My wife and I and three adult children spend Christmas vacation together in Chicago and Ohio. We have family and friends in both places. Our time together is precious because as young adults our children have busy lives, lots of friends and jobs that only give them limited time for us all to be together. We always have lively conversations, lots of hugs, and sometimes disagreements. We are family, and while the oldest is now 32 I can still remember the day he was born. Like many families, we always say "I love you" when speaking our departing words as we go our separate ways.
There is no "I love you, but…” for us, it is "I love you” unqualified, unashamedly, as long as we have breath and beyond. I have heard parents of gay children say this as a way to share with this Bishop their joy in the assurance of God's love for their children and their disappointment and ofttimes anguish, that their family experiences a "qualified welcome and love" by the church they call their spiritual community. The good news of hope for me is that God's love is so strong, and these parents and family members are so unflinching in their love and support for their loved ones, that only good can come from their steadfastness.
When I first came to Iowa a Mother of a young adult son, living out west, shared with me a bit of her story. “I love my church…and my son loves this church. He was baptized here and confirmed here and everybody knows and loves him because this is his church. He is gay and right now is not attending a United Methodist Church, not attending any church because, he doesn't feel welcome.”
I know there are plenty of folks who love the Lord with all their heart and mind and strength and cannot reconcile the presence of LGBT persons in the church without saying or believing that their lifestyle or personal romantic relationships are incompatible with the reading of the Bible and the United Methodist Book of Discipline. I recognize there is no shortage of people, including many of my friends and colleagues who are well-versed in the Scriptures. I have seen pastors and Bishops, full of grace and love, share opposing views about our own people seeking to be true to our understanding of faithful witness. In response to my pastoral letter following the last Council of Bishops meeting and the performance of marriage ceremonies prohibited by our Book of Discipline, one person wrote me saying it appears, in my pastoral letter, that I want to be neutral. I am humbled by the fact that I am a Bishop fully reliant on God trying to be faithful and available to God's leading in my life. The Bible and the Book of Discipline are both clear about an unqualified welcome and love for all people, which means everybody who reads this article and those who stopped at the first line.
I believe the reign of God is not dependent upon our understanding of the Bible or being well-versed in our understanding of biblical obedience. God existed before the Bible and is revealed in and through the Bible that tells many stories, including the one of love coming down at Christmas.
So what does it mean to speak of love and diversity in a big diverse family like ours?
Every church I have served has been diverse. The first was mostly working class and poor. The second was mostly retired military and most of the members were white. The third was in an historic African American city church with a few white members. The fourth was a suburban church that had experienced racial transition. One sermon I preached was entitled, “Is Your Mind Made Up?” I asked all the left-handed people to stand. There was a time when being left-handed was cause for persecution or at best a qualified welcome. The sermon was an attempt to get people to be aware that everybody is not the same but should be loved the same. Like every church I served, the Iowa Annual Conference has persons of all ages and sexual orientations. This is a fact because we are a big family.
The Mother whose son is not now in Iowa complemented me on my sermon that made several references to God’s love for all of us. “What about our church,” she asked. “What about you, Bishop?” In my house there are several scripture verses on the wall, including, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
To love God means, for me, to love all of God’s people. This love does not come with a qualifying “but…”
I love you…period!
Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble