Monday, October 1, 2012

"A Prayer to Heal Brokenness and Division"

The Greater New Jersey Annual Conference passed a resulution in June that all churches in the conference shall join in a day of prayer for healing the brokenness and division that exists in our denomination around the issue of homosexuality, especially with regard to the experience of the conversation on the topic at General Conference.  The prayer, written by our Bishop at the time of the resolution, Sudarshana Devadhar, is below:

A Prayer to Heal Brokenness and Division
by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar

Oh, God, we lift your name on high as the God of all peoples and all nations. Your love reaches out to every human being and for that we give you thanks and praise. We remember with sadness and repentance the hurtful exchange of words and actions at our recent General Conference when we discussed issues relative to our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender brothers and sisters. The memory of the hurt of General Conference stings. We seek healing for our community and a way forward together. We confess that we have sinned by the words we have spoken and the actions we have taken.

Gracious God, help us to treat one another with respect and love, regardless of how our opinions differ. By your spirit help us to seek and to promote an active spirit of healing and an open mind of discernment in the face of division. Help us to help one another to reflect the love of Jesus in our relationships with all people.

Speak to us a word of forgiveness. Speak to us a word of healing. We ask all of this in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I was not at General Conference, but I have no doubt there were hurtful conversations. I am sure they were the same hurtful conversations that happen in our school, in homes of families divided on the issue, and in the political realm. 

I have learned in pastoral ministry that when there is brokenness and division, when there is disagreement, that it is not only one side that hurts, it is always both sides that hurt.  This can be said of marriage relationships--you can rest assured that if you are hurting in your marriage, so is your spouse; if you are hurting in your relationship with a child or a parent, so too your child or your parent is hurting.  I am fond of something I learned in my Clinical Pastoral Education studies:  "Hurting people hurt people."

Those seeking full affirmation of homosexuality, including full clergy rights for people engaged in same-sex partnerships do so with great ferver, in part because they simply believe it is right, and in part because they are angry with the history of maltreatment they have recieved at the hands of a homophobic society where bullying, name-calling, and sometimes much worse cases of hatefulness have been directed at them.  Any Christian, regardless of their stance on whether or not same-gender sexuality is sinful, should be able to affirm that the hateful mistreatment of any people is also sinful.

There was a time when I believed homosexuality was not necessarily sinful, but as I have developed in my study of theolgoy and scripture, I have returned to the "orthodox" position that sex between people of the same gender is one of many expressions of sin.  I however do not believe that means homosexuals should be excluded from church any more than we should exclude people who struggle with other sins from the church.  I believe the church is a place where we all gather together and grow in our love for one another as we struggle together.  Unfortunately I know that this statement would not be recieved well among my homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.  Because of the history of hurt and pain, I suspect there would be little difference percieved between my position and the position of many who have spoken deliberately hurtful words over the years.

This arises in me certain struggles and pain.  On the one hand, I am not opposed to people in long-term same-gender relationships having certain basic rights taken for granted by heterosexual couples--like hospital visitation, tax-breaks, etc.  That is more a mater of justice and equality in a democratic (not theocratic) society.  It is not the government's job to determine what is or is not sinful--that is the job of the church, and we should embrace that at the church level.  At the same time, I know that if same-sex marriage becomes the law of our society, and it is an equally viable option, my kids will learn this in school.  Moreover, when I teach them that their mother and I, and our church does not believe sex between people of the same gender is God's design, we will be labled as bigots by the new "inclusive" society.  That is a source of great hurt to me.

So I say all this to acknowledge--there is plenty of hurt and pain with this issue.  It goes both ways, and I believe the ultimate reason for the tone that too often drowns out voices of love is that everyone is hurting.  I don't propose a solution, but do pray for healing in the midst of this division.  Healing for those of us on both sides of the debate.  It isn't going away, and we can't ignore it--but we must find the voice of love and righteousness.  We must find the balance between inclusion and our call to holiness.

And to my gay and lesbian friends, and their political supporter (and yes I consider you all friends, loving and appreciating each of you for your unique gifts): please join with me in understanding that the pain and the hurt will not go away with a vote.  Every four years we vote and currently the discipline language has remained unchanged.  Every four years it is disappointment for one group and rejoicing/relief for another.  But regardless of who "wins" the vote--the pain and the division is not going anywhere soon, so it is definately time that we learn how to talk with each other in peace; that we hold one another in loving account to the end that we might find the nature of holiness and meet in the arms of Christ.


  1. Replies
    1. I'm not sure what to make of "ouch!" You are either being sarcastic, playing with the "hurt" language, or you mean something by it, but what you mean is unclear. Please in the interest healthy and peaceful conversation expand on your thoughts.

  2. The discussion from the "change" perspective ignores at least two important facts. The first is that the "holy conferencing" at General Conference was not imposed by the "traditionalists" but was rather put in by those supporting changes in the Discipline. In what should not have been a surprise, when you ask people from various cultural perspectives to express themselves then you are going to hear a variety of thoughts. An expectation that American "political correctness" was going to result in one-sided speech was simply foolish.

    If there had been instances of people being turned away from churches since 2005, then we would have heard about it. The real issue has arisen because non-celibate gay clergy lied during their ordination vows and have been in violation of the Discipline every day since. So, some are wanting our rules to change to allow them to serve openly.

    1. Hi Creed,
      The idea that holy conferencing can be "imposed" is in itself problematic. That discussions, votes, and legislation would primarily be driven by those seeking a change in the discipline is not surprising. Whenever you have one group pleased with the current stance and another seeking change, the discussion will be driven by those seeking a change.

      Without a doubt you are right that there exist non-celibate gay clergy who seek change in order to serve openly. There is certainly an agenda there...

      But I do also identify with the reality that those who who identify as homosexual have put up with a lot of harassment. I think had the church found the pastoral voice that could speak coherently on sexual morality without judgement on the individual struggles individuals may have we may be having a different conversation all together. But the reality has been--who would ever admit to struggling with sexual sin in search of clarity and help navigating their struggle. We have so demonized sexual sin above all other sin that we effectively created an environment where sexually confused teens and young adults have had nowhere in the church to turn. I think that is what I mean by the cycle of hurt with regard to this issue.
      "Traditionalists" feel hurt by the "activism" of those seeking change and those seeking change have a whole history of hurt with regard to being closeted and ostracized by a society too fearful to engage in open conversation about sexuality while surrounded by all kinds of hyper-sexualized advertisement and entertainment.
      How can "traditionalist" spiritual leaders remain committed to their stance on sexuality and also be people with whom the sexually confused young person or struggling adult can discuss their sexuality? This is the great challenge for the church assuming the discipline remains as it is.

  3. Your last paragraph presents a very different question than what was really at stake in Tampa. The church (our individual churches, The UMC, Christianity as a whole) needs to meet people where they are before we can help them start their walk. All of us are sinners and fall short. We all do things that we shouldn't do. The difference between Christians and everyone else is that we know we are forgiven despite not being perfect. We believe that everyone is a person of sacred worth.

    The discussion shows the problematic nature of the Social Principles. Since they aren't church law, they really shouldn't be in the Discipline and should require a minimum of 60% support. Otherwise, putting statements in the Discipline that both aren't binding and don't have broad support just increases the level of acrimony to no benefit.