Too often in progressive church politics, we are dismissive of leaders and communication opportunities that are presented to us because they do not pass a perceived ideological litmus test. In turn, potential leaders are often cautious about trying to “lead” in a substantive way, for fear of not only the repercussions in their local church or community, but the dread of being shunned by progressives for not doing enough, saying the wrong thing, being ineffective, or even making things worse in their earnest efforts to bring about change. This makes them a huge target, at once with their own established community, and also with those that they are trying to reach out to. We don’t make it any easier when there are so few members in the pews that are actively engaged in these specific issues.
Recently, this article by Rev. Kent Millard showed up on the UM Portal. Rev. Millard pastors a large Methodist Church in Indianapolis, and his article suggests a “truce” over the issues of LGBT inclusion in the church.
“After 40 years of battle, neither side has completely won and neither has completely lost; both claim some victories every four years and pledge to come back next time with more verbal ammunition to fire at the other side. I would like to recommend a temporary truce in this conflict between conservatives and liberals in our denomination over homosexuality so that we can focus our energies on the life-and-death issues of 30,000 people dying daily of starvation and millions dying annually of AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis around our world. For a truce to be effective, leaders of both sides would need to sit down together and mutually agree on what they would do to promote a truce over homosexuality. On the conservative side, it might mean not endorsing candidates to General Conference simply on the basis of their position on homosexuality. On the liberal side, it might mean not demonstrating at General Conference if they do not achieve the changes they want.”
On a social network site, it didn’t take long for the usual suspicions to be raised, and a variety of conclusions about this pastor to be drawn. Probably some sneaky strategy here, some way that the conservative factions had found to lull some moderates into an ill conceived compromise. But these assumptions seem false. With a little googling, it wasn’t hard to find that Millard’s church sponsors a PFLAG group, that their website uses the word “inclusive” a great deal, and that Rev. Millard has participated on at least one publicized round table discussion (the one I saw was sponsored by “Gay Into Straight America”)… and favored full inclusion. His backstory about how he got there seemed like a Grace experience.
“At one point in the panel discussion, Dr. Kent Millard shared his experience from many years ago, of counseling a young man who confided to him that he was gay. Dr. Millard said that he encouraged the young man to date one of the women in the church, and maybe that would help solve his “problem.” When that didn’t work, he helped the young man get established with a psychiatrist. Dr. Millard said, “The only thing we did was drive this young man to become alcoholic, and one day, driving under the influence, he had an accident, and became a paraplegic.”… Dr. Millard concluded with, “I live each and every day wondering… did I do the right thing?”
“Dr. Millard is a gracious and kind man of God, who lives his life and leads his church by the example and the teachings of Jesus. We spoke to Dr. Millard after the event, and thanked him for his gracious words and passionate presentation of why he believes GLBT people should be honored, respected, and protected against discrimination; and how he came to the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.
“…Dr. Millard proceeded to thank God for what we had just experienced, then asked God to bless us on our journey, Gay Into Straight America. He also asked God to protect us as we travel, and to open up the hearts and minds of people we encounter on the journey, and that lives would be touched and changed by our love and our message of hope and God’s unconditional love and grace for all people.”
Even after discussion about his seeming earnestness, several were dismissive of him, noting that the idea of a “truce” is a false notion. True enough. But I don’t think he was a false pastor, or false in his desire to take us beyond this stalemate. I think it’s an opportunity to engage him. After all, he’s stuck his neck out this far. Neither “side” is going to accept the terms of a truce, (though admittedly, it looks better on paper for conservatives), so why not challenge him to stick his neck out a little further?
So why don’t we embrace every ally we can in this struggle? Is there a reason that we cannot think in political terms to achieve the change that we desire? Who are we waiting for, and how long are we willing to wait for someone ELSE to lead? Continue reading Never Missing Opportunities to Miss Opportunities