I am a heterosexual male, having been married to a woman for nearly 52 years, and early in my life I participated in those “male bonding” activities that denigrated and ridiculed people I knew, however slightly, men and a few women, who did not conform to my understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity. I confess my stupidity and bigotry now as the absurd and monstrous activity it was, and I ask forgiveness from those of you who identify as LGBTQIA+ persons. I told the foolish jokes, made the sophomoric innuendoes, uttered high-pitched, lisping words, imagining myself to be oh so clever; in reality, I was a dolt and know full well now what I was then in fact. I was ignorant about matters of sexuality, and spread that ignorance abroad among friends, some of whom may have been abused and oppressed by my banter; I just will never know. To those unnamed ones, I apologize, and can only hope for their forgiveness and acceptance.
I was ordained a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church in 1970 and only two years after that a terrible part of a sentence was placed in our Book of Discipline, that book that is updated every four years by our General Conference, serving as the constitution for our denomination in both administrative and theological matters. “We believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” it reads, and in the most recent Discipline of 2016 that phrase is still found. Even though the Supreme Court of the USA ruled in 2013 that the federal government must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples if those unions are legal in their home states, Senator Ted “Cancun” (he, you no doubt will remember, headed recently to that Mexican resort city in the midst of what was the worst winter in his state for 75 years) Cruz reintroduced the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015 to support the right of states to outlaw same-sex marriage. Cruz was joined in that attempt by 11 other senators, including Jeff Sessions, who was soon to become Donald Trump’s first attorney general. While all of that political maneuvering was going on, we United Methodists were caught in the throes of internecine struggle over the question of the performance of same-sex weddings by our clergy and the possible ordination of LGBTQ persons to the ministry. And that phrase haunted us in that struggle, leading finally to a near break-up of the denomination at a special called general conference in 2019, a potential fissure that lurks among us still. That ongoing discussion/fight has been delayed due to COVID-19, and just today (2/25/2021) it was announced that the next general conference, originally scheduled for 2020, has now been delayed until 2022. Hence, the struggle continues for the soul of my church.
If you are interested in some more detailed commentary on the seven (7!) biblical verses that purport to outlaw homosexual behavior as wicked and evil, I suggest you look at YouTube where you will find a much younger me (just type in John C Holbert) expatiating on those verses in two different settings. I tried to show in those sessions what I believe to be a fact: not a single one of those so-called “clobber verses” in reality do reject anything like what you and I know to be LGBTQ behavior. Indeed, one of them, the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah story of Gen.19, says exactly nothing about same-sex relationships at all, despite it having been heard that way for centuries. But this essay does not intend to rehash my arguments that may still be found on-line. Here I simply wish to note that the struggle for full acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ people, though important strides have been made, must continue in the face of many who simply cannot imagine such people as full and free participants in our culture and society.
One would naturally think that the Supreme Court’s ruling of 2013 would have ended that exclusion once and for all, but I fear that is not the case. For example, just last year, 2020, Tennessee made it legal for publically funded adoption and foster care agencies to deny would be loving parents the right of adoption simply because they are a same-sex couple. In short, the legislators of Tennessee would rather that a child have no parental love at all than place that child with a loving couple. This law is so horrifyingly bigoted and short-sided as to beggar belief.
Yet, with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the highest offices in the land, two leaders who very publically have advocated for full rights for LGBTQ people, there remains hope of an important advance. Since Democrats, who tend to be more open to full inclusion, control, however narrowly, both houses of Congress, this week or at the latest next, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Equality Act, a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate based on one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, related to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which in turn followed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which itself was birthed by the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Each of these bills was attempting to define just what that famous phrase “all men are created equal” in fact means. Such a law is desperately needed, given the fact that 185 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 35 states just in 2020 alone! As you can readily surmise, the same-sex marriage freedom, granted by the highest court in the land, did not at all end the fight for inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
The truth is that even now, today, in more than half of our nation, a person may be thrown out of a store solely for being LGBTQ, and there is no legal federal recourse for that tossed out person. During the Trump administration, things got decidedly worse for LGBTQ people. Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, removed nondiscrimination protection for LGBTQ persons when it comes to health insurance and health care. Ben Carson, in the cabinet as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, offered an idea that publicly funded shelters could deny homeless transgendered people services, simply because they were transgendered. And, of course, Donald Trump himself created an executive order barring transgendered persons from service in any branch of the military, a notion that was not supported by any leader of any of those branches! Joe Biden has already reversed course on that bigoted idea.
Bigotry against LGBTQ people is alive and well, and it will take many years and many changes of hearts and minds to find their fuller inclusion in our world. And we Christians, as some of my fellow United Methodists make all too clear, are hardly free of that bigotry. And we need to call it what it is; it has nothing to do with Scripture, however much many cling to it. It is bigotry, pure and simple, rooted in ignorance of the full range of sexuality in human beings, and in fear of behaviors that do not square with what has been wrongly conceived as normative. As I tried to say in my YouTube videos, the wonderful tale in Acts 15, where the apostle Peter is taught that the only thing that excludes any person from the outlandish love of God is prejudice, not circumcision, or food laws, or the need to be a Jew, narrowly defined. God’s overflowing love includes all of creation, and if it does not then why should we believe in such a narrow-minded, exclusive God at all? Our God is forever doing a new thing, as Isaiah said so well 2600 years ago, and that new thing may include, we pray, full acceptance and inclusion for all of our LGBTQ friends and neighbors.
(Images from Wikimedia Commons)