor’s authority to determine who is ready for the vows of membership.

        I do not know if this pastor was consisted in his application of that standard to other people seeking membership in the congregation he was appointed to serve. If he was not, that certainly raises valid questions of the kind you mention.

  14. My guess is that the “we” was in regards to sexual orientation, not a broad statement on the fallenness (or lack thereof) of humanity. That aside, I think you’re right on.

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