Gay congregants are treated like second class citizens despite acceptance by the church.
On Tuesday, November 19th, a Methodist Church Court handed down a 30-day suspension to Rev. Frank Schaefer of Zion Methodist Church in Lebanon, PA, for officiating his eldest son’s 2007 marriage to another man. Schaefer has 30 days to recant and devote his life and ministry to the Methodist doctrine, which “accepts” gay and lesbian members but views homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Yet again we are confronted with an example where Christian “acceptance” of LGBTQ congregants proves to be little more than tolerating their presence. Such an “acceptance” creates a tiered system of believers in which LGBTQ members take up a second-class status. Being the good believer that I am (or at least being a well-trained believer), I’m reminded of a confrontation in the early church where a similar tiered system threatened the dignity and unity of the church.
In the early days, Christianity was nothing more than a small sect of first-century Judaism. Biblical historians are unclear as to when the split between Christianity and Judaism happened, or whether the Jews kicked the Christians out of the synagogues or the Christians left the faith of their parents. What we do have some access to is a conflict within the early Christian church that revolved around Gentile (or non-Jewish) conversion to Christianity. The concern was this: did non-Jewish men need to become Jewish before they could become Christian — that is, did they need to be circumcised?
The clash comes to a head in the book Galatians where in the second chapter Paul (a fairly new convert himself) rebukes Peter (the leader of the Church) “For before certain men [Jewish Christians] came from James, he [Peter] ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the [Jewish Christians] acted insincerely . . . ”(Gal. 2.12-13 Revised Standard Version). According to Paul, that is, Peter fell into a habit of treating Gentile converts as second-class citizens. For Peter “accepted” Gentile believers, but only when he was not in the company of Jewish-Christians. When they arrived Peter ditched the Gentiles. Paul, thankfully saw the hypocrisy in this kind of “acceptance” and In the very next chapter, claims in no uncertain terms, “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28 Revised Standard Version).
Returning to the modern day, I don’t think anyone is all that surprised to read another story in which Christian parochialism stands in the way of marriage equality. What I think is surprising is that Pastors and believers are starting to stand up, like Paul, against the hypocrisy they see in the communities they love. I’m not surprised by the Methodist’s Churches stance; what I am surprised about and ecstatic to see is the valor of Rev. Schaefer to stand against a Church community and its leadership that maintain a second-class system of believers, and say, in the essence of Paul, “there is neither queer nor straight for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”