07/23/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

A Family Discussion: A Progressive Response to the UMC, IRD, and LGBT

I write this in conjunction with Rev. Christopher Tiedeman, Pastor of Forest United Methodist Church and blogger.

There is an echo chamber into which many conservative United Methodists are shouting that the denomination still upholds the definition of marriage exists only between one man and one woman.  In the wake of the Supreme Court's rulings on DOMA and California's Proposition 8, their attachment to this stance has only increased.  John Lomperis -- of the conservative, United Methodist-led think-tank The Institute on Religion & Democracy -- has taken it upon himself to speak on behalf of the denomination in what we believing is a misleading manner.  His Washington Post op-ed misleads the public as to the true state of United Methodism, as it concerns the equality of the LBGT community. While we do not speak for the United Methodist Church, we speak as United Methodist Christians.

The first thing we would like to take Mr. Lomperis to task is his un-nuanced and spurious accusations of racism, a well-worn rhetorical ploy.  Instead of intellectual honesty regarding those with whom he disagrees, Lomperis accuses his Christian sisters and brothers of racism. It is an unfair accusation and one likely to be returned given the need of conservatives to place value on the African contingent only when it suits their desire to deny equality to LGBT Christians.

Second -- and possibly the saddest part of his column -- is the story of his homosexual seminary friend.  Reportedly, this friend acknowledged his natural identity as a gay man, was confronted by a family member and is assumedly living out the balance of his life in celibacy.  This is not inherently bad.  We acknowledge the importance of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.  However, this man's story is not uncommon, and is a soul-crushing existence - ending in anything from depression to acts of self-injury. Lomperis celebrates his friend's "success." If t "success" is defined only as denying to oneself the beauty of how God created them, then this definition is unimaginably heartless.

Thirdly, Mr. Lomperis calls the United Methodist Church a "biblical church." This term is often reserved for those who see Scripture as the only source for doctrine and daily living. For United Methodists, Scripture is "primary" but supported by Reason, Tradition, and Experience (as ¶104 of the Book of Discipline states).

Fourthly, Mr. Lomperis speaks of a non-existent scholarly consensus regarding human sexuality as expressed in Scripture. The only real consensus is the "one man and one woman" view of conservative Christians is nearly unbiblical. Human sexuality is not a topic usually covered in Scripture, unlike kinship patterns and business arrangements labeled marriage. Further, what is usually seen as "moral disapproval of homosexual practice" is more often than not religious rituals involving sex, rather than sex as the focal point for the disapproval. Given the wide range of scholarly discussion ongoing about marriage, kinship, and sexuality in Scripture, Mr. Lomperis is in significant error to suggest a unified consensus. There are scholars, both liberal and conservative, who find no mention of modern homosexuality in Scripture. Let us not place our modern demands on an ancient text.

Finally, the most self-righteous of arguments Mr. Lomperis employs is the fact our Christian tradition believes in submitting to "Jesus as Lord." He goes further to say nothing in our lives can be kept quarantined from God's law and Jesus' example.  Here we are in agreement.  However, this implies our LBGT sisters and brothers and we are attempting to keep portions our lives quarantined from God -- in supporting the equality and dignity of LBGT individuals.  What he fails to mention are the portions of their lives he and his organization like to keep separate from biblical teaching.  The Institute on Religion and Democracy advocates for unfettered use of the U.S. military in international affairs, oppressive laws governing the treatment of immigrants and the rights of Israel when it comes to instances of their oppressive treatment of Palestinians.  While touting certain biblical edicts governing human sexuality, they ignore those regarding the treatment of alien peoples, the eating of certain foods and the wearing of certain materials.  Essentially, only biblical mandates with which he agrees are the ones he advocates the Christian uphold. I wonder if he's a fan of shellfish?

In the United Methodist Church, the fight for the equality of our LBGT brothers and sisters is far from settled.  While using it in an intellectually dishonest context, Lomperis is right to use the words of MLK, when he said the church should not be "a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion."  Dr. King employed that logic in the midst of history's most infamous civil rights struggle.  The LBGT community is not facing a struggle of that magnitude, but they are oppressed by a Christian majority.  It won't always be that way, and folks like Mr. Lomperis are having a difficult time coming to terms with this new, better reality.