Ordination and Marriage: Positions of Priviledge or Opportunities to Serve?

There have been differences of opinion in the United Methodist Church on the inclusion of LGBT folk in the life of the church since before I was ordained a deacon and probationary member of the Tennessee Conference in 1974. I have kept up with the wrangling at General Conference and our inability to even admit that we disagree when our very unwillingness as a Church to state that truth indicates both that we do disagree and the depth of that disagreement. (Full disclosure: I have been in loving disagreement with my Church and in favor of the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the Church including marriage and ordination my entire time in ministry.)

Recent events have set me thinking about the reasons for the deep disagreement and hostility generated by this particular subject. I do not see the same level of hostility on other so-called hot button issues. Plenty of observers have offered their ideas and opinions on this ongoing division, but mine begin with this question. Why ordination and marriage?

First of all, we do not withhold the sacraments from LGBT people. We do not make being heterosexual a condition of baptism and we do not rescind someone’s baptism if they come out, nor do we turn them away from the table when they come to receive the elements at Holy Communion.

On the other hand when it come to two church rituals which we as United Methodists do not consider to be sacraments, marriage and ordination, our United Methodist Discipline does not allow LGBT people to be married or ordained in our churches, and prohibits our clergy/bishops to participate in either.

Since LGBT folk are “people of sacred worth” according to the UM Discipline why would we choose to welcome them to take part in our two sacraments and not allow them to be married or ordained, two rituals that are not sacraments? As I have considered this question it has come to my mind that this may result from the way we view marriage and ordination as positions of privilege rather than opportunities for service. People who are married are afforded legal and tax privileges that unmarried persons do not enjoy. Ordained elders especially are seen as standing in positions of privilege (although sometimes it doesn’t seem so to us). It appears to me that this is not the case with deacons, whose ordination is typically seen as  an opportunity to serve.

In 2010 we had a devastating flood here in Nashville. Not a single person interviewed after they had been rescued from the roof of their house by volunteers in a boat had asked about their rescuer’s sexuality before they climbed into the boat. I don’t know of a single person who indicated that only “straight” people would be allowed to donate food or materials to repair their homes or to work at the tasks of cleaning up and repairing those homes.

If we really viewed marriage as an opportunity to serve “with all that I am and all that I have” as the wedding service says, then would not anyone willing to take on that role of faithful service to another be allowed to marry. If we as elders (I will let the deacons speak for themselves here.) were to take on the role of a servant as Jesus did (rather than aspiring to positions of privilege), would not anyone who was willing to serve be allowed to serve, especially if that service was to those in the greatest need.

Perhaps it is our understanding of and expectations for marriage and ordination that stands in the way of full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the United Methodist Church. Just an idea to throw into the mix.

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21 Responses to Ordination and Marriage: Positions of Priviledge or Opportunities to Serve?

  1. Deen Thompson says:

    Thank you Michael for being in the spirit of Jesus by asking questions so that we might discover God’s truth in our own lives. May we move together in becoming God’s Beloved Community in today’s world. “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live” (Words from the hymn “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen)

  2. marty says:

    Not having family in my life, the people who choose to be a part of my life, are the most important to me. I have found a sense of Family among those i have chosen to share Faith and Service to the Community with. My bond with this family is strong but its best summed up with…. Religion is a choice, Sexuality is not, it is a divine gift from God and a law just like Gravity.

    • Diane Hawk says:

      As a single, celibate, United Methodist heterosexual, clergywoman, I need to refine your understanding, Marty. Our church does not deny the reality that sexual orientation may be inherent. However, our PRACTICE of sexuality IS a decision we make.

      We ALL make choices about whether to have sex, with whom we will have sex, and when we will have sex. We can love people without expressing our love sexually–in fact that is the norm. We are called to love EVERYONE–our neighbors, our family, our friends, and even our enemies. Loving seldom means choosing to have sex.

      • Sorry, Diane. I am new at this and as an old guy pretty much a slow learner. Here it is.

      • marty gilbert says:

        Diane, It was so very nice of you to state your sexuality up front like that!…..It makes it easier to know whether i should Love you or not?

      • Diane Hawk says:

        Marty, I am a person of sacred worth no matter what my sexual orientation happens to be, and I choose to be celibate as long as I am single–just as every Christian person is called to do.

      • Emma says:

        Diane, I affirm your sacred worth as a child of God, that is without question. However, it costs you nothing to hold the position that it’s a choice to have or not to have sex when you are living with the heterosexual privilege provided to you by the United Methodist Church. What is fundamentally different between your choice of celibacy as a straight person verse the choice of celibacy of an LGBT elder is that you have the option of marrying and continuing your ministry. There are no institutional barriers preventing you from maintaining your status as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. As a celibate LGBT elder, one could (in theory) fulfill one’s call to the vocational ministry, but with no option of living into the fullness of God’s creation. If one accepts that sexuality is a gift from God, then why would an institution create a structure that would prevent an individual from living into the fullness of his/her creation AND live out their call to the vocational ministry?

    • Diane Hawk says:

      Emma, I object to the term “living into the fullness of God’s creation”. Why not simply name the truth that LGBT folks want to have sex that is outside the bounds of scriptural limits. Furthermore, this is NOT simply an institutional rule that prohibits sex outside of Christian marriage–it is a standard established by scripture and 2000 years of Christian tradition.

      • Emma says:

        Diane, why not say that, as a womon, having spiritual authority over men is outside the bounds of scriptural limits? Why not say the wealth we accumulate as Americans is outside the bounds of scriptural limits? Why not say that holding and keeping slaves is WITHIN the bounds of scriptural limits? You and I can go back and forth for days taking verses of scripture in isolation from their wider context and attempting to prove a point. This is fruitless. The scripture is only one of the ways we are to discern God’s will; we also have to use reason, tradition, and in Mr. Wesley’s case, experience. All of these taken together, provide me with the sureness that I’m a beloved child of God created in God’s image and am charged with helping to bring forth the kingdom of God on earth; yes, even as a married lesbian.

        I do not hold to your “truth” that LGBT folks want to have sex that is outside the bounds of scriptural limits. This isn’t about sex; why everyone gets fixated on the sex is beyond me. This is about two people of the same gender loving and caring for one another in a monogamous life-long committed relationship with the support of the institutional church. This concept of this type of relationship did not exist when the holy scriptures were written; the Biblical passages that you and so many others want to use to continue to deny us a place at the Lord’s table have nothing to do with this a same-sex life-long commitment.

        As for Christian marriage established by scripture and 2,000 years of tradition, what does that look like to you? Is that the Biblical marriage where the wife submits herself to her husband which is fitting to the Lord? Or where she must accept the authority of her husband, even though he may not be a believer? A marriage where she shouldn’t braid her hair or wear golden ornaments or fine clothing but be of a gentle quiet spirit? No thanks. Even if I were straight, I’m afraid I would be unable to live in a marriage that is within the “bounds of scriptural limits.”

  3. Emma says:

    Your comments bring a fresh perspective to this question. As I read your post, (shared by my mentor on Facebook) my first thought was, “Does the UMC value ritual more than sacraments?” It seems that an institution would more closely guard that which it values the most. By allowing me to participate in the sacrament of baptism and Holy Communion, it appears the standards for the sacraments are not as high as the standards for participation in rituals constructed by the institution itself.

    I left the UMC when it became apparent I would not be able to live into the fullness of God’s creation and still follow a call to the vocational ministry. It pains me that so many of my queer UMC brothers and sisters still are faced with this painful choice. May the Spirit move the UMC into a more inclusive and loving direction and embrace the gifts and graces of all of God’s children.

    • Emma, I hope you have found a place where you can follow your call to ministry fully. I’m sorry that it could not be in the UMC. Over the past 40 years I have from time to time pondered whether I should remain as a UMC pastor. So far I have. Thank you for your comment.

