“Till Death Us Do Part”: A Call to Unity Offered the Sunday After SCOTUS Decision

The following was given last Sunday as a preamble to worship at Spruce Pine UMC in the Western North Carolina Conference. We are grateful to its author, Rev. Jeremy Troxler, for letting us share this excellent reflection. Rev. Troxler is pastor of Spruce Pine UMC in Spruce Pine, NC, and former Director of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School.  He served in the WNCC delegation to the 2012 General Conference, and was recently elected to the 2016 delegation.  We also recommend this collection of responses and instructions by UM Bishops (courtesy Taylor Watson Burton-Edwards) following the SCOTUS decision.

Via Media Methodists is curated by Rev. Stephen Fife, Rev. Drew McIntyre, and Rev. Evan Rohrs-Dodge (visit the about page for more).  Via Media Methodists also produce the WesleyCast podcast, available on iTunes. 

“Till Death Us Do Part”:

A Preamble to Worship and a Call To Unity Offered at Spruce Pine UMC

the Sunday after SCOTUS Decision

June 28, 2015

Dear Church,

Unless you have been living in a cave in the woods for the past week, most of you know by now that on Friday the Supreme Court made a historic ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry in the United States.

Different folks in our congregation have had dramatically different responses to this decision.

Some of you celebrated with elation and even wept with joy, because to you Friday felt like a kind of divine miracle, because you believe the ruling was victory for civil rights and for equality among God’s children, because now either you, or your children, or your family members, or your friends who are gay or lesbian can have the opportunity to have their love for their partner formally recognized, because you feel grateful that all people can now share in the affirmation of dignity and the blessing of committed companionship that the status of legal marriage brings, because perhaps you feel that gay and lesbian human beings are finally accepted as full and equal citizens of our country.

Others of you viewed the Supreme Court’s decision Friday with great sadness or even anger, not because of any hatred in your heart, but because you believe the ruling to be a misguided over-reach of the courts, because you believe it to represent an example of how society is either ignoring or badly interpreting or even defying what you hold to be God’s clear commands in Scripture, because you believe that a sacred institution has been redefined in a way contrary to God’s will, because you believe the practice of homosexuality to be a sin incompatible with Christian teaching, and because you are concerned over whether now you can practice freedom of conscience in this regard.

Some of you feel anger rising within you that I have even mentioned the other side’s point of view here in worship, because it is just so obvious to you that you are on the right side and they aren’t, so why even talk about it?  You came here maybe expecting everybody else to be dancing in the aisles with you or you came here maybe expecting everybody else to be shaking their heads with you, and now you hear that’s not the case.  Others of you feel caught in the middle between people who feel so strongly:  you think it’s complicated and you don’t know exactly what to think, but it breaks your heart to see people in such conflict, and you just wish people could get along better.

I share this with you because even though the Supreme Court’s decision changes nothing about the formal stance of the United Methodist Church towards same-sex marriage – only our United Methodist General Conference next summer has the power to do that – the last few days have reminded many of us how divided we are as a United Methodist church and as a people over questions such as these.

The Bible says that in the church we are to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice” – but what do you do when half of you are weeping and half of you are rejoicing?

One thing I might propose for us is that sometime before General Conference next spring, we hold a Bible Study and holy conferencing dialogue about this issue.  But in the meantime, another thing we can do is to remember what binds us together.

The Bible says that the church is like a family, where we are brothers and sisters with each other.  If your family is like mine, then there are a lot of important things that you and your family members disagree about or even fight about.  But at the end of the day you are still a family; you are still held together by something deeper than whether or not you agree.  You are held together by the fact that you have been made part of one another, and you are held together by stubborn, durable, steady love.

The church is a family like that.  We are a family that can disagree about important things, but at the end of the day we are held together by something deeper than the fact we agree about everything, or even about every important thing:  we are held together by the fact that God’s grace has rescued us and is remaking us and has made us a part of one another.

We are held together by love, the love of Christ.

That love does not banish disagreement, but it does join us in a oneness deeper than all difference, a fidelity more enduring than our fights, a reconciliation that outlasts our wrongs.

