The Religious Right and the Religious Left were watching this week as United Methodist Church delegates met in St. Louis. Two critical issues topped the agenda for the denomination to decide. One was about pensions and the other about how the denomination would respond to LGBTQ people.

The denominational delegates would decide if the UMC would sanction LGBTQ marriages and ordain LGBTQ clergy. Four different plans were proposed. The two front running plans were the “Traditional Plan” and the “One Church Plan.” The traditional plan would continue to uphold the ban on LGBTQ clergy and wedding. It also mandated penalties against clergy or churches that disobeyed the ban. The one church plan would allow individual churches to decide their own policies for or against LGBTQ weddings and clergy. The prohibitive language would be removed from church documents.

The vote was 461 votes for the “Traditional Plan” and 359 votes for the “One Church Plan.” A split in the denomination is expected.

Setting aside theological and hermeneutical debates, (which is just fancy ways of saying “this is what I believe the Bible says”) Christians need to be reminded that our actions speak louder than words. Every act of ministry is a theological act. When the church refuses to perform a wedding because one member of the couple has been divorced previously, we communicate a theology that says “you are damaged goods and irredeemable.” We brand an entire group of people with a scarlet “D” and create second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. When Christians refuse to perform weddings for same-sex couples, they communicate a God who discriminates against a minority group. Is that the theology we want to communicate?

Image via David Hayward at used with permission.

I know, theology, sin, cultural syncretism, WHARGARBLE….

I also know, different theological perspectives, it’s not sinning, cultural eisegesis, WHARGARBLE….

And so the debate goes on and on and on.

As I stated before, all ministry is a theological statement. I prefer to use a hermeneutics of love. Our ministries and thus our theologies must demonstrate love toward God and neighbor.  Consider the following hypothetical story:

Two theologians believed their brother to be in sin. The first theologian spent his lifetime building an airtight case against his “sinning” brother so that his condemnation would be unimpeachable. The second theologian spent his lifetime examining himself and his beliefs; he listened to his brother to understand why he acted as he did. He wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t inadvertently condemn his brother. Of these two, which loved his neighbor as himself?

I would propose that our task is to act as inclusively as possible to communicate an inclusive God. If we approach scripture with the intent to find sins that let us exclude, we will find plenty of evidence. If we approach scripture with the intent to find the grace that includes, we will find plenty of evidence. The question for me is which communicates God better?

One final note, when churches become gatekeepers deciding who is worthy of the sacraments, they lock themselves in cages. These churches will die in captivity — meanwhile, those who were excluded worship on the wild frontier where they are welcome.

Image via David Hayward at used with permission

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