Who am I to deny the Spirit?

(Post 3 of 5 in a series on Human Sexuality)

 

Following United Methodist General Conference 2019, several members of my congregation started asking me if I could make a presentation about my own beliefs on human sexuality. I’ve always been pretty open about believing that the Gospel is fully inclusive, but after the church’s relationship with LGBTQ+ people got so much press, traditionalist and progressive folks alike were interested in my perspective. So I’m going to break it into five fairly long blog posts and dump them here.

This is a reflection on Acts 10, the story of Peter and Cornelius. You can read it here. 

This is a story I find to be absolutely central to my understanding of the gospel. It’s impossible to understate the importance of the purity laws at this point in Jewish history; diet and circumcision were central to Jewish self understanding and to the faith of Jesus’ followers and all observant Jews. 

Peter’s vision is, in no uncertain terms, horrifying to him and to his friends. The idea of eating unclean animals and eating at a table that routinely serves pork and other non-kosher food is not simply impolite or jarring, but offensive to his sensibilities. But then Peter gets to know Cornelius and his family, and realizes something: 

These folks get it, and they’re following after Jesus. 

That this family, which looks very different than the one in which Peter was raised, that has different customs and attributes and does not subscribe to the laws contained in scripture, is still following after Jesus and living for God. That these bacon-eating uncircumcised gentiles are legitimate Christ followers. 

The last few verses are the most important part of this passage, which stands in a long line of biblical passages that disrupt and disturb the status quo. Pious and observant Jewish Christians, who have spent their lives following the law, are convicted by what they see: 

These people are believers, and they have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their families are producing fruit, and who are we to deny what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through them?

The drumbeat of this sort of movement has marched through the witness of Spirit-filled Christians who fell beyond the dominant interpretations of the law ever since. 

For much of the history of the American church and in fact in churches all around the world, the Bible was used to defend a ban on interracial marriage. Passages in Deuteronomy and Acts that state that God created the races and set boundaries to their lands meant that many people had deeply held convictions that the Bible was supportive of this sort of racism.

There is an undeniable movement of the Holy Spirit in and through families that have people of different racial backgrounds. 

This one is a bit personal for me, because I grew up in a family with parents from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. And I’m pretty glad I did. 

For the overwhelming majority of church history, a handful of passages and the dominant cultural voices denied women the right to preach or lead. But John Wesley, near the end of his life and ministry, began licensing women to preach because he could not deny that they had the fruit of the spirit in their preaching and teaching and lives. 

It took the actual denomination quite a bit longer to come around to the idea of formally ordaining women, but in 1956 generations worth of biblical scholarship, historical and biblical examples of great female leaders, and a more egalitarian understanding of humankind led the UMC to vote in favor of ordaining women as pastors. 

Because we believed that, in spite of the letter of the law, women demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit in their gifts to lead and exhort. 

So in my own experience and life, I have met a number of gay and lesbian people who have Spirit-filled relationships. I have met couples that provide each other with deep and powerful spiritual support. Who pray for each other and take care of each other and challenge each other and grow together. Who serve God and their neighbors, who raise children with strong Christian values, and who seek to help build the Kingdom of God on Earth. 

I imagine many of you have had relationships with same gender couples like this, too. Have you met couples that had relationships that produced good fruit? Have you known gay and lesbian people who earnestly sought from a marriage companionship and love and support? If so, could this be the work of the Spirit? 

Series Navigator

Part 1: My Quadrilateral

Part 2: A Case for Celibacy

Part 3: Who am I to deny the spirit?

Part 4: Love over law

Part 5: Unity in Christ

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