An Open Letter to My Progressive Friends in the UMC…a word of caution…
I can’t imagine what these days are like for you. The almost daily changes in society opening up new possibilities, possibilities that you could only of dreamed of a decade ago. It seems that it’s only a matter of time before every state has legalized same sex marriage. Opinion polls regularly report that the opinions of Americans regarding homosexuality and same sex marriage are trending your way. Indeed, these must be exiting days for you! I can imagine that you are feeling validated; that the long struggle was worth it. And even if these changes haven’t happened in the United Methodist Church I imagine that progress in the secular realm is giving you energy for the continued struggle in the church. It is in that regard that I wish to extend a word of caution.
I’ve known many of you for so very long that I feel safe imposing on our friendship with this word of caution. After all, you know me and you know my heart. But for those of you who don’t know me please extend a moment of grace in my direction; I’m writing this word in love. It’s difficult to communicate tone in the written word so please understand that I speak with a broken heart and open hands. So here’s my word of caution, ‘avoid the victor’s temptation.’
The recent push for ‘religious freedom’ legislation in many states was, and is being opposed on the basis of discrimination. I understand where you were coming from with this claim. I don’t necessarily agree; but I do understand. As I have listened to the arguments around these pieces of legislation and witnessed the changing nature of society at large it occurs to me that a power shift is taking place. That’s where this word of caution is coming from. For so long you have implored us to see you and relate to you as human beings. Where we, or I, have failed to do that ‘I’m sorry.’ However, please do not use this newfound power for acts of retribution or punishment. I am concerned because so often in the public debate those who supported the legislation were presented as caricatures of ignorance, hate, and discrimination. It’s all too easy to think of a caricature as not quite real, not quite human. I encourage you to remember that these are generally good people who are just trying to follow Jesus and live how they believe God calls them to live. And they’re afraid. That’s where the legislation comes from. Not from a place of hate or homophobia but rather from a place of fear. We can all see the power shift happening. We all recognize that things have and are changing. And that always comes with fear. Most of us who support traditional Christian understandings of marriage are not the homophobic, hate-filled, discriminating caricatures presented in the media. Yet many of us are afraid. Afraid that we will now become the new objects of hate and discrimination. Afraid that we will be targeted for retribution because of our faithfulness to how we understand Scripture. And it seems to be a justified fear. We’ve all heard about the photographer, the wedding cake baker, the florist who’ve been targeted with lawsuits and boycotts. These are real people whose lively hoods are being threatened; who are being harmed in your attempt to do what you believe is good. And for the record, I know there is a temptation to respond to this with a ‘yes, but did you know what happened to me…’ I get that, I don’t know that I can fully understand, but I get it. My word of caution is to ‘avoid the victor’s temptation;’ to abstain from repaying harm with harm.
Perhaps in a subsequent letter I’ll write about why I support the UMC’s language in the Book of Discipline as a truly balanced statement of truth and grace. Perhaps …
Grace and Peace, Rich