These historical decisions have certainly inspired the ire of a great number of individuals on either side. Even for someone like myself who tries to stay away from engaging in political/religious debate on the internet, it has been difficult not to correct false assumptions, or respond to what I judge as inaccuracies.
I stated in my last post that my struggle with this issue is the absence of love and acceptance. We say that God loves us, warts and all, yet we are unwilling to extend that devotion to those whose lifestyles we deem 'incompatible' with our beliefs.
But where do our beliefs come from? Most would cite a religious text (the Bible for Christiantiy, the Bhagavad Gita for Hinduism, Qu'ran for Islam). I would argue these writings are certainly the foundation for our doctrines, yet is man's interpretation of those words that builds a religious movement.
There was a time in our nation's history when religious men used the Bible to justify the enslavement of 'colored individuals'. There have been times when religious institutions used the Bible to justify the mass murders of other civilizations. Religious movements have used their texts to justify terrorism, genocides, the suppression of women and more. As culture changes, as history evolves, it is always important to study our various texts and understand them within the society for which they were originally intended.
Despite my frustration with the Methodist church, I must say that I do greatly admire our willingness to consider these controversial issues. To recognize that as the world changes, we must change with it to stay relevant. I may not always agree with the decisions, but meeting people where they are is the first step to spreading God's love in the world.
You'll notice I always refer to God and not Jesus.
Do not get me wrong, I am not refuting the divinity of Christ, or the validity of his sacrifice. For me, however, I have always responded better to the 'father' aspect of God. The creator, the overseer, the ethereal personage. I am going to simplify a thought that I promise is much more complex and contemplated then it will appear here: God sent Jesus in an attempt to show us how much he loved us. To allow us to get past our own guilt and self-deprecation and realize that in our extreme depravity, he still loves and CAN save us, redeeming us for eternal life with him. But, in the greater scheme of things, my God is big and powerful enough to reach his people in other ways as well. He was doing it thousands and thousands of years before Christ, and I believe he can continue to do it now. I follow Christianity because it was the culture in which I was raised; the method with which I was taught to commune with my creator, but I have always felt spiritually and intellectually stymied by the teaching that other religions have no validity.
If you have not read Rob Bell's book Love Wins I highly suggest you read it. Regardless if you are a conservative Christian who is content in your beliefs of heaven and hell, a skeptic, an atheist, a Muslim, or just an intrigued scholar, this highly controversial book will force you to examine your own convictions. It may not change your faith, in fact it may cement it one way or another, but I truly believe that a faith that is not consistently questioned, challenged and expanded is dead. If you are truly confident in your belief system, then re-examining those beliefs in light of new evidence should not be threatening. If your faith does not grow and mature with you, it is not serving you to its fullest.
I quote Rob Bell:
As Jesus says in John 10, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen." This should not surprise us. The gospel, Paul writes in his letter to he Colossians, "has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven" (chap. 1). Every. Creature. Under. Heaven./ As wide as creation. Including everybody. The whole world. This is crucial for how we understand the current state of world religions, with its staggering number of religions themselves, let alone the multitudes of splinter groups and subgroups and denominations and factions and varied interpretations. Religions should not surprise us. We crave meaning and order and explanation. We're desperate for connection with something greater than ourselves. This is not new. This has not caught Jesus off guard. Jesus insisted in the midst of this massive array of belief and practice that God was doing something new in human history, something through him, something that involved everybody. John remembers Jesus saying "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me (chap 14)".... What he doesn't say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn't even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him, He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him." (Rob Bell, Love Wins, pg 152-154).
The Writers of the scriptures consistently affirm that we're all part of the same family. What we have in common- regardless of our tribe, language, customs, beliefs, or religion- outweighs our differences. This is why God wants "all people to be saved". History is about the kind of love a parent has for a child, the kind of love that pursues, searches, creates, connects, and bonds. The kind of love that moves toward, embraces, and always works to be reconciled with, regardless of the cost. " (Love Wins, pg 99)
So where am I going with this? I think that we (all people, regardless of faith) get so wrapped up in dictating how what we believe impacts our lives (and the lives of others) that we stop focusing on what it is that we actually do believe.
Case in point, I don't often tell people my dad is a minister.
Not because I find it embarrassing. Not because I am ashamed. But because the reaction is always the same: "Oh wow, Im going to have to watch what I say around you!"
The automatic reaction is to assume that I will judge.
It's sad. Incredibly heartbreaking that as a whole Christianity is known for what it is against instead of what it is for.
Sad that the world first associates us with our hatred of sinners, gays, adulterers, and abortion, rather than the love of God.
Because isn't that what God is about? Paul states that the 'Gospel' has been meant for everyone. Gospel translates simply to 'good news'. And what is that good news? That God loves us. That he loves us so much he was willing to do whatever it took to demonstrate it. I'm going to tread on some toes here, but in my mind, Christ's death alone is NOT the good news. The best, most awesome, most inspiring news, is that God loves us. He desires us. He pursues us. Our lives are purposeful. We are not accidents. In a world of failures, disappointments, and seemingly meaningless happenings.... there is a plan. And it is orchestrated by a being that loves us within the depths of his (or her) core.
It doesn't get much better than that.
And yet we get sidetracked.
We are humans, beings that desire order and control. We are frightened of being overwhelmed, of being out of the loop. We do not function without a plan. And we do not cope well with the abstract. So we take God and we put in him into a box that we can fathom.
Im not disputing the need for this. Anyone who has had a "mountaintop" experience, as it is often referred to, can attest that to be fully in the presence of God and immersed in his full wonder is overwhelming and exhausting. In this human form we are not built to survive a continual relationship of this magnitude.
So we condense the wonder into smaller bite sized chunks for daily consumption.
The problem comes when we start believing that the watered down, abridged, Cliff notes version of God is as much as there is to our creator.
When we start limiting God.
I don't begin to suggest that I have it completely right. That I have some grand knowledge that overshadows any one else's truth. That's the great thing about truth, especially religious truth, it caters to each of our needs. God can be whatever, whoever, wherever, whenever we need.
But I do think it's time that we start letting go of the tight hold we have on God's leash and start letting him run the show again.
God is love. He loves all his children, even the ones who don't love him back. Maybe if we start sharing that news, demonstrating his love, living out the gospel, we can start reaching those we have alienated and hurt.
Maybe we can bring our world back into harmony. Maybe we can give people a reason why they need God.
Because I'm going to clue you in on a secret.
Telling people they are unworthy, sinners, and going to hell isn't going to convince them of anything.
Living a life of purpose and love that stands in direct contrast to the misery and pain of the world around us will.
Maybe we will stop passing homophobic amendments that limit and hurt the rights of heterosexuals just as much the LGBT community just because we are scared.
Maybe we will stop building walls between our churches/synagogues/mosques and the people who need the love the most.
Maybe we will start actively reaching out a hand to those around us, without first assessing the state of their personal lives.
Maybe we can make a difference.
Maybe, God can save the day.