Author: Trevor Hands, Garden City, Kansas
To the Delegates of the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church.
First let me begin by thanking you for representing us in what is assuredly an emotionally charged decision. I know the task at hand has been fervently prayed for. I continue to pray for all of you as you make your decision.
I wanted to reach out to you to present my viewpoint; one in which I did not come to lightly, nor overnight but rather over a period of over twenty years. My vote would be that of the Council of Bishops. I support the One Church Plan. I see this as ultimately the best solution to keep our denomination in tact. Western Kansas is very conservative and so, therefore, would not have to bend to the desires of the metropolitan progressive East or vice versa. I don’t foresee a whole lot of change necessary and therefore see this as the smoothest transition of allowing the congregations the option to choose. But I know the criticism of that is being associated with a church organization that accepts openly gay pastors, bishops and performs wedding for homosexual couples.
I grew up in the United Methodist Church. I can remember Bishop Fritz Mutti wanting to change the Methodist stance on homosexuality. I was on the Methodist Youth Council and I was staunchly opposed when this issue was on the table in the nineties.
While in middle school and high school, I was into music and drama unlike a lot of my other male peers who were into things like sports and hunt. I began to be bullied and called a lot of highly inappropriate comments – many from the boys from my own youth group. To prove to them that I wasn’t gay, I began picking on some of the accused or known gay students as my way of showing them I was “one of them”. This did nothing to cease the bullying and I lost friendships along the way.
In the Christian college I attended, two good friends of mine from choir revealed to a group of us that they were dating…each other. They were both men. I had a decision to make. Did knowing this new information suddenly negate my friendship with them? I had some suspicions but I was often accused of being gay and I knew deep down that I wasn’t so I was giving these two the benefit of the doubt.
I then attended a private Christian graduate school where another friend confided in a small accountability group that he was having thoughts towards other men and wanted prayer. We prayed for him. A couple weeks later I was frantically called by a friend saying this mutual friend had just been admitted to the E.R. as he had tried to take his own life. He thought he’d rather be right with God than live in sin because he couldn’t help his desires.
Here we were telling him to just start dating girls and he told us that nobody wanted that more than him. But then I wondered what it must be like for someone to tell me to start dating men and wrap my head around getting rid of my attraction to women.
I then thought that even if homosexuality were a sin, I certainly have my share of sin and try as I might, I’m in constant need of the saving grace found in Christ, same as my friend in this hospital bed. So, I no longer looked at homosexuals as evil monsters as was so often touted but rather my equal in the fact that we all fall short of the glory of God and are daily in need of repentance and forgiveness and grace. We live in a fallen world and are human.
Finally I was working out in Los Angeles. I roomed with a few friends from a local seminary. I befriended a friend of a roommate who was really struggling with depression. My roommate told him he was loved just as he was and accepted him, no matter if he was gay or straight. He gained the confidence to come out and his attitude did a 180. His relationships with those around him improved. He is now an ordained Episcopal minister serving the people of Los Angeles. We still write to each other to this day and he is one of the most caring individuals I know.
So this led me to another thought. There are a lot of scriptures that people use to argue against homosexuality, but when speaking of a monogamous relationship based in love, I’ve witnessed the fruit of the spirit; being love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Of course, just like any relationship, homosexuals are subjected to selfishness and communication issues just like their heterosexual counterparts, but what if we have the interpretation wrong? In my understanding, the actual word “homosexual” doesn’t even appear in the original texts of the Bible and if we are going to take “sexual immorality” at face value – what do we say about the instances of people like King Solomon and his numerous wives and concubines? If God’s plan is marriage between one man and one woman – this does seem a little hypocritical.
The Methodist Church has been at a polarized crossroads before. In the 1840s, the subject was slavery. They met at General Conference, just like we are about to do on this issue. The Northern churches were convinced that slavery was evil and needed to be abolished. The Southern churches thought otherwise and that it was a positive thing and was even ordained by God and they provided scripture backing their stance up. The general conference lasted six weeks, one of the longest conferences in history, and for the next 94 years, they operated separately and it was one of the catalysts for the civil war. http://blogs.wofford.edu/from_the_archives/2013/01/30/how-the-methodist-church-split-in-the-1840s/
Just as today the left seems to equate all Trump supporters with bigots and the right seems to equate all democrats with socialist cry babies, Southern Methodists weren’t necessarily all “evil” people, but we now see they were just misguided and on the wrong side of history. My main point in all of this is that I am worried that we are fixated on this issue and missing the love and grace that I have witnessed firsthand in the Christian homosexual community as the church has closed their doors on them, and too many of them have grown bitter and rejected God altogether and have become staunch atheists because we tell them something is wrong with them and lump them in with murderers and rapists when we accuse them of having a sinful lifestyle rather than tell them that there is a God who is crazy about them, just as they are.
I thought the Methodist church was “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Then we had a meeting with Bishop Saenz and the comments from the crowd had me feeling like I had stepped back in time 100 years. There was a palpable fear about having to accept homosexuals into the church and having to be associated with such people. It was quite discouraging, honestly.
Fred Rogers had a gay black man, François Clemmons, on his television show “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” and he kept telling him “I love you just the way you are” and finally he understood he was talking to him and he broke down and told Fred “nobody has ever told me that before.”
Mr. Rogers example is love in action. That is the Jesus shape in Fred Rogers.
These thoughts are mine and mine alone, but I felt it important to share with you. I have dear family and friends scattered all over this issue. I know it’s a hard one to wrestle with and I thank you for representing us. Whatever the outcome, Christ is still King and Love will prevail. You are continually in my thoughts and prayers.
Garden City, Kansas