Perhaps we even need some level of disagreement for this love to grow among us.

In his 2nd Inaugural Address, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln meditated on the fact that both the North and the South prayed to the same God, and believed the same God was on their side, and trusted that the same God would grant their side victory, and yet the war just kept going on.  Lincoln said that the prayers of both could not be answered, and the prayers of neither were answered fully.  Clearly neither side could be wholly in the right, or God would have ended the bloodshed.  Lincoln speculated that perhaps in allowing the struggle to continue, God was accomplishing larger purposes that neither side had taken into account.

Perhaps God has God’s own purposes in putting us very different people, with our dueling facebook posts and our rival news sources, all together next to each other in the pew.  Perhaps one of those purposes is to learn the meaning of love.  Perhaps it is only by learning to love people we disagree with, only by learning to love people who we know are wrong, only by learning to love sinners that we learn what love, Christ-like love, even, yes, married love, really is.

Later this morning as we receive new members we will read words from I Corinthians 12, where the Apostle Paul writes to a divided church about how we are all part of the body of Christ, a body where the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor can the head say to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  We are a body, where, paraphrasing what the Bible says about marriage, the many become one flesh.

Here’s what I think that means:

If you celebrated on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.

If you were upset on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.

If you didn’t know how to feel on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.

If you think what I have said here is too wishy-washy,  and you wish your preacher took a stronger stand with your side today, you belong here and are needed here.

The only way you might not belong here is if you believe the body of Christ should be a place where everybody agrees with you 100%, and where what you hear from the pulpit every week should just confirm whatever you came here already believing; basically if you think the body should be made up of one part:  your brain.

I would say that if that’s what you want, the only way to get it is if you keep your own company.  But maybe you won’t find satisfaction even there:  I can’t get even the different sides of my own mind to agree with themselves half the time.

Perhaps if you searched hard enough you might finally be able to find another group of believers who agree with each other on things like this 100% – but if you do, whatever it is, it won’t be the church of Jesus Christ.

So I guess we’ll just have to accept God’s own mysterious purposes and continue struggling to seek God’s bigger-than-we-thought will with each other.

I guess we’ll have to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, even all at the same time, even if it means we try to force a smile through our tears because at least our friends are happy, of if it means we celebrate but with a catch in our throat because we can’t totally forget those who find it hard to rejoice with us because of conscience.

I guess we’ll have to stay together and try to respect and love each other and fail and ask forgiveness and forgive and then try again.

I guess we in the church will need to choose again

to have and to hold each other,

from this day forward,

for better or for worse,

for richer or for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

to love and to cherish,

in agreement and disagreement

until death us do part:

just like all married folks must do.

Now let us worship God together.

(I am indebted to Dr. James C. Howell of Myers Park UMC for having first articulated some of the ideas here.)

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42 thoughts on ““Till Death Us Do Part”: A Call to Unity Offered the Sunday After SCOTUS Decision

  1. Great post…..!
    (Perhaps a more apt ending vow for us as a church would be found in the Baptism and Membership ritual in as much as it’s the one we all took with each other…..

    i.e.
    I guess we in the church will need to choose again…

    [to “nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include each other in our care.

    With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.

    We will surround each other with a new community of love and forgiveness
    that we may grow in our trust of God, and be found faithful in our service to others.

    We will pray for each other that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.

    As members together, with each other in the body of Christ,
    and in this congregation of the United Methodist Church,
    we renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church
    by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness
    that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. “]*)

    …unless, of course, you are calling for a new, deeper and more “familial” covenant to takes it’s place.

  2. New International Version
    There’s no strattling the fence on this issue. You can fancy the words all you want but God is very clear about homosexuality. Romans 1:24-28 New International Version (NIV)

    24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

    Revelation 3:16
    New International Version
    So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

    1. Why? Jesus is just as explicit about divorce, and yet most United Methodists recognize it is sometimes necessary. Why is their no room for conversation on this question?

      1. Drew, I would even venture to say that the Bible is even MORE explicit about divorce because Jesus addressed it directly. There are verses that quote the words that came out of His mouth. Christ never spoke on homosexuality, and he certainly never spoke on loving gay relationships.

