HowellBy James Howell
Friday’s Supreme Court decision was cheered by many, and rainbow flags flew everywhere. Others were grieved - and that was just out there in the culture. Within the church, we sensed a similar variance of emotion over the decision.
The Supreme Court establishes the law of the land – but has no say in what a church will or won’t do. People have always gotten married without the church, but we are special stewards of the covenant of marriage; couples with thin or no belief at all are fond of marrying in chapels and sanctuaries.
We are interested in the legalities of marriage. But our business is sacramental in nature. We think not of legal bonds but divine blessing; we dream of couples who are serious about God, in their lives and relationship; we do what we do best when couples who sense they are being called by God into a lifetime of the vocation that is holy marriage.
There has been and will be disagreement within the church on whom to marry, and whom not to marry. Friday’s decision might have shifted that conversation a smidgeon but didn’t resolve anything. So what is a church to do?
“Love wins” was the victory cry among the “winners” on Friday. But in my sermon on Sunday, I said that in the church, within the Body of Christ, we don’t have and don’t want winners and losers. When there are “sides,” God is saddened.
So how will we be the church at this turning point in history? My dream is that we will love, that love really will win. What I mean is that we will recognize that we disagree, and we will love, and listen, stretch and learn, and strive to be holy together. We can show the world that love and reconciliation are real. You don’t have to get mad and pack your bags and exit if things don’t go your way.
Mind you, the utter, non-negotiable bedrock of the church isn’t the wedding policy. It’s our belief in God, our trust in Jesus Christ, our vision of serving God in the real world with passion and immense love. United Methodism’s 1996 General Conference’s motto was: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” We may not even agree 100% on what is a non-essential. But “in all things, charity” bears no exceptions.
God’s people have always had disagreement on various issues. Knowing how to love through disagreement is a cardinal rule of Methodism. John Wesley wrote, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without a doubt, we may!”
And we can. And we will. We will stick together. We will listen, learn, strive to understand, and never flaunt a victory or sob in defeat, especially if the victory or defeat happens outside the church in a court of law. We will respect the prayerful consciences of others. We will do the one thing we are sure Jesus asks of us, and enables us to do. We will love.
James Howell is Senior Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Adjunct Professor of Preaching at Duke Divinity School. The author of fifteen books, he is a columnist and blogger who has preached all around the world.