Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors; It’s Time to Walk the Walk

Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors–this has been the trademark of the United Methodist Church since 2001. It’s an inviting slogan, but is it a truthful one? For many, perhaps, but I believe the United Methodist Church still has a way to go to be in accordance with this motto. I, along with countless other Methodists, believe we should be an inclusive community which embodies love, grace, and justice for all people regardless of gender, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. Until we achieve that, can we truly claim to have Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors?

Earlier this year, many of my fellow church members and I participated in a group study of For the Bible Tells Me So, a documentary that explores religion and homosexuality in the U.S., and how many people use their interpretations of the Bible to stigmatize the gay community. For me, the experience was enlightening and it further validated my feelings and beliefs. For others like Dr. David White–a 90 year old Methodist minister, Christian educator, retired missionary, and world traveler– the experience gave rise to new thoughts and beliefs.

David recently documented the evolution of this thoughts regarding homosexuality. We discussed them over dinner last night and I asked if he would mind my sharing his statement on the blog. His reply went something like this, “Share it. Use it however you want. Show them that an old dog can learn new tricks.”

Homosexuality: some thoughts

Some of my family and friends will consider the following meditations an act of feeble mindedness. Some subjects seem best avoided in the interest of communal peace. However, conscience must also be listened to and thoughts bought into the light. Silence can be interpreted as acquiescence. President Obama’s recent thoughtful and courageous statements express my own beliefs and merits public support from those of us of like mind. The following traces my thoughts through the years to my present convictions.

Our church in its Wednesday night gatherings studied homosexuality for several weeks. This has led me to put together a statement of my own thoughts using a chronological format following the progression of my thinking over the years.

For many years I was in a state of total ignorance regarding homosexuality. The awareness that some men might be attracted sexually to other men rather than women just didn’t enter into my consciousness during my high school years. Only a brief mention of it in a dorm conversation brought it into my college years. The first time it really came to my attention was during my seminary studies when on vacation back home in California. The son of friends of my parents came to me and told me he was in a relationship with an older man and wanted my thoughts on this. I had only a vague idea of what this involved and was unable to enter into a meaningful conversation with him.

Upon returning to seminary I sought out a fellow student who was training for a ministry in counseling. He explained homosexuality as a psychological disorder causing some men to prefer sexual relations with other men. He gave me a book to read which dealt with it not only as a disorder but as a moral perversion.

I was to go through years of pastoral work, graduate studies, and seminary teaching before homosexuality again entered my consciousness. This was in Cuba shortly before leaving the mission field when a young man from one of the churches in Matanzas confided in me his inclination toward homosexuality and asked how he could get help. I referred him to the professor of pastoral counseling in the Seminary, an Episcopal priest. We soon left the island and I was unable to pursue the matter further.

It was at Scarritt College that I became more aware of homosexuality and its presence among the students. My understanding of it was still that of a psychological abnormality. This was strengthened on a trip to visit friends in Tucson, Arizona who invited us to dinner with friends of theirs, the other man being a professional counselor. Here again there was the diagnosis of an emotional abnormality and the information that it was best treated like a disorder such as alcoholism. There it remained in my thought as a disorder with overtones of being a perversion. I looked on it not so much as a sin to be sought out and castigated as a sickness to be pitied. It was becoming increasingly a prominent news item as homosexuals, male and female, began agitating for “gay rights.’ This brought me to thinking more deeply about my own beliefs as I saw the obvious caring that was a part of many of these relationships. It came to me as a concern that touched me more closely when a long time friend “came out,” in a long letter to me. My response to him was that he had been a cherished friend for many years and while the homosexuality disturbed me it didn’t change any of the many characteristics that had made him a treasured friend.

A crucial turning point in my beliefs about homosexuality came as I became aware of the genetic and psychological studies which indicated that sexual identity was a condition with which a person was born. It wasn’t something a person chose, it was something a person was.

As this sank into my consciousness, my first new thoughts were that these people were not to be dealt with as abnormal, but simply as different. Just as people are born with a certain skin color or left-handedness, so some are born with attraction to those of the same sex and should not therefore be objects of discrimination and persecution. They should be allowed all the civic rights of the rest of the population. In other words, the same rights in visiting loved ones in the hospital, in inheritance matters, etc.

I’ve had to change my thinking in regard to many matters dealing with homosexuality. First, as a Christian I had to deal with the Bible. There are verses which condemn homosexual relationships. I have long ago realized that quoting individual verses of the Bible to support or condemn behavior is not very helpful. Old Testament law codes reflect another time and another place and many things condemned in the Bible are accepted without comment in today’s world. Who would give serious consideration to having a child put to death because he or she sassed their parents as is sanctioned in Lev. 20.9? I had long been influenced in the area of Biblical interpretation by John Wesley’s advice that we should give priority to the great central affirmations of Scripture.

This led me, as a matter of elementary justice, to support legislation for the granting of equal civil rights to same sex couples. The matter of marriage for same sex couples has needed more thought on my part. Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is so ingrained in my thinking that it is difficult to consider it as a relationship between persons of the same sex.

This has led me to think through what my own marriage of 64 years meant to me. Of course the physical attraction was there, but our life together was accompanied by many rich emotional ties as well which came from our covenant with each other before God. Our vows “to have and to hold…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part” each gave a special quality to our togetherness.

Why would I want to deny to homosexuals who wish to commit themselves to each other before God this rich dimension of relationship? In a time when the traditional marriage is giving way to all manner of unions, should we not rejoice whenever two persons are ready to make lasting commitments to each other?

This of course brings me into direct conflict with the official position of my Church, The United Methodist, which holds that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. It took many generations for my church to root out racial discrimination. I hope we can move faster with this present injustice.

As Winston Churchhill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors–it will take courage to fully realize this ideal.

* SPECIAL NOTE (added July, 18, 2013) – Per Statcounter, I’ve noticed an abundance of views from India lately. I welcome comments! How did you find this post? What are your views? What is the climate like in your country regarding this issue?

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