        So why are most people so willing to look the other way on the issue of divorce? Simple answer: The people that are consciously choosing to commit that sin are heterosexual.

        This is why it so much easier for some to get upset over gay issues. It has nothing to do with Jesus. It has more to do with the reasons that gay kids are beaten up and bullied in school on a regular basis. You think the children that are attacking gay and lesbian teens are doing it out of a “sincerely held religious conviction”? Of course not. They’re doing it because THEY JUST CAN’T STAND GAY PEOPLE. What you’re seeing in your church is just the grown-up version of those playground attacks.

      2. Divorce was frowned upon by God unless there IS a good reason. If your spouse strays away from him and is no longer a follower like yourself, that’s grounds for divorce. If your spouse commits adultery, that’s grounds for divorce. If your spouse harms you or your children either mentally or physically, that’s grounds for divorce. Divorce based on grounds that you can’t get along or just don’t want to be with them anymore is not justified in the eyes of the Lord. Plus, whomever is the one who files for divorce is considered the sinner in the non-justified cases. It’s just like taking a life. God says “Thou shall not murder.” But he also gives you the right to protect yours or someone else’s life. Look at the various times throughout the years that God has helped his people defeat their enemies by killing. People like to pick through the Bible to justify or explain why they’re right and others are wrong. We Christians do the same thing, don’t misunderstand. But TRUE Christians will not only show the reasons behind God’s words, but also show where there might be exceptions. For instance, I don’t believe in hitting someone. That’s not showing love to my neighbor. But when it comes to discipline or even the death penalty, there’s a passage that says “do not spare him the rod”. God understands that sometimes, crap happens and he gives us a guideline for how to deal with the crap hitting the ceiling. However, there is NOT ONE passage of the Bible that says “homosexuality is wrong…unless of course you really love the other person, then it’s ok.” It’s wrong….PERIOD…end of story. And no one is able to argue that without picking apart the Bible and trying to twist the text of other passages, such as the book of Leviticus.

    2. ^^^Exactly. While we should minister to all with compassion, there are few things clearer in the Bible than that homosexuality is a sinful affront to God. It is a “death penalty” offense in the Old Testament, and the only one of those that is additionally called an “abomination” to God. In the New Testament it is listed along with basically the same “death penalty” offenses from the Old Testament, and is described as a “shall not inherit the Kingdom of God” offense.

      The Good News of the Bible is that all sins can be forgiven, which is especially good since all of us are sinners. While the Bible does not call upon us to judge whether a person will be saved, it does indeed call upon us to lovingly rebuke our brothers and sisters in Christ that embrace sinful habits.

      Yes, we have collectively fallen down on our duties to rebuke and oppose those who embraced fornication, adultery, and divorce (for other than adultery), and actually the normalization of no-fault or “irreconcilable differences” divorces may end up being our worst act of complicity. However, this only means that we should speak the truth about those sins as well, it doesn’t mean that we should now endorse or even celebrate homosexual sin.

      We need to be less worldly, more into the Word. We need to rebuke lovingly all who embrace sin, and more than ever we need to pray.

      1. While it’s true that the Bible is clear about adultery, I’d argue that being beaten by your husband is also a reason to divorce — though the church looks upon those who’ve been in that situation with shame. I would know.

      2. “there are few things clearer in the Bible than that homosexuality is a sinful affront to God”. So bloody well what. If that’s the way you choose to live – fine, but who gave the christians that practise a theology of hatred and discrimination the right to persecute and determine what other should or should not do.

    3. Then stop allowing any remarriage after a divorce and stone all the non-virgins. Reinstate polygamy, child brides & concubines, too. Yea biblical marriage! Puh-leese. Christians have progressed over time and need to support adult loving, monogamous marriages.

  3. To the person who quoted Romans so thoughtfully I want to say that I love you as a brother or sister in Christ. I would also like to offer you this quote from Romans as well.

    Romans 13:10 “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

    I would also like to ask this question:

    When 1 Corinthians 14:34 says “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” ? How do we as Methodists allow women pastors in our churches when they are forbidden to speak?

