As an ordained elder in the United Methodist church I was pleased last week by President Obama’s stance against prejudice and homophobia and his support of gay marriage. At the same time I was dismayed and saddened to read that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church had dealt another deathblow to religion by refusing to remove the words that label homosexuality as “not acceptable” to the United Methodist Church.
Despite its traditional claim to embrace logic and reason, a majority of the UMC Conference members spoke in the imperative voice of absolute truth and brought conversation to an end for another four years; a clear statement that antiquated and prejudicial theological beliefs are more important than reason and logic.
It was a sad day for the United Methodist Church, the future of Christianity, and the future of our country.
I am concerned that the General Conference vote in the United Methodist Church was one more example of how the voices of conservative Christians are being allowed to speak for all Christians. We continue to unconsciously assume that the volume and aggression of the religiously conservative minority somehow represents the religious views of the religiously liberal and progressive majority of Christians.
I see this dangerous trend happening inside the Christian Church and inside our nation’s political process. I am concerned that the Christian Church and America are both in danger of regressing to an earlier primitive and scientifically illiterate level of social and spiritual consciousness. We need to remind ourselves that religious conservatives are a minority voice in the Christian Church, not a majority voice. They appear to represent a majority voice because:
1. Religiously conservative Christian’s are more inclined than liberals to participate on local and national policy setting committees so-as-to promote their religious agenda,
2. Religiously conservative Christian’s are comfortable aggressively stating their religious beliefs in the imperative voice of absolute truth; a voice designed to bring dialogue, reason and logic, and open conversation to an end,
3. Believing they already possess absolute truth, religiously conservative Christian’s are aggressively resistant to change, and rarely come to the table willing to engage in open dialogue or discussion over theological beliefs and scriptural interpretation,
4. Liberal and more progressive Christian’s tend to back away from the aggressive conflict conservative Christian’s bring to conversations regarding biblical and theological beliefs, and social policy, and
5. Because liberal and progressive Christian’s are more moderate in their religious and spiritual beliefs, they tend to avoid participation on religious and policy setting
committees as a way of avoiding the inevitable conflict that results when discussing religious beliefs and social policy in the presence of conservative Christians.
As a result, religiously conservative Christian’s are increasingly dictating church theology and social policy, rejecting reason and logic when it conflicts with their conservative religious beliefs, and are driving the more liberal church members out of the Christian Church and into the ranks of the spiritual but not religious.
It explains why Christianity is losing membership and is no longer relevant in the lives of our younger generations, and why religious ideological extremism is creating political apathy in our nation’s political process.
To Love One Another Is a Commandment Not a “Suggestion” In the Christian Church
Rejection of anyone from full membership and participation in a Christian Church because of a person’s sexual preference is not consistent with my understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
When I read the scriptures, I cannot find anywhere in the Christian Bible where Jesus says to unconditionally love everyone “except those who are homosexual, or immigrants, or Hispanic, or black, or female or poor”.
I find nowhere in Christian scriptures where Jesus excluded anyone, for any reason.
As an Elder in the Methodist Church, my understanding of Jesus’ message was to love everyone unconditionally… period. No “buts”. No exceptions.
Using Christian religious or theological beliefs to “support or condone” prejudice, within the Christian Church or within our nation’s political process, or in any way limit the rights of other human beings, is cultural violence created by religious extremism… and in no way accurately reflects the beliefs of Jesus or Christianity.
Conservative Resistance to Change Is Swelling the Ranks of the “Spiritual But Not Religious”
I am concerned that the relentless resistance to change embraced by the religiously conservative element in the Christian Church is rapidly choking the life out of the Christian Church. It is no secret that the Christian Church is in decline. Membership has been dropping for decades. Church budgets are growing smaller each year. The decline is alarming.
The rapidly growing global membership of the “spiritual but not religious”, sometimes referred to as the “Church Alumni Association” is struggling to re-define spirituality outside the conservative beliefs of our world’s primitive religions.
The Growing Tension between Progressive and Conservative Christianity
I attended a very progressive worship service last Sunday and was struck by the fact that the pews were full of people and young families. The music was contemporary; the sounds of fiddles, guitars, drums and flutes filled the air with an upbeat and joyful sound. The message in front of the church was clear… “Everyone is welcome, always”. I counted over thirty children and no one was shushing them or telling them to be quiet. The sound of laughter echoed through their voices.
The clergy wore comfortable clothes. The atmosphere was casual and open. The message was about life, not church theology.
Typical of many of our churches today, the progressive service was followed by a more traditional or conservative service. Out of curiosity, I attended the second service.
The church was less than half full, I counted two children, an organ and robed choir supplied the traditional music, and the average age of those attending the service was best described as “elderly”.
