Same Sex Marriage, a Gay Bishop, and the Power of Respect

Prof. Jack Levison writes about the church's decision on a gay, married bishop.

By Jack Levison

John R. (Jack) Levison
Jack Levison

The United Methodist Church has made a pivotal decision about a gay, married bishop. According the Judicial Council, the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law.

Some will champion the decision, welcoming it as the right word at the right time.

Others will cry foul, protest, and kick against the goad of tradition.

Still others will try to occupy the middle ground. Not the sinking soil of inaction but the terra firma of community, of people with varying opinions who discover, in the discord, something that binds us together. This is where I choose to stand.

Truth be told, authentic community doesn’t allow for sharp lines and clear distinctions.

A commitment to community—diverse, sloppy, unkempt, community—is something I value. So today I read with appreciation this letter from my dean at Perkins School of TheologySouthern Methodist University. It expresses those sensibilities in a practical and visionary way.

I believe his last lines to be true. We must—and can—preserve the dignity of all individuals in a community, however hard that may be to accomplish. “Nothing has happened or will happen,” Hill writes, “that will change that.” I believe that. Or, at least, I hope it to be true in the difficult months ahead.

Here, then, are substantial excerpts of his letter addressed to the students, staff, faculty, alumni/ae and friends of Perkins School of Theology:

Craig C. Hill
Craig Hill

Perkins School of Theology is a microcosm of the wider church. We are a diverse community of learning, which – not unlike the denomination at large – reflects a rich membership of persons from across multiple spectrums: theological, racial/ethnic, geographic and gender. We value each and every member of our community as a beloved child of God and remain committed to our mission of preparing women and men for faithful leadership in Christian ministry.

We all say we want to be welcoming of diversity, and this is a time that tests that commitment. At a moment of such uncertainty about the future of our denomination, it is imperative that we recommit ourselves to being something increasingly rare: a community with the capacity for respectful, honest and loving dialogue about difficult issues. We are situated in a university whose mission statement affirms the promotion of “an environment emphasizing individual dignity and worth,” in the context of a “historical commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry.” Moreover, we strive to be a community that lives out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even – or perhaps, especially – when divergent positions are articulated and as we struggle together with our differing beliefs and opinions. To paraphrase Jesus in Matthew 5:46, “If we love only those who agree with us, what more are we doing than anyone else?”

In the midst of uncertainty, of this we are certain: Perkins School of Theology is committed to being a community in which all feel welcomed; where all are valued as sisters and brothers created in the image of God; and where each – regardless of sexual orientation, theological understanding, race or any other attribute – is honored, respected, heard and loved. Nothing has happened or will happen that will change that.

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