    I am and probably always will be puzzled by the verses that are chosen to be used against others and the ones that are chosen to be ignored because they are inconvenient. I personally chose to follow the teachings of Jesus himself that tell me to “love my neighbor as I love myself”; even the neighbors I don’t like because it just might be that they need my love more than anyone else. I don’t know if I am right or not but I am much more comfortable knowing I will have to answer on judgement day for loving someone that may or may not deserve it rather than trying to explain why I hated and tried to mistreat that same person. That is just me though.

    I also want to say that I don’t know what the answer is either.

  4. Thank you for this… it is well written and well said and I agree with you in all aspects. However, I must say the part about the divisions and disagreements within a family brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye as I personally have experienced a heart-wrenching division in my own family that was initiated by a disagreement over these same sorts of social issues and a debate on a literal vs non-literal interpretation of Holy Scripture. I am very fearful the same is going to happen within the United Methodist denomination.

  5. I’m probably in the minority here but if the United Methodist Church were to allow for same-sex marriage and equal rights for LGBT individuals and we lost some members over it, so be it. I would feel the exact same way if this was back in the 50s and we lost members over allowing interracial marriage. Why? Because for so long, LGBT individuals have been marginalized by the church. They have been made to feel as though they must choose between being doomed to hell or living a lonely life without the person they love by their side. And I’ll be damned if they have to feel that way any longer because some homophobes might get their feelings hurt. Here in the Methodist church, we allow female pastors despite 1 Corinthians 14:34 telling women to be silent in the church. Why? Because Scripture is a living, breathing document and context is important. We need to realize that not everything should be taken literally because much of the advice given by Paul, Timothy, etc. was a reflection of the times. Moreover, I’d go as far to say neither Paul nor other first century Christians understood monogamous same-sex relationships. Homosexuality as Paul mentioned referred to same-sex orgies in Roman temples, and comparing that to a loving, committed same-sex relationship would be akin to comparing a loving heterosexual marriage to a prostitute and her john. I refuse to live in the past and the United Methodist Church needs to adopt the progressive attitude of PCUSA, ELCA Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc. If people hate same-sex marriage, female preachers, or other progressive measures they can go join the Catholics and Southern Baptists. I understand that most people here are going to call me a heretic, a Jezebel. etc. but I don’t care. Jesus said he came to bring not peace but a sword, and I personally don’t intend to sit and sing kum-ba-ya with a bunch of bigots. Not in my church, and not while God’s LGBT children continue to be marginalized.

  6. This could be a very simple concern is same-sex marriage was limited to legal unions only. The sacrilege appears to be having a wedding in a church with that ceremony being provided by a pastorl

  7. This would be an awesome approach if the risk was not so huge. People are suffering and dying because of the position of condemnation. I just don’t understand why people can’t just take the approach of , if you don’t think it’s right to drink alcohol, then you don’t drink. If you don’t think that it’s right to get a divorce, then you don’t divorce. But to be judge to others for being as they were created, I just can not accept. My family has been devastated by this position of the United Methodist Church and I can just say, that’s OK.

    At annual conference, when the people stood to keep the derrogatory language in the Book of Discipline, a man behing me said, God is good. I turned around and said, please think about this. People are suffering. My son is dead and he suffered greatly because of the use of these words.. He said, lady, the church didn’t hurt your son. What ignorance. He has no clue! Yet, he confidently made this statement.

    To allow this stance to continue is creuel and irresponsible. I’m sorry, I try to be a peace maker, but on this topic, the cost is just too high. The middle road is just avoidance. All are welcome, that is the point!

