The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Therefore I have drawn you with “loving kindness.” – Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)
Our family, like many others, has joined together over the Christmas holiday from several days to a full week. Our three young adult children and now, a son-in-law and granddaughter, have made this gathering no easy task. Though we live in different states, we leave our respective homes on the east coast, west coast and midwest to meet in a location where interaction with family and friends can take place. We met in Cleveland, Ohio for a number of years, and most recently, Chicago, Illinois, and Montgomery, Alabama.
Our time together is precious because as young adults, our children have busy lives, lots of friends, and job opportunities that provide limited time for us all to be together. 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, unconditionally, unashamedly, as long as we have breath and beyond.
I have heard parents of gay children say this as well when they share with me their joy in the assurance of God’s love for their children; and their disappointment, and often times 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.
I know there are plenty of folks who love the Lord with all their heart, mind and strength and cannot reconcile the presence of LGBTQ+ persons in the Church without saying or believing that their lifestyle or personal romantic relationships are incompatible with their 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, able to share opposing views about our own people seeking to be true to our understanding of faithful witness.
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 throughout the Bible that tells many stories, including the one of love coming down as Emmanuel, God with us.
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 made up predominantly of retired military and most of the members were white. The third was a historic African American church in the city with a few white members. The fourth was a suburban church that had experienced a racial transition.
One time, I preached a sermon entitled, “Is Your Mind Made Up?” where I asked all the left-handed people to stand. There was a once 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 Indiana Annual Conference has persons of all ages and sexual orientations. This is a fact because we are a big family.
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 C. Trimble
“I Love You … Period” is adapted from a chapter in A Faithful Church and a Healthy World published in 2015 by Bishop Julius C. Trimble, while serving in Iowa.