I have no doubt that a) some in the congregation of the second service were there simply out of their love of a more traditional service, and b) a love of “tradition” does not automatically imply a religiously conservative resistance to change.
While I personally found the second service to be rather boring and “heavy”, I was grateful and thankful that those present in the second service were the “carriers of the tradition”. I have no doubt that many of the families in the first service were the children of those in the second service.
My concern however is that some of those in the second service were present not because of a love of tradition, but rather because of a theological resistance to change; an unwillingness to recognize that all of creation is the result of a 13.7 billion year process of evolution and change.
Time is relentlessly moving forward; always surprising us with mystery in the next moment.
When any one, anything, or any church resists the tenacious reality of change, time will swiftly begin to pass them by. They will quickly become antiquated and relegated to the dusty bins of history. They will rapidly and inevitably become spiritually, religiously, and socially irrelevant.
I am convinced that our declining church membership is a reflection of that religiously conservative unwillingness to embrace change. We are watching “time” sounding its death knoll for those unwilling to grow and evolve.
Evolution and Change: A Ray of Hope for the Future of Religion in the 21st Century
Our human culture reflects the reality of a scientifically literate knowledge of a modern 21st century consciousness. Much of what we know about the evolution of life, and the creation of the universe itself, was unknown until those in the second service were well into adulthood.
Asking our scientifically literate younger generation to accept without question the scientifically illiterate worldview of a culture that has been dead for over 2000 years is an exercise in futility.
The younger generation is clearly rejecting the ignorance they are being asked to accept.
A Church that requires its members to reject reason and logic, and embrace the ignorance embedded in the prejudice of homophobia in the 21st century, is a church that is already in the final stages of death.
There are no credible scientists that believe homosexuality is a matter of will or choice.
Homosexual tendencies are a reality found in all living species. It is simply a reality of nature.
When our Christian churches, including the United Methodist Church, choose to deny this 21st century scientific reality because it happens to conflict with their inflexible theological beliefs, they are driving another nail in the coffin of a religion that is already headed toward irrelevance.
As one who believes so passionately in the awakening and growth of both human consciousness and authentic spiritual growth, I am deeply saddened by our Methodist resistance to change and our unwillingness to be a compassionate example of what it means to be a Christian. The intolerance reflected in the judgmental exclusion of homosexuality in any church that calls itself Christian is unacceptable to me.
My hope is that it’s not too late to awaken, embrace change, increase our spiritual intelligence and become spiritually and socially responsible, openhearted participants in the global spiritual awakening and transformation of human consciousness that is already taking place around the world; the spiritual awakening that is redefining the nature and meaning of spirituality in the 21st century.
To be both spiritual and religious will require that we awaken our consciousness, become more spiritually intelligent, and most importantly, regardless of which service we choose to attend on Sunday morning, learn to fully and open-heartedly embrace change. I am convinced the survival of the United Methodist Church and the larger Christian Church will depend on how quickly we are willing to awaken spiritually to a true Christian consciousness.
Summary: If Dualistic Thinking Is Not the Answer, Perhaps it’s Time to Try Love and Compassion
Ideological extremism is born in dualistic thinking. Black-and-white, either/or extremism makes no sense inside of a political democracy or a church that professes unconditional love. Right and wrong dualistic thinking represents a primitive level of human consciousness always present in dictatorships, inquisitions, the burning of witches, the building of fences designed to keep out immigrants, totalitarian states, religious and political monarchy’s, countries that allow extreme gaps between those who are wealthy and those who are poor, cultures that tolerate homophobia, racism, sexism and male dominance, and organizations that support and promote terrorism.
Until the progressive and liberal religious and political voices in our world find the courage to stand up and challenge the growing extremism and dualistic thinking so prevalent in our world today, the extremist minority will continue to create a regressive totalitarian religious and social culture for future generations that very few of us alive today would want to re-visit or experience.
Extreme religious and political ideological thinking, and all forms of absolute certainty, simply reflect the unconscious primitive fears of childhood. When a person uses absolute truth as a way to deal with the fear of uncertainty they are seldom open to logic and rational argument.
Childhood fear is best addressed by holding them with love and compassion, not logic and intellect. But allowing a frightened child to control their world, or dictate terms to the adults around them while they struggle with those fears, is never a good idea… or helpful.
Transforming the growing darkness of religious and political extremism in our world will happen only when enough mature thinkers are willing to get in the game and find the courage to bring their voices, and the light of their compassion, tolerance, and middlepath thinking, into that growing darkness.
UMC Conference Ruling on Homosexuality Reflects Conservative Resistance to Change
© Dick Rauscher