I once was a United Methodist.
After my conversion experience, I had no idea what to do next. No one “led” me to Jesus except Jesus Himself. So, I waited around for a month, waiting for this Being who was keeping company with me to guide me.
When it came into my mind to go to St Luke’s Methodist Church, I got up the next Sunday and went. That was the beginning of nine fruitful years in which I began to walk the path that has led me to where I am now. I don’t remember ever, not once in all those nine years, when the question of gay marriage even came up. That was long ago and this is now. Back then, the debates were all about communist insurgency in Central America and abortion.
My main source of dissatisfaction with that church wasn’t political. It was that the Church left me hungry. I think this hunger is the key to the story I’m about to relate. A few weeks ago, the Green Street United Methodist Church, which is in North Carolina, released a statement through Equality NC saying that their Leadership Council had asked church ministers to “join others who refuse to sign any State marriage licenses until this right is granted to same sex couples.”
I am no longer a United Methodist, and whether or if they decide to provide the sacrament of marriage to their members is their call. But I have to say that I think this is just plain stupid. Baptizing, marrying, burying is what Christian churches of every denomination do.
However, as I said, it’s not my call. If the people in that church want to skip their weddings and co-habit in order to make a political point, so be it. I wouldn’t exactly call this following Christian teaching, but, hey, it’s not my church.
And that is the point. It’s not my church. I was an active member of a large United Methodist church for nine years. I taught Sunday school, delivered meals on wheels to the elderly and sat in my amen-saying corner every Sunday. I got a lot from the experience. It was a great church for taking someone like I was when I joined and turning her slowly and gently toward a closer walk with the Lord.
I walked into that church the first time still spiritually wet behind the ears from being born again. I had just experienced the Presence of God close up and personal and there was not a shred of doubt anywhere in me that the Who I had encountered was real. I was awash in the indescribable joy of that encounter, the love that Presence poured into me and the new guidance that was coming at me from this Being who I didn’t have a name for.
I learned later that the Being was the Holy Spirit. I also learned that a lot of things I was doing and thought were A-OK, were, in fact, sins. But at that time, all I knew for sure was what I’d learned from encountering the Living God first hand.
That was actually quite a lot; enough to build a life on. But the points of religious practice, Christian teaching and Scripture with which to frame this life were totally missing in me.
I began the process of learning the Gospels and what being a Christian means at St Luke’s. I can honestly say that they never led me down any dark path the way this happenin’ church in North Carolina is doing with its people.
However, the foundation for that bad leadership was there at St Luke’s, even if it wasn’t active. I got a great deal from my time at the church, but it always left me hungry. I wanted more Jesus than they gave me. There was a warmed-over quality to things there. It wasn’t bad teaching. It was tepid teaching; as if Easter really was about egg hunts and new dresses.
I know that this church equipped good people to face the exigencies of life. I saw them do it. I saw their faith sustain them through trying times.
But it left me hungry.
I think this stand-offish approach to Christianity is often open to the abuse of letting the hard teachings of the Gospels go slip-sliding away. I am not pointing out the United Methodists when I say this. I think every church and every denomination faces the question Jesus asked the disciples when His followers walked away from Him: Will you leave me too?
Jesus asks us for our whole selves. We can’t preach to Him about the latest social fads and expect Him to excuse us from our vocation to live the Gospels in full, without drawing safety margins around the parts that make us unpopular or force us to sacrifice.
When a church — any church — teaches its people that the wide way is the path to heaven, they are lying to them. When they use their prophetic and moral voice to claim that sin is not sin but is instead a positive good, they are pied pipers leading others to destruction.
I know something about this. I once thought and taught that legal abortion was a positive good. I know from personal experience that you can not undo the harm that you do later on.
I would feel sorry for the leadership of this church if they weren’t doing so much harm to their congregants. They are teaching and preaching a false Gospel. It’s as simple as that.
As I said, it’s not my call to decide whether or not some little church in North Carolina should refuse the sacrament of marriage to its congregants in order to make a political statement. It’s their call, and it appears they’ve made it.
However, there is nothing to stop me from saying that what they are doing is, at best, plain stupid.