- from Dustin Lance Black's speech after winning the Academy Award
for Best Original Screenplay for Milk
for Best Original Screenplay for Milk
"Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns...I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."
- from Sean Penn's speech after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Milk
I have no doubt that radical voices at the fringes of the Church have expressed outright hatred for anyone who struggles with or practices homosexual behavior; the Fred Phelps cult - which cannot really be termed a part of the Christian Church - has done some horrid, despicable, demonic things.
But the Church has done its best and continues to do its best to express God's love for all people. It is certainly true that:
"The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."This famous quote from paragraph 161G of the Social Principles in our Book of Discipline should not be read or interpreted in a vacuum, or taken out of context:
"Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."If a local congregation has told writer Dustin Lance Black that he is "less than" because of his sex decisions, then shame on that local congregation. Every person - straight or gay - is sacred in God's eyes, and Jesus died for each. God loves Dustin Lance Black just as he loves Keith McIlwain or Billy Graham or Pope Benedict XVI or Ellen Degeneres or even Fred Phelps. God may be disappointed by some of the decisions we make (I'm sure that I am a constant disappointment), but that divine love does not cease.
Mr. Black and actor Sean Penn seem to believe something about the Church that is not true, and perhaps the Church is in part to blame. Mr. Black is correct: gays and lesbians are "...beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you." That is a statement with which every thinking, compassionate Christian can agree. What churches have taught him something else? I wish he'd "named names"!
Have we failed to share with Mr. Black the amazing cosmic truth that God loves him, that Jesus died and rose for him, that the Creator of the universe desires to be in a salvific, transformative relationship with him? Shame on us for not reaching this gifted young man with the heart of the gospel, that he now believes something about the Church that is inherently false.
Then again, my understanding is that Mr. Black was raised in a Mormon environment, and, while I haven't seen anything hateful about mainstream contemporary Mormonism, I'm no expert on their theology or practice, other than to say that I don't believe it to be Biblically or doctrinally Christian. So it's possible that Mr. Black is reflecting on some Mormon practice of which I am ignorant.
But both Mr. Black and Mr. Penn mischaracterized the "gay marriage" debate at the Oscars on Monday night. I know a lot of Christians, and I don't know of one who does not favor equal rights. The fact that Christians have opposed California's "Prop 8" and similar measures in other states isn't because Christians want to deny everyone "equal rights", nor is it out of hate.
Christians oppose "gay marriage" because they love gay persons. If indeed homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching", then the Christians are compelled to help those individuals engaged in sinful behaviors to be liberated from those behaviors. This is equally true for those engaged in sinful heterosexual practices, or sinful practices which have nothing to do with sex. Sanctioning behavior believed to be sin would be extremely hateful, and, thankfully, the Church has thus far refused to do so.
To mischaracterize those opposed to sanctioning homosexual practice as hateful is not only a lie, it is mean. And possibly hateful. Or at the very least ignorant.
My prayer is twofold: that we can raise the discourse of the debate so as not to characterize our opponents as hateful, when no one involved in the debate is actually driven by hatred, and that the Church can find ways to be more effective in sharing the life-changing gospel - which is "good news", after all - so that all persons can know and praise God's wonderful work in Jesus Christ, submit to his Lordship (and his alone), and be emancipated from the great bondage of sin - sexual and otherwise.
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (BCP)
(Note in the interest of full disclosure: I have not yet seen the film Milk, but have no doubt that the always brilliant Sean Penn delivered an excellent performance.)