“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.”
President Obama’s voice rang out last Friday in Charleston as he gave a thoughtful as well as challenging eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people gunned down the week before at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Obama spoke of racial injustice, the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capital, the lack of will in the United States for gun control and forgiveness shown by the victims’ families to Dylann Roof, who was charged with nine counts of murder. Obama ended his eulogy by singing Amazing Grace, saying each victim’s name and proclaiming that each one “found that grace.”
How poignant it was that President Obama’s multi-faceted call for the people of the United States to move from blindness to seeing came on the same morning, June 26, that another large group of God’s beloved children found grace. The Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage. Speaking for the 5-4 majority, Anthony Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, wrote, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may even endure past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment for the Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.
All over our country, people are elated, disappointed, confused, hopeful, fearful or angry at the Supreme Court decision. The joy of many is pain to others. Yet the gospel call, repeated again and again in the words and actions of Jesus, is to show grace to all, especially to those who are rejected, oppressed and marginalized and to those who disagree with us. The 5-4 margin of the Supreme Court decision is indicative of our diversity as a nation as well as the complexity of this issue.
- A United Methodist friend wrote on Friday night, “I feel so blessed to have been born gay. The road has sometimes been hard, but it has taught me to have empathy for others and to be vigilant and outspoken with regard to injustice around me. If I had not traveled this path, I never would have become an attorney.”
- Another wrote about his fear that the state would now have the power to tell the church what to believe and practice.
- Jack Evans, 85, and George Harris, 82, who have been partners for 54 years, were the first couple to be married in Dallas, Texas after the SCOTUS decision. They were married by a judge, who was also a member of their church. They wanted to wait until they could be married in their home state.
- A pastor wondered whether same-sex marriage will tear apart the fabric of society and weaken the institution of marriage.
- A young woman is going to have a commitment ceremony with her partner in three weeks. Now, she says, it will be a wedding.
- A friend wrote, “Jesus defined marriage in Mark 10:7-8, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ I love my gay brothers and sisters, but I cannot find any place in the Bible that justifies gay marriage.”
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
Questions keep running through my mind. As people of faith, how will we find grace in the midst of this momentous decision? How will the church address the most important issues of our day and become relevant to the hopes and dreams of young people for a just and compassionate world? How can we walk into God’s future with hope rather than fear or division? How will the way we treat each other in the church witness to others of the grace that not only holds us together but changes the world?
The Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage does not change or affect the position of The United Methodist Church, which does not permit clergy to officiate at gay marriages or allow them to be held in our churches. At their discretion, clergy are permitted, however, to offer premarital counseling to gay couples, attend gay weddings and offer a prayer or scripture. Announcements of gay weddings are also permitted in church publications.
In May of 2016 the quadrennial General Conference of The United Methodist Church will convene in Portland, Oregon to make decisions about the future of our denomination, including a variety of petitions related to homosexuality. My hope and prayer is that we will find grace by discerning a way to honor the various positions that clergy and laity around the world hold regarding this issue.
The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be, As long as life endures.
Every Sunday in our church, after the reading of the scripture we say, “This is God’s living word for God’s living people.” When we allow God’s living presence through the Holy Spirit to move in and through us and our congregations, we find grace, gain new insights, learn to love more deeply and move that much closer to bringing in God’s kingdom on this earth. Whether it’s women’s rights, gun control, racism, full inclusion of those who are LGBTQ, human trafficking or oppression, the rock upon which our faith rests is the unconditional grace of Jesus Christ for each person on this earth and God’s desire that each person reach his or her full potential.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace.
God not only works in and through the church, however. God also speaks through governments, secular institutions, people of other faiths and even through those who profess no faith at all. When our eyes, ears and hearts are open, we discover that God sometimes moves in ways we least expect.
Regardless of what we believe on this issue, we are still brothers and sisters, still United Methodists and still one because Jesus Christ has made us all part of the body of Christ. Every local church is called to make disciples and offer a life of joy and peace to their neighbors and communities in ways that are both compelling and transformative. By opening the doors of the church to all people without exception, we model the inclusive welcome of Jesus Christ as, together, we all seek to “find grace” and become perfect in love.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.
Is the love of Jesus greater than any of our differences? Can that love unite us in singing God’s praise and shining bright as the sun in a world that desperately needs us to be light and love? With grace there is always a way. Let’s find that grace together.