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  5. Truth says:

    Censoring blog comments? Interesting.

    “I don’t remember Jesus serving anyone in a capacity that enabled them to continue sinning. However, I do remember Him saying, “Go and sin no more.” You can rationalize your way through all the “gray areas” of this life all you want, but your excuses and apologies aren’t going to cut it in the next life. If you think that enabling people to embrace and engage in a sinful lifestyle is how you are supposed to serve or love them, you’ve got some serious issues that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ. You don’t love someone by setting them on a path that doesn’t lead them to heaven. That is not a service, that is a disservice. Love is love? No. God is love, and His love is righteous. Righteous love is not compatible with unrighteous love. That’s why there are two places people go after death, not just one.”

    • In that same story Jesus says for the one who is without sin to cast the first stone. I certainly can’t claim that, can you? As a person who is divorced and remarried (which some would consider unrighteous love)I have personally received the grace and mercy of God. How can I not extend it to others.

      • Truth says:

        So, you believe God will extend grace and mercy to those who believe in Him, yet continue to sin? Jesus wasn’t telling us not to judge, He was telling us not to be hypocrites. Paul clarifies that teaching throughout his letters. I think he was also rather clear about homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 5 & 6. While there are a lot of different factors that can affect a marriage/divorce situation, I’m not familiar with yours. But I am familiar with the biblical stance on homosexuality, which is that it is a sin. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

        So how exactly do you think you are extending mercy or grace to homosexuals by encouraging them to embrace their sin, which is the exact opposite of “go and sin no more?” You’re blurring lines that are already clearly drawn in the bible.

        The bible also says plenty about false teachers:

        “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

        “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes, who say: “Let him be quick, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it come, that we may know it!” Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

        As a fellow believer, I’m telling you you’re wrong. Paul commands us to do so with fellow believers: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” I pray a spirit of biblical truth will shake off the blinders and open your eyes because you’re leading a lot of people down a path of destruction and it breaks my heart.

    • Replies like yours make me so angry, I have trouble restraining myself in commenting on them. The unmitigated arrogance you display by using “Truth” as your alias makes me literally tremble with rage. But what I should be feeling is pity for one who lives with so much deluded certainty about what is and what is not righteous, and who shows no compunction over assigning those who disagree with his/her view of God and Christ to the less desirable of the “two places people go after death.” But I take consolation from my firm conviction that you will be greatly surprised when you see the motley riff-raff God lets into the one and only Kingdom.

      • Truth says:

        I agree; I’m sure there will be quite a diverse group of souls in God’s kingdom. But since when did it become arrogance to speak the truth? It’s sad that you “tremble with rage” over me doing just that, but apparently have no problem with people who twist scripture to fit their worldview, inadvertently causing so many to stumble in their faith. Evil has always been good at that. Clearly you’re confused. I’m not assigning anyone to anywhere, they do that on their own through their own actions without any help from me (See Titus 1:15-16). My confidence and certainty about what is and isn’t righteous comes from the Source. Where does yours come from?

        “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing HOMOSEXUALITY, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

  6. Truth, fortunately the position of Judge of the Universe is occupied, and not by you. Instead, it is occupied by the one who prayed for forgiveness for those who had just nailed him to the cross. I will trust my fate to him. I pray that you will cease to revile your brothers and sisters in Christ, just because they disagree with you. Remember, my brother, that “reviler” is in the list (you quoted above) of people we are not to associate with.

    • Truth says:

      Looks like you’re quite the reviler, also! Sorry, Michael. You don’t get to take on the role of “false teacher” and not get called out for it. That’s not reviling, that’s correcting a fellow believer. It’s our duty as believers. You’re not disagreeing with me, you’re disagreeing with biblical teaching. Only fools despise discipline and wisdom.

      “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!”

      “The leaders of the people mislead them, and those they mislead are swallowed up.”

      “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”

      “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

      “If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.”

      I think it’s clear who the reviler is here.

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