Bishop Mark Webb, (Upper New York Conference, United Methodist Church) has dismissed a complaint filed against me for my officiating at a same sex marriage.
In a letter addressed to me he said, “ . . . consider this matter closed.”
Remarkably, his letter contains no restrictive clauses, expectations, instructions, or requirements by which I might yet be held accountable.
There is no quid pro quo.
No deal was struck; no secret promises made.
For all I know he may be the first United Methodist bishop to dismiss this particular complaint (officiating at a same sex marriage) without going through a trial, insisting on a penalty, or otherwise demanding some promise.
He did not have to dismiss the complaint.
He was not required to accept the Church Counsel’s recommendation “to dismiss”.
He had the right to bring this matter to a trial.
Instead, a dove of grace appears.
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There will be fallout, of course, mostly for Bishop Mark.
If one is a public figure, there is always fallout.
And all bishops are public figures.
Some will assume his decision was strictly political – a “savvy play to gain street cred” with the overwhelming number of people supporting marriage equality resolutions in Upper New York.
Others will accuse him of infidelity to the faith, or ignoring Scripture’s so-called “clear teaching” about homosexuality, or not upholding his duty as bishop.
Some will claim betrayal, apostasy, or “caving in” to the whims of popular culture.
It’s hard for most public figures to feel attacks are not intended to be personal.
I hope he can.
This week, as fate would have it, he has unexpected company.
Last Monday, Tony Campolo, one of the most influential evangelical preachers in the country announced he changed his mind about gay people and gay marriage.
“It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church", he said.
THAT VERY AFTERNOON, AFTER READING TONY CAMPOLO’S ANNOUNCEMENT, David Neff, the retired chief editor of “Christianity Today” (the most esteemed and revered magazine written by and for evangelical Christians) agreed with Campolo’s affirmation of gay people.
“God bless Tony Campolo,” he said. “He is acting in good faith and is, I think, on the right track.”
Is the Spirit gently blowing here and there?
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THE SUPREME COURT is supposed to release its decision about the constitutionality of gay marriage sometime in the next 20 days.
Many have suggested that no matter what the Supremes announce, “there will be winners and there will be losers.”
To be sure, if the court upholds the right of gay people to be married, I will be among the many to heartily cheer the decision.
Millions of gay people, and their families and friends, will at long last, be vindicated.
Personally, I hope it’s rainbows from Maine to Alaska!
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Yet, from the perspective of “Jesus Drawing the Circle Wide”, the win/lose thing doesn’t really work, does it?
To go back to where we started, what if Bishop Webb's decision (regarding my case) is not so much "a victory for our side" or a “defeat for the other side” but rather "one more hope-filled step closer toward living together in grace, all our issues notwithstanding”.
You see, I actually need my conservative/traditional brothers and sisters to balance me.
I need them to forgive, learn, celebrate, worship, and share the Gospel with me.
Sure, we have different interpretations of the Gospel.
But so what?
The Gospel (the way Matthew figured it out) sits calmly in my Bible next to the Gospel (the way Mark thought it should be).
According to Luke’s memory, they sure missed a lot of parables but the last time I checked, neither Matt nor Mark had left my Bible angry.
All of them are quite different from John, but not even once did John challenge the other 3 that they pretty much missed the main point.
I know scores of people who have found healing, life and joy because of the way conservative churches have preached the Gospel.
It’s quite different than how I preach, but so what?
I know many people who have discovered God's presence in the most liberal of churches.
Why should one size fit all?
We have more in common than we have differences.
If we progressives just “win” the gay issue, but our conservative brothers and sisters leave the church because of it, we will have accomplished very little.
As Len Cohen noted,
“Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken halleluiah.”