Jeff Walton
July 20, 2010

A United Methodist congregation should conduct same-sex marriages despite the possibility of negative consequences, according to Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

“I’m here to tell you that when you speak about God’s limitless, boundless and unimaginable love, you will get into trouble: I promise you, I know this,” Robinson said to the congregation.

Foundry United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Dean Snyder (L) and Bishop Gene Robinson (R) greet congregants following Sunday morning services at the Washington, D.C. church.

Robinson, the first openly gay partnered bishop in the Episcopal Church, delivered the message during a visit to Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. on Sunday. Robinson both gave a sermon at the invitation of Foundry’s Senior Pastor, Dean Snyder, as well as answered questions from church members during an informal session following the Sunday morning worship services. Robinson’s sermon was part of a month-long “outstanding preacher” series including United Methodist Bishops Woodie White, Hope Morgan Ward and John Schol.

Foundry, a large congregation that traces its roots back to 1814, sits on the prominent row of churches that line 16th Street northwest, leading to the White House. President Clinton and his family regularly attended services at Foundry during his presidency.

Snyder was a vocal advocate of the legalization of same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia, joining many other United Methodist clergy in Washington as part of a pro-same-sex marriage coalition. Since the enactment of same-sex marriage by the District’s council earlier this year, clergy are legally permitted to conduct such marriages in the Nation’s capital.

Foundry is currently engaged in a “Summer of Great Discernment” program as an inquiry about issues relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) members of the congregation. The discernment time will conclude with a congregational vote in September to determine a pastoral response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District.

Snyder introduced Robinson with brief words on the discernment program, noting that United Methodist policies do not allow clergy or buildings to host same-sex marriages.

“I believe this [policy] violates our constitution,” Snyder explained, adding that he believed it was “wrong to discriminate between couples in the church.”

The United Methodist Church does not permit clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages, or for United Methodist facilities to be used for them. In 2008, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church upheld language in the 7.9 million-member denomination’s Book of Discipline which calls homosexuality “incompatible” with Christian teaching.

Foundry states on its website that “We are conscious of positions that The United Methodist Church has taken that are opposed to same-gender marriage, but those aspects of church discipline are in conflict with the deeper emphasis of the church’s Book of Discipline upon the gospel of grace and pastoral care for all of God’s children.”

Robinson’s presence at Foundry and message to the congregation served to demonstrate the Washington church’s position as being at odds with that of the denomination.

“Our preacher of the morning is often introduced as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, but that is not particularly why we invited him here this Sunday,” Snyder said, explaining how he first heard Robinson via podcast preaching at Calvary Church in Memphis and exclaimed, “an Episcopalian who can preach!”

“We are so delighted that Gene Robinson has accepted our invitation,” Snyder said. Robinson, too, expressed delight at the invitation to speak at Foundry, which had appeared to have attendance that Sunday larger than half the attendance of his entire diocese.

“Don’t you just love change?” Robinson asked jokingly. “Isn’t it amazing that this president was elected on a theme of change when we all hate it so much… and yet, change is in the air.”

The New Hampshire Bishop explained that change happens when a person begins with a worldview that interprets the world and the things that happen in it.

“Then along comes an experience for which that world view is insufficient and inadequate to explain and incorporate this experience,” Robinson said, explaining that the person then enters into a kind of chaos. “Coming out on the other side you either have to deny the reality of that experience or you come out on the other side with a revised and transformed world view that now takes that experience into account. That is exactly what the church, the synagogue, the mosque all over the world is encountering now with homosexuality.”

Robinson connected his account of change and homosexuality with Acts chapter 3, where St. Peter heals the crippled beggar at the temple gate.

“If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, that is your story. That is my story. We know what it is like to be told you can only come so far,” Robinson said. “Do you know what it is like to sit at the door and beg, to be told that our affliction makes it not okay to come to the center of the church’s life? We know what it is like when someone in the name of Jesus tells us to stand up and walk, that we are loved beyond our loudest imagining, that we too are God’s children and that we too are beneficiaries, heirs of God’s creation. We run into the temple and we proclaim God’s love.”

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are coming into the temple and they are bringing their beloved partners and they’re saying it’s God that has done this,” Robinson continued. “What happened in the ancient temple was that the powers that be got really mad.”

Robinson asked the congregation if they were going to be “part of a revised and transformed understanding of what God wants” or instead opt for chaos.

The Episcopalian noted that Jesus and his disciples frequently got into trouble with the authorities for their actions.

“Don’t think that God’s blessing falls just on you,” Robinson said. “You start preaching God’s love for all of God’s children and you will get into trouble.”

Robinson then recounted how he charged those who he ordained to the deaconate to get into “Gospel trouble” and that if they’re not in trouble; it’s not the Gospel that they are preaching.

“In this moment of discernment, think about what you will do,” Robinson charged the congregation, recalling the story of his consecration as bishop, in which he wore a bulletproof vest.

“Death isn’t the worst thing – not living your life is the worst thing. We don’t have to be afraid, ever again.”

“During this period of discernment, are you going to be an admirer only of Jesus, or will you be a disciple?” Robinson asked. “You get to choose. Amen.”

Episcopal Church Bishop Gene Robinson preached at the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in downtown Washington, D.C. on July 18. Foundry and its clergy have been actively involved in the enactment of same-sex marriage in  the Nation’s capital and are now considering performing such unions at the church in contradiction to United Methodist teachings.

Following the service, Robinson met with the congregation for an hour-long question and answer session, in which church members inquired about how they should proceed, specifically on same-sex marriage.

“We belong to a living and breathing church that is better and better discerning God’s will,” Robinson said, outlining his belief that God was expanding the church’s understanding of inclusion.
“As soon as we get through this LGBT issue, there will be someone else,” the bishop posited.

Robinson suggested that if the church somehow lost its status in the denomination, that they continue preaching their message, certain of the end result of history. The bishop said that they would be welcomed back into the United Methodist Church with open arms when the denomination also reached that conclusion.

“It’ll all come tumbling down,” Robinson said, clarifying that he meant the church’s policy, not the United Methodist Church itself.

“You may have some people leave over this,” Robinson cautioned, naming the Falls Church, a large conservative Anglican parish in nearby suburban Virginia that departed the more liberal Episcopal Church along with other congregations. “I hate that, but people have to make their own decisions.”

The Episcopal bishop also explained his views on scriptural prohibitions on homosexual behavior. Episcopalians, Robinson explained, examined the meaning of scripture in its immediate context and only then asked if it applied to them in present day. Robinson claimed that the seven verses specifically prohibiting homosexual behavior were each addressing an understanding of what homosexuality was perceived to be: a disordered action of a heterosexual “behaving badly”, rather than a different orientation. In that context, Robinson said, scripture’s authors were not aware of monogamous committed homosexual partnerships, and thus those were not addressed in scripture.

The New Hampshire bishop did not speak to the wider themes in the Bible about husband and wife, marriage, or the traditions of the church and Hebrew people. He was insistent, however, that Foundry’s decisions in regards to same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general would lead the denomination in a new direction.

“When a church like Foundry stands up, do you think others around the country won’t notice?” Robinson asked. If the sought for changes in Methodism did not result, “you can always come home to the Anglican church,” the bishop said to laughter and clapping.

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