    Julie Wood

  8. The big reason why this is such a controversial issue is because the world as we know it today has changed very much since the time that Jesus walked the Earth. His example to us is that we speak and LIVE the Word of God, and to love God, and to love one another. Jesus taught and lived love and acceptance, yes, but in no way did he ever condone sexual immorality. The only people that Jesus judged out right were the religious leaders of the day, the leaders that constantly made laws to keep people in bondage and used religion for their own gain. Of all of the other people that Jesus came in contact with he did not pass judgement on but instead he offered them love, healing, hope, comfort, peace, guidance, and the truth from the Word of God.
    When it comes to drawing the line between right and wrong there is only one that has the authority to do it, God! He put within each and every one of us a mind to know when we are offending Him and when we are pleasing Him.
    As Christians we are called to preach the truth in love to everyone and then to leave the rest to God. We are called to live a life that is pleasing to God, but how can we do that if we are always judging and condemning others. We all will give an account to God for this gift of life that He has given to us. If someone murders, it offends God, if someone tells a lie, it offends God, and yes, if someone is a homosexual, it offends God. All of us do wrong things but we are still people.
    Some of the nicest people I have known are gay, when I was in their company I didn’t think of the fact that they were gay, I just enjoyed them as people, in fact, they would display more cheerfulness and fun qualities of life than most other people I know. They are nice because they choose to be nice and are not bitter about life and those who want to judge them. Now I would never have known the person if I kept looking at them just as being gay, would I, no!
    God will be God for all eternity, but we will only be here for a short time, live YOUR LIFE as pleasing to God and others!!!!!!!!!

  9. To Clyde Warren. Any person who attacks a person who is gay isn’t really a Christian. If a person disagrees with this lifestyle, and simply cites that it clearly states in God’s word that it is a sin, (if they really are a Christian) they aren’t doing it simply because they hate gays. If they are a Christian, they don’t hate anyone. If I say that someone I know, who commits adultry continually, is sinning, it doesn’t mean that I hate them because they are adulterers. It doesn’t mean that I hate them at all. It might be someone who is a genuine friend, but I would still say that they are sinning in their adultery. Not all people who think homosexuality is a sin Hate gays…some might, but if they are REALLY a Christian…they do not.

  10. Thank you. I pray this post will bring some healing; we certainly need it. There is a long time between this SCOTUS ruling and GC2016. I pray there will be holy conversations between now and then so that we may find a way forward as United Methodists.

  11. Since Jesus is “God with us,” I choose to view His words as the standard by which to live. That said, I agree with absolutely everything He said in condemning homosexuality.

    “What did he say in condemning homosexuality?” you may ask.

    Absolutely nothing!

    He was deeply concerned with the very real sins of pride, greed, selfishness, and hypocrisy. Homosexuality existed in the ancient world, but it didn’t merit one word of rebuke from Jesus in all his recorded teachings. And that, my friends, is a pattern today’s Christians would do well to follow.

    1. Yes. Think and let think. In all things, charity. In determining which seminary I’d go to, I believe it was the Spirit’s prompting to led me to understand, “It’s not about your comfort.”
      If this feud was as important as we make it, Jesus would have mentioned it.
      If I disagree with you, I disagree with you. Disagreement does not (have to) mean hatred.
      Can I love you and still disagree with you? Yes, I can.

  12. This should be renamed – “wishful thinking”. There is little chance these two views will coexist. Conservatives will not abandon the Word of God for the sake of a false unity. Progressives will not abandon their cause because it is a matter of justice to them.

    Church unity is not based on agreement, but on covenant. The basis of that covenant is God’s Holy Word. The world may accept same sex marriage. The church must not.

  13. The two greatest commandments…Love God with all you are AND love your neighbor. We sing about the freedom we have in Christ…that freedom is the freedom to love without judgement bc God carries that burden. We are only asked to love. Not to agree, not to point our fingers, but to love. We need only to be concerned about how we react as a follower of Christ. We can share the love of Christ with others but if they choose a way we don’t, our job is to still love them. Christ gives us the freedom to choose, ALL of us. Maybe if we all reacted with love instead of anger(not a fruit of the spirit), judgement (not ours to do) & condemnation (can you say Pharisees?) people wouldn’t be leaving the church in droves.
    And remember…LOVE NEVER FAILS!!!

  14. If we are about “His Work”, how do we find the time to argue about how others live their lives? Are we not convinced that God loves everybody? This is short but I need to busy myself preparing a sympathy card and then off to visit a lonely widow in a nursing home.

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