from “Anthem”, by Leonard Cohen

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trial Time

“It is surely harmful to souls
to make it a heresy
to believe what is proved.”

“The idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder
or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation
 among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy
                                                                  *Homosexuality and Youth

“. . . homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The United Methodist Church

Bishop Webb (Upper NY Conference) has referred the complaint he received against me (from the Rev. Dick Barton, district superintendent of the Finger Lakes District) to the Counsel for the Church who will determine if there is enough evidence to support a chargeable offense and then forward his conclusions to the trial process.

In short, I am going to a church trial.

The following words are extracted (slightly edited) from my final e-mail to
Rev. Barton and Bishop Webb, sent October 23. 2013


My great grandmother was so deaf that visitors needed to write down on paper their side of the conversation so she could read it and respond.

I clearly remember, when I was about 10, visiting her apartment.

Attempting to “catch her up” on what her great grandson had been doing, I printed on her writing pad something about a Halloween party our youth group had had the week before.

I wrote something like this:

Everybody dressed up for Halloween.
We played games.
We dunked for apples.
We went trick or treating in the neighborhood.
We had a blast!

She took up her writing pad and with the help of an over-sized magnifying glass (pressed almost on her forehead) she slowly read my words.

All of a sudden, a bit aghast, she looked up at me and asked in a tense voice:

“Was anybody hurt?”

It was the word “blast”.

For my great grandmother, the meaning of the word “blast” in the context of a party for children was cause for concern.

It would never have occurred to her that a blast could be a good thing.

 - - - - - - - - -

In 1972, United Methodists added words to the Discipline to the effect that something called “homosexuality” was incompatible with Christian teaching.

During that conference, those who supported the statement likely presented biblical evidence against this “homosexuality”- perhaps a story or two about people who were “homosexual” – and probably a few anecdotes about “the homosexual lifestyle”. Doubtless the word “promiscuous” came up.

Bishop Webb and Rev. Barton, my brothers in Christ - you need to know

I have never officiated at the wedding of people
who were homosexuals
as homosexuality
was understood by most church folk
when the “incompatibility” language
was added to the Discipline
in 1972.

Nor would I.

It would be wrong to do so.

Although the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, in the year 1972 homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder.

In that era, this so-called “mental disorder” was popularly (though not scientifically) associated with pedophilia, neurotic sexual obsession, violent behavior, promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional abuse, psychosis, and the breakdown of social and of family life.

Officiating at a wedding for two people who were mentally disturbed, and had a propensity toward promiscuity, sexual obsession, and pedophilia would be a gross violation of my ordination.

I think you would agree.

 - - - - - - - - - - -

I also want you to know

I have never officiated at a homosexual wedding
which violates the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality.

Why would I?
It would make no sense !

That is because every Bible verse addressing “homosexual attraction” assumes that all people are obviously and naturally “heterosexual”.

For Bible writers, heterosexuality was a given reality - true for all people - no exceptions. All people are heterosexual.

That “truth” was simply taken for granted in the biblical world. It would never have occurred  to a Bible writer that a person would be other than heterosexual.

Obviously then, when the ancient biblical authors and editors addressed what we might call “same sex attraction”, they were astonished that anyone would even be tempted to “fool around” with members of the same sex.

In their view, such uncanny behavior would not only be odd – it would be crazy!

The notion that a person may have a “sexual orientation” other than heterosexual was not thought of as “wrong” in the Bible – nor for that matter as “right”.

It was simply never thought about at all.

No wonder Paul was upset! 
He must have suspected that some “dark side” was involved when he discovered men seeking relations with men.

He can barely find words by which to register his disbelief and confusion about these “men with men working that which is unseemly”.  KJV

Had we lived in his sandals - and his culture - we would likely have been confused with him. How or why could heterosexual men even consider such things!

So, here is some more good news.

In accord with Paul and all other biblical witnesses who were against heterosexual people having sex with other heterosexual people,
I unequivocally state -

I have never officiated at the wedding of
two heterosexual men who are,
sexually attracted to each other,
nor have I ever officiated at the wedding of
two heterosexual women who are,
sexually attracted to each other -
nor will I ever do so.

I guess what it comes down to is this:

If, in 2013, one still believes homosexuality is best understood as it was doubtlessly understood by a majority of those who wrote the “incompatible” clause in 1972, then

I am in violation of section 2702.(b)
and, perhaps more seriously,
I am in violation of Scripture.

On the other hand, if one believes homosexuality is best understood in 2013
as a normal and harmless expression of sexuality,
as received unbidden,
as neither morally superior nor inferior,
not better, not worse than heterosexuality then

I am not in violation of section 2702.(b)
and, perhaps more importantly,
I have applied a helpful biblical exegesis
in a way which honors the Bible as the word of God
in the context of what it means to follow Jesus in 2013.

Obviously you, bishop, have the last word on this.
Should you ask me,

I would recommend dismissing charges on the grounds that
the Discipline is contradictory and duplicitous about
         what constitutes homosexuality,
         who homosexual people are, and
         how gay and lesbian people,
         justice making, and
         non-judgmental compassion

As evidence, you might note that
          “sometimes a blast,
           harmful in one century,
           means joy in the next”.


So, that was the letter I sent.
Even at that late date in our negotiations, I was naïve.

I was hoping that by presenting yet one more biblical insight,
someone  - anyone with authority in our church conference
might yet have pushed a PAUSE button,
named bigotry for what it is, and
stalled this unholy crusade against gay people.

That just did not happen.

- - - - - - - -

* the source of quote at beginning of article:

Homosexuality and Youth
a publication for educators endorsed by:

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association of School Administrators
American Counseling Association
American Federation of Teachers
American Psychological Association
American School Counselor Association
American School Health Association
Interfaith Alliance Foundation
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Association of Social Workers
National Education Association
School Social Work Association of America