Monday, May 12, 2014

My Confession: what we don't know

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.  For we all stumble in many things.  If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man able also to bridle the whole body.  Indeed we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.  Look also at ships; although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.  [In the same way], the tongue is a little member and boasts great things" (James 3:1-5 NKJV).

Do you ever have those moments when so many thoughts are rolling through your mind, and you have a difficult time pinning down a coherent thought about a particular thing?  Welcome to my world.

Many have asked why I preach with a fully written manuscript when those few times when I have preached from an outline or nothing at all seemed to flow much more easily.  There are two reasons, not least of which is that I have a tendency to ramble.  To write down a manuscript helps keep me on track toward (hopefully) making a point within a limited time frame.  The second reason is that I have so many thoughts running through my mind that I have to write them down, however scattered they may be in the beginning, so I can sort through them - again - to make a point.  I'm pretty sure I don't always make the point I intended, but I do try.

So now I hope you will bear with me as I try to make heads or tails out of the recent Pulaski County (AR) circuit court decision to strike down Arkansas' gay marriage ban.  I write this after having had somewhat of an epiphany a couple of weeks ago.

I am no fan of political correctness.  I find such efforts to be needlessly cumbersome and unnecessarily awkward.  As a middle-aged white heterosexual Christian male, however, I am rarely the target of cruel jokes (though I have been the subject of cruel and malicious gossip).  I do have a self-image problem that is probably shared by more than I can imagine.  I have struggled with my weight nearly all of my life and my complexion is rather rough after a horrific battle with acne during my teenage years, so I can be rather sensitive to such references.  In the end, however, I married a beautiful woman who bore me three beautiful, healthy, well-adjusted children and who has given me a life that might otherwise be little more than a smoking heap of disaster. 

Political correctness, however, has more to do with being sensitive to those persons (and groups) who are so easily offended not because they are too sensitive for their own good but because of the harm that may (and often does) come as a result of our careless words.  For the Christian and the Jew, political correctness is a good exercise in choosing carefully what we say and how we say it.  The "teacher" of Ecclesiastes says as much: "A dream comes through much activity, and a fool's voice is known by his many words (5:3a, NKJV)." 

When my own children were growing up, I tried to remind the older kids that how they treat their younger siblings, especially in the presence of friends, is often how other kids will come to treat the little ones.  By our actions and words we tacitly give approval of mistreatment toward those whom we actively mistreat even if we believe it to be in fun.  So I was rather forceful in trying to teach my kids that how they express themselves toward their siblings is how others will treat these same younger ones.  In other words; if you love them, act like you love them!

So now I am left to wonder if (or how) by my religious objections to gay marriage I am tacitly giving approval to others to ultimately mistreat those with whom I disagree.  I am a traditionalist, an unapologetic conservative Christian who takes great comfort in the ancient traditions and teachings of the Church and Judaism.  I am more much inclined to quote St. Augustine or Maimonides than I am to quote Max Lucado or Adam Hamilton (though I have quoted each, again, in an effort to make valid point).   

The United Methodist position on the value of human life is one of sound biblical teaching; that all humans are of "sacred worth", and all are worthy of respect and reverence.  Of course there are some humans who make respect and reverence a pretty tall order (and I have no doubt I have been the cause of challenge for more than a few), but our Lord declares this to be so.  If I am to respect the Lord, then, I am required - REQUIRED - to respect all of His creation.  This is assuming, of course, that I really do believe in the almighty Creator who is also the God and Father of Messiah Jesus.

I have made, and have laughed at, inappropriate jokes.  Sometimes some jokes and comments do still tickle my funny bone (depending on my mood and state of mind at the time), but this only means I have a lot of work to do yet toward my own sanctification as I "work out my salvation with fear and trembling" - because I earnestly believe how we treat one another will be a very serious consideration of The Judgment.  Yet there is even more to it than this.  I personally know (and have profound respect for) some who are gay, and I know of at least three gay couples for whom I would drop everything if any of these needed help I could offer. 

Here's the thing, though.  I only suspect they may be gay.  I have not witnessed inappropriate behavior, there has been no (and no need for) confession, and each of these individuals has earned my respect as just and decent human beings.  For all purposes, this is enough.  Isn't it?  They all have jobs and families whom they care for deeply, and each of these would give the shirts off their backs to someone in need.  Knowing each of them personally, I would have trusted my own children with any one of these persons.

They are not deviants, and they are not child molesters.  They are responsible human beings with a healthy respect for life, love, family, and neighbor.  If they are, in fact, homosexual, then I might suggest they have a strange (to me) way of expressing physical love.  I cannot say, however, that heterosexuals in general have done much better at conveying to the world what biblical married love really means. 

I still have a lot to work out within and for myself, but the need to work it out quickly and fairly is of the utmost importance because I am a preacher, a minister of the Gospel (the Good News) of the Lord.  The Lord has given me this incredible opportunity (and enormous responsibility) to speak in His behalf, and I dare not waste it by making His pulpit my personal forum or trying to pretend my political inclinations are shared by Him.  And I do not - DO NOT - want to be placed in the same category as those poor souls of Westboro!  To borrow a stanza from the hymn "A Charge to keep I have": "To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master's will".

I know I am taking a huge risk in posting this essay publicly because some of my conservative friends will think I have lost my mind and sense of right and wrong.  There is also the possibility that my thoughts will be misunderstood as an indication that I have changed my mind or softened my position and beliefs.  If you will do anything, I ask for your earnest prayers.  In the meantime I will leave you with the best piece of wisdom that has ever been offered: if you cannot say something nice and uplifting, please say nothing at all.  To me or to those with whom you disagree.  It is enough to know for now that we are all capable of being hurt and doing harm.  Let us choose a more excellent way until we figure out how our speech and actions will glorify our God and edify our neighbors - or blaspheme The Holy Name and harm our friends.

No comments: