As the United Methodist Church stands at an impasse in the decades-old debate over the marriage and ordination of LGBTQ people, a split appears unavoidable. Conservatives accuse liberals of disrespecting the Bible; liberals suggest conservatives are on par with slave-owners and misogynists. At times like this, maybe we don't need better arguments or stronger doctrine; maybe we need more stories. On this episode, former anti-Christian gay activist David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Following Jesus, shares the shocking story of his conversion to Christianity. Maybe God host Eric Huffman reveals, for the first time, his views on homosexuality and the Bible. Also, the remarkable story of a member of The Story Houston that producers didn't see coming.
“I'm so bored of gay marriage. I'm so bored of Christian heterosexual marriage and our obsession with it. It's just so boring. Can we go and live this amazing new reality that Christ brought because it's so much more exciting and he was not obsessed with marriage.”
- David Bennett
Click here for more information about David Bennett. Scroll down for full episode transcript.
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Julie Mirlicourtois:Eric Huffman.
Eric Huffman:Yes. Julie. Miraculous.
Julie Mirlicourtois:And you still can't say my last name, can you?
Eric Huffman:No one can. No one can, but miraculous is more fun to say anyway.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Have I mentioned that we have almost 2,000 new listeners, and counting, since the release of our episode last week?
Eric Huffman:I've heard you mention that a few times, and it has been a really exciting week around here. Hopefully all those new listeners are leaving their reviews on iTunes so that even more people can hear about Maybe God, but what exactly are you getting at?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Well, what I'm thinking is that we should stop while we're ahead. This episode is gonna be hard for a lot of people, and I feel like it would be easier if we just moved on to some other topics that just aren't so personal, controversial.
Eric Huffman:Okay, but what exactly did you have in mind that's less controversial?
Julie Mirlicourtois:I don't know, maybe some politics, racism, why cats make better pets than dogs. Just about anything would be less controversial than this.
Eric Huffman:You might be right, but since when do we shy away from the tough topics?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Okay. That's a good point. Here we go.
Radio:(Maybe God Intro)
Eric Huffman:Welcome everyone to part two of Do Queer People Belong in the Church? If you missed part one, please stop now and go back. It's an in-depth and unbiased look at the issues surrounding same-sex attraction and Christianity. It sets up the debate inside the Methodist Church that's been brewing for over 40 years, and potentially coming to a head this weekend. As we're recording right now, 864 delegates from around the world are flying to St. Louis, Missouri to decide whether the United Methodist Church should allow same-sex marriage in coordination with openly gay people.
Julie Mirlicourtois:What we learned in part one, and what I've learned from producing these episodes, is that this debate is about so much more than same-sex attraction. I always assumed before I became a Christian that churches just don't like gay people, and I know that happens sometimes, but for the overwhelming majority of congregations, it all comes down to one question. How should we treat the Bible? How seriously should we take it? Especially its moral teachings. That's really what lies at the heart of this conversation.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, I really agree with Rob Renfrow in our last episode. I think the church is guilty of following our sex obsessed culture, and making this the presenting issue for something that's really much deeper. Like you said, it's biblical authority.
Eric Huffman:And we're also guilty of following the culture around us into a polarized and political debate where there is a political right, and a political left, inside the church. And Jesus wasn't about left and right. He didn't come to take sides. He came to take over. And so we need to escape this tendency of boxing each other in.
Julie Mirlicourtois:And how would you suggest we do that?
Eric Huffman:Well, I think we can start by doing what Jesus did, just telling stories that help people form a bridge from one side to the other.
Julie Mirlicourtois:That's exactly why we created this podcast.
Eric Huffman:Exactly. Exactly. Jesus didn't attack issues like they're left or right, or black and white. He wasn't a politician. He told stories, and his stories really cut through all the political noise, and got to the heart of the matter. And I just think that on an issue like this, we need to hear fewer debates and fewer doctrines and more stories.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Okay Eric. I dig it. And I've got one for you and our listeners.
David Bennett:I'm David Bennett and I've just released my first book, “A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus”. Obviously, a bit of a controversial title there, but really it's a story of how-
Julie Mirlicourtois:David used to be an anti-Christian gay activist, but now he's on a mission to help-
David Bennett:Christians understand the gay community, and the gay community understand Christians, and hopefully-
Julie Mirlicourtois:Simply by telling his story.
Eric Huffman:You sat down for an interview with David via Skype. What time was that interview?
Julie Mirlicourtois:It was at 4 AM our time, 10 AM where David lives. He's from Australia originally, but today he's a fellow at the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics in England. And so when David agreed to speak with me, I really didn't care what time it was. I was prepared to do just about anything for our audience to enter into his experience, as David would say.
David Bennett:My parents were both Atheists, or Agnostics, and they kind of laughed at the idea of the existence of God, and I shared that view. And I had a few relatives that were Christians, but we could never really understand how they could be that intelligent, and believe in something so ridiculously stupid. So there was that kind of God doesn't exist.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Even though David was raised by non-believers, he was exposed to Christianity really most of his life. He attended a Christian boy school. And when he turned 14, he just couldn't ignore his feelings for other boys anymore, but the messages he'd received from the Christian community about homosexuality really upset him, to the point that he even considered killing himself.
Eric Huffman:Wow. So was he 14 when he came out?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Yep. 14.
Eric Huffman:Okay. And how did those Christian relatives of his react when he did come out?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Well, when he came out to one of his cousins, the cousin actually said to him, "David, you can't accept Satan. Satan gave you those desires. You need God to change you." And David wasn't willing to change. So at that point, David believed he was completely disqualified from the love of God.
David Bennett:And that's when I remember really struggling with self-rejection, and so I opted to exchange self-disclosure, so always like, "Hi, I'm David. I'm gay," and that would be the first thing people would hear. And really like constantly in your face about my sexual orientation. And if you have a problem with it, I have a problem with you.
David Bennett:I remember this really interesting moment where I was with one of my boyfriends in a park in Central Sydney. My boyfriend at the time was handing me a gift. It was like an amber cross that he put in my hand. And he was from a traditional Christian background. I was like, "How could you get me a symbol of oppression as a present?" Like I just didn't understand his kind of nominal faith. And as he handed me this, he kissed me, and a man put up on a motorbike, took a large stone from the garden bed and then proceeded to throw it against my back.
David Bennett:I just remember this rage filling me, and looking at this cross in my mind going, "That's the reason that I'm oppressed, or I don't have liberation. It's Christianity that's the problem." I just remember saying to my token feminist friend, "Mark my words. I'll never become a Christian."
Julie Mirlicourtois:When David got to college, he felt safe living as an openly gay man, and that's when he became this anti-Christian gay activist, which is kind of funny. I've heard people call themselves gay activists, but not anti-Christian gay activists. He marched across Sydney fighting for marriage equality. He worked to change marriage laws. And any time he heard Christians say they were against gay marriage, he would become completely enraged.
David Bennett:The Christian union posters at university, they put a lot of the posters over the gay marriage march posters that had been put up the day before. And so I went and got a huge pile of them, and just took a staple gun, and stapled them all over the Christian union posters. I just remember feeling this sense of justice against Christianity that was to blame for why LGBTQI people had been oppressed.
Julie Mirlicourtois:As hard as he fought for LGBTQ rights, David never felt quite at home in the gay dating scene. He remembers feeling starved for intimacy. He always pictured himself in this committed monogamous relationship, and that wasn't really the norm where he was at that time of his life in university. So he never really could seem to find what he was looking for.
Eric Huffman:So what did he do to fill the void?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Not what you might expect. His loneliness sent him on a spiritual journey.
Eric Huffman:A spiritual journey, but he was still an Atheist at this point?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Yeah. Yeah. But he spent years trying to satisfy what he calls a deep spiritual hunger.
David Bennett:I've done Buddhist meditation. I've cast Wiccan spells. I've been at New Age bookstores. I've done Aura Soma. I don't know. I've been a reformed Jew for 6 weeks. St. Louis says if I find in myself a desire, nothing in this world can satisfy that I know I was made for another world. And so, there was always this incessant knowledge that I was made for something more, and none of my boyfriends and none of the cultural things that I was doing, my activism, my political engagement at university, could fill that void.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Okay Eric. Are you ready to hear my favorite conversion story ever?
Eric Huffman:Definitely. Please.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So it was December 25th, 2008. David is having Christmas lunch with his family, including his Fundamentalist Christian aunt and uncle, who he called his cultural enemies.
David Bennett:And my uncle makes some comment about God, and I just launch into this tirade. "Well, you Christians think you understand reality. Let me tell you, there is no God, and there is no absolute truth. You can't even communicate truth with language, let alone talk to me about God. It's all just ridiculous. You're all deluded. And what about gay people? What about women? What about other religions? What about suffering?"
David Bennett:And my uncle just turned around to me and said, "Well David, there's two problems with what you're saying. One, you just said there's no absolute truth, and that is an absolute truth. And then you just communicated that with language, so you just doubly contradicted yourself."
David Bennett:So I got up, and stormed out of the room quite dramatically, and tried to close the door behind me. And the whole family's there with their hands in their faces like, "Oh David's just gone off." And my uncle got into the car. After that conversation, he told my aunt that he saw the Holy Spirit over me, and that I'm a Christian in 3 months time.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So exactly three months later, March 25th, 2009, 19 year old David walks into a pub one street away from the gay corner of Sydney to meet some friends.
David Bennett:And this young bright and bushy-tailed film-maker was there, and I just asked her what inspired her film, and how she got into the largest short film competition in the world. And she said, "It was God." And so this same reaction that I had with my uncle was about to ensue, but there was something about her that was different. There was this authenticity that I couldn't shake, and we ended up talking about God, and I said, "Look, I'm gay. I've read Romans 1:1 Corinthians 69 and Leviticus 1820. I'm fine. Your bout's not interested in me. Thanks."
David Bennett:And she just said, "Well David, have you experienced the love of God? Because you can't understand anything about yourself ultimately until you've experienced his love."
David Bennett:There was just something about the way she asked me that question that was so not Bible-bashing. It was so not, "I'm just trying to convert you so I feel good about myself and I can put something on my belt to say look, another person's saved." It was just like an apparent fact to her, the reality of God's presence and existence.
Julie Mirlicourtois:The young filmmaker told David how strongly she felt God's presence with him, and asked David if she could pray for him.
David Bennett:And so I said yes, you can pray for me, but I don't think that anything's gonna happen. Good luck. And so she prays for me, and I experience this incredible presence on the top of my head, and I felt this oil coming on the top of my head like someone pouring oil over my head, and then this power went through my whole body, and suddenly I hear this voice say, "Do you want me?" And I was an Atheist. Like a voice coming out and saying, "Do you want me?" It actually really scared me, this moment. And yet I was so intrigued by this question. It was as if there's a voice speaking to me knew exactly the deepest place in me, exactly what I wanted, and I said yes. And I saw this veil over my heart, and then this pin-prick of light went straight into my innermost being, and I felt someone breathing inside of me.
David Bennett:And so I said to this girl, "I'm breathing without breathing. What's happening to me?" And she's like, "You're being born again." And this voice again said, "Will you accept my son Jesus as your lord and savior?" And there was a part of me that goes, "Oh no, it's the Christian God. I have to face this reality I don't really wanna face as a gay man." And then it was like a tug of war over my soul for like 5 minutes, and I felt this darkness saying, "Don't. Say yes. Just move away, get away from here." And this other very quiet voice that wasn't insistent, but just was very confident saying, "You need to say yes. This is real. This is true." And it was a voice of light as opposed to darkness.
David Bennett:So logically in this moment, I'm like why would I ever choose the dark voice? Like who wants darkness? Like you want light, right? That's the point. So I said yes.
Julie Mirlicourtois:David left the pub and went straight home to see his mom, who had just become a Christian herself.
David Bennett:I had to eat my words, because I'd said, "You have to choose between the delusion in your head and your real son standing in front of you." And there I was. And I said, "Well, I just think I've become a Christian." And she told me that she'd prayed to God and said, "If you're the God of the impossible as you say, David's impossible to save, so if you save him, I will know you're the God of the impossible, and I'll give you my whole life."
Julie Mirlicourtois:Okay. What do you think Eric? Have you ever heard anything like that before?
Eric Huffman:Not really. No. It's incredible to think about this guy who had built his whole life, his whole identity, around a certain set of arguments or beliefs that were in every way contrary to the Christian world view. And it was not convenient or expedient for him to do this. It meant swallowing all of his pride. And surrendering to this set of beliefs that he had committed himself against, and he had to go and face his family and say, "You were right. Thank you for praying for me. I'm one of you now." That's profound.
Julie Mirlicourtois:What does it say to you that this conversion happened inside a pub close to the gay quarter in Sydney? I mean, what does it say about the nature of God?
Eric Huffman:I think we're surprised consistently when we pay attention to the ways God reaches people in different places, in different ways, and that there is no place, and no pub, and no neighborhood, nowhere, that is outside the reach of his grace.
David Bennett:I really think that God is so very different to our stereotype of him. The God that I've discovered in Jesus is way more fun, way more alive, way more loving, and just real than the God I thought existed. And I think a lot of us who are Atheists-
Julie Mirlicourtois:David's Atheist and Agnostic friends didn't understand his conversion inside that pub. They called his new beliefs just another phase, and some of his gay friends turned on him and called him a traitor. But he was convinced that what he'd experienced was an authentic experience, so he stopped going to gay bars, and started going to church.
Eric Huffman:How did the people there treat him?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Well, he actually went to two churches in the beginning. One was a super liberal church with a large gay community, and they supported same-sex marriage. The other was his aunt and uncle's church. Remember the ones from the Christmas lunch?
Julie Mirlicourtois:That church was much more traditional in its views, and they were open about their belief that homosexuality is sinful, but that didn't stop them from pouring love into David.
Eric Huffman:I think that's a pretty common situation in churches. I think a lot of liberal churches, not all, but many liberal churches will focus on the big social issues of our day, sometimes political issues, and it's the opposite in a lot of traditional churches. There's not a lot of attention being paid to those social justice issues. And all you ever really hear in those churches being emphasized is your personal relationship with God, your personal sin, coming clean yourself so that you personally can be saved.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So that's exactly what happened. He spent so many years up until this point focused on the social issues, but at this point in his life, he felt compelled to work on his own relationship with God, and work through the questions he had about his own sexuality with God in an intimate way. And so that's why he chose to go to his family's more traditional church.
Julie Mirlicourtois:And one Sunday, he heard God's voice speaking to him, and I just, I have to share this with you, Eric.
Eric Huffman:All right.
Julie Mirlicourtois:God told him, "David, don't worry about the question of your sexuality. Enjoy me. Love me. And practice my royal law. Love your neighbor as yourself. Your sexuality seems like a mountain to you. It is a grain of sand to me."
Eric Huffman:Wow. So after that, how did David end up reconciling his faith and his sexuality?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Well, it's not an easy answer. At first he continued to have same-sex partners, but the more he wrestled with God, the more he felt like he was called to lead a very different life.
David Bennett:When I first became a Christian, I thought that there was this temptation to think that I was damaged goods, that I was gay. Other people are straight. They can go live the nice white picket fence nuclear family reality. But as I went deeper and deeper with Jesus, I realized actually having same-sex attraction, or desires, or being gay, that reality was actually a blessing in disguise, because what it allowed me to do was to be free from the idles of our culture, which were marriage, romantic love, a false kind of piety, if you like. I found was quite common in the Christian world.
David Bennett:And so I was rescued from that because of my weaknesses. So suddenly this weakness became a source of a place where God manifested his glory. So I look at Jesus, and his life, and his personhood, and everyone rejected him because he was a crucified messiah. Like the idea of a messiah being crucified to a Jewish person is absolutely ludicrous. Like how could you be a crucified messiah. Like you're the king of Israel. You're meant to be mighty with an army and destroy the Romans, come in and save, and you're just gonna restore everything, and all the gentiles are going to become proper Jews, and it's gonna be great.
David Bennett:And here's Jesus, the actual messiah, and he's crucified. And it's his weaknesses. It's his body. It's his humanity that becomes the site for God to manifest his glory and his victory. If we worship this messiah, then what does that have to say about our sexuality? Our sexual weaknesses or [inaudible 00:20:35]. That will be the thing that God will manifest his kingdom through.
David Bennett:And so it's not in spite of our weaknesses or our [inaudible 00:20:43] that God chooses us. It's actually because of it. Because if we're constantly running away from our weaknesses, and we don't boast of them, and we're not real about them, that's when this false Christian moralistic culture can take root. And I think that culture has destroyed the church, and the witness of the church, in our culture. And people are just sick of that.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Over a period of three years, David's relationship with Jesus grew deeper and deeper until eventually there was no doubt in his mind anymore that God was asking him to choose celibacy, something that David never imagined for himself.
David Bennett:It's about giving myself to God in devotion, and that doesn't mean that I'm repressing myself. I'm trusting God with those desires, that he will ultimately fulfill them. I think the story of my life is really a testament to the fact when you experience his love, suddenly something of all of that shifts and you really discover who he is. And I think as human beings, we're constantly trying to establish our identities, and if we try to establish our identities on something about self, that's when we're in danger. But when we actually establish our identity on who God is, his identity, then it's like everything is enchanted. Everything works.
David Bennett:So when people say to me, "Oh, but you're gay, and you're celibate, and you're never gonna have sex," it's like yeah, but you're in another way of understanding reality and existence that I'm not in anymore. I don't sign up to that. I've experienced God, like the real thing, and I think that's an amazing testament to carry, but I think for a lot of people, that's also hard to hear when you haven't experienced it. I would just say be open. Go on your journey honestly, and authentically, and really seek God. The Bible says if you seek him with all your heart, he will reveal himself to you.
David Bennett:And I think sometimes God allows us to be plunged into the darkness, into the not knowing, into difficulties, so that we actually turn to him and really seek him.
Julie Mirlicourtois:And this is probably what struck me most about David's story, because in my mind, I always felt like celibacy was something that was imposed on people. But David's story is so different. He spent his whole life up until this conversion completely ignoring everyone's rules, and living by his own, until he found what he calls this great love that satisfied his desires for human sexual intimacy. And he's actually still a rebel of sorts, but now in the Christian world. Because even though he's not having sex, he still calls himself-
David Bennett:A celibate gay Christian.
Julie Mirlicourtois:And that annoys some Christians on both the conservative and the liberal side. Do you know why, Eric?
Eric Huffman:I think so. To put it bluntly, I think it's because he challenges both sides' comfortable assumptions. And on the conservative side, I think a lot of Christians wish that people like David wouldn't identify as gay anymore, that we'd like to think maybe after you find Jesus and you earnestly repent of your sin, and you wanna be a Christian, that you're not gay anymore. And David's like, "Ah, that's not how it works guys."
Eric Huffman:And on the other side, I think more progressive or liberal Christians wish David would lay off the whole celibate thing, because the assumption there is that gay sexual activity is part of the fall. It's inherently sinful. And that challenges their assumption. That's not the message they want to talk about. So David's making everybody uncomfortable. He's kind of like an Old Testament prophet in that way.
David Bennett:So I think it's a much greater, bigger thing that actually people say, "I'm a celibate gay Christian," and that they use the word gay, because I think orientation is completely independent of your chosen sexual ethic. I say you don't choose your embodiment, but you choose what to do with that embodiment. And I think Christians need to understand that people didn't choose to be same-sex attracted or gay, but they are. That's part of their reality. And that will be transformed in the resurrection. But right now, they're still groaning. They're still-
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:25:04]
David Bennett:But right now they're still groaning. There's still waiting for that redemption and what they do with those groans and that weakness has massive importance in the Kingdom of God.
Eric Huffman:So does David believe you can be a faithful follower of Jesus and be in a same sex monogamous relationship?
Julie Mirlicourtois:You know what? I asked him and I honestly didn't expect him to answer. Because that's where you can really offend some people, right? But what I love about him is how honest he is.
David Bennett:I think ultimately, no, there's a point at which that is not an option. Homosexuality is not an evangelistic issue, it's a discipleship issue. Once you've discovered Jesus and you've tasted the powers of the age to common and you're in this new reality. Are you going to live in the fullness of that or are you going to go back to the old creation reality? And so for me, a same sex relationship is part of the old creation in reality and it's incompatible with a new dawn of resurrection that's coming.
David Bennett:That's why I'm ultimately against it for myself. It's because I have tasted a better reality. I say to my friends, I'm so bored of gay marriage, I'm so bored of Christian heterosexual marriage and our obsession with it. It's just so boring. I'm bored. Can we go and live this amazing new reality that Christ brought because it's so much more exciting. And he wasn't not obsessed with marriage. He was in love with the people that he came to save and he gave his life for them and he showed us this other horizon or intimacy and desire that was just so much better. And I just want to live that out with my 70 years of life left.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Do you agree that everyone is obsessed with marriage?
Eric Huffman:Absolutely. I hesitate to say that however, because I make hundreds of dollars a year on weddings.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Hundreds? That's it?
Eric Huffman:Well it depends on the year, but I do think it's an obsession. I think we worship at the idol of romantic love as a culture and as a church. And I think I agree with him that it is a boring thing to be obsessed about. The Bible does say in the New Testament, it does say that marriage is basically for the weak. Marriage is a lesser calling and singleness is the most faithful way to live out your faith.
Eric Huffman:Living for Jesus, serving him, loving your neighbor, looking out for the world around you. Those things are things you can't really do as well if you're distracted by keeping food on the table for your kids or pleasing your spouse. And so the highest calling is singleness and celibacy is as David Bennett has said and is chasing, that seems out of reach for most of us. And so I do understand, I have mercy, when we need to get married, we need to have a normal life, quote unquote. But I do think Christians should continue to lift up in an aspirational way, the value of the single life.
Julie Mirlicourtois:It sounds like what David is is something that could actually be useful for straight singles to keep in mind too, something I wish I had heard when I was single.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. I think we treat singleness like it's a holding pattern until your life really starts. I don't know the right way around that other than to continue to insist on lifting up your time as a single person, if it's 10 years or if it's your whole life, as incredibly worthy and full of potential and powerful in its own right. I think one of the most powerful points of what David is describing about celibacy is not what you lose out on, but what you gain. We're not only obsessed with romantic love, we're obsessed with sex, sexual expression, gratification, whatever and we can't live without it. What is that? If you've got something that controls you to the point that you're convinced you can't live without it. What does that, if not an addiction? It's slavery. And if you could so fall in love with some other vision for your life, how liberating would that be for all of us, myself included. You know my past with impulsiveness and sexual addiction as it relates to pornography. I mean, this vision that David casts is it's gripping.
David Bennett:I want to invite that community to come and experience God and to know him and the rest will work itself out. I think instead of trying to say this is the moral program, you have to work that out existentially with God. But I can tell you, you can have the best gay relationship in the world and you can go to all the gay parties and have all the pride marches you like. But until you experience the love of God in Jesus Christ, you are missing the greatest single most thing in your life.
David Bennett:All of these attempts to live any other horizon, but the love of God, it's not going to fulfill you and it might feel like it does for a time. But deep down there's this itch, there's this desire for more and that is only found in Jesus. So I think I'd say that gay person, don't fear, trust God. Even though there's all that stuff with the church and everything in our culture warring against trusting God, just trust him and he will show you how to live an even more meaningful life than what's being offered up by the world.
Eric Huffman:I think this man is just remarkable. I've spent 20 years as an adult hearing the Christian left and religious rights stand on their soap boxes and go after each other and then along comes David Bennett, this gay Christian who doesn't fit neatly into either tribe and in fact he's offending both sides equally, which sounds really familiar to me. It sounds a lot like Jesus.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Totally. Okay, Eric, now it's time to talk about you.
Eric Huffman:Ah, oh boy.
Julie Mirlicourtois:When we started these episodes two months ago, we really weren't sure how much of your heart to share here. And so, you do have a really strong opinion about all this and I'll be completely upfront. I'm not sure I share that opinion 100%. I'm still sorting this all out in my heart
Eric Huffman:And that's okay with me. I don't expect everyone to think like I do. That would be quite boring. The story has always been diverse theologically and ideologically and I really like it that way. I hope that never ever changes.
Julie Mirlicourtois:I hear that. But there have still been times while planning his episodes, I felt inclined to just sweep it all under the rug and move on to the next topic only because I want so badly for people to see Christians how I see them today. Open, vulnerable, loving, sacrificial, willing to walk alongside anyone in need from prisoners to the homeless, to widows and the gay community. A true Christian community like the story Houston is honestly one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed.
Eric Huffman:I get that and I have some of the same fears. I think issues related to the Bible and specifically sexuality are the biggest stumbling blocks for non Christians. And I never want to be that guy who's throwing more obstacles in people's way toward God. But I think we can both agree that there a lot of value and virtue in transparency.
Julie Mirlicourtois:There is.
Eric Huffman:And until now I really haven't been very transparent myself. Until last week I've only had this kind of conversation with the five or so percent of members in our community who identify as gay. I always felt from the beginning that it was important to be up front with them so that they don't feel deceived later on. I wanted them to know how loved they are, how much I love them, how much God loves them. And even though we may not agree on issues related to marriage and ordination, I wanted them to know that they belong here.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So why are you feeling the need now to share this with a much wider audience?
Eric Huffman:Hopefully people who listen to the podcast or come to the story know by now where my heart is. And I hope even if we don't fully agree on this one topic, that can be okay and we can still be friends. But as with all of our episodes, we're asking people to consider a new perspective. And what made me decide to come out now with my own views was basically my own growing frustration with the quality of the conversation going on inside the United Methodist Church.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So since you've never talked about homosexuality at the story Houston before, you recently had a special service to prepare the congregation for these episodes coming out.
Eric Huffman:I feel extra protective of people who are gay or lesbian in the church because of the harm that's been done. We must sit with the reality that we've done harm as a church. We've pushed people away and our hypocrisy is glaring to those outside the church.
Julie Mirlicourtois:I want to start by sharing a story that you told that night that really put a lot of things in perspective for so many of us. It's from Acts chapter eight.
Eric Huffman:Right. The story of the eunuch from Ethiopia. This is after the birth of the church and the church is starting to take off like wildfire. It says, "Now, an angel of the Lord said to Philip, go south to the road." Philip was an apostle and one of the early church leaders, desert road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. So we started out known as way he met an Ethiopian eunuch
Julie Mirlicourtois:Based on what we know about eunuch this man was probably orphaned as a young boy and castrated around the time he was eight. This particular man was working for the Queen in Ethiopia.
Eric Huffman:Awful experience to be eunuchs. You can imagine the trauma that he experienced, physical, emotional, otherwise, not to mention the loneliness of being an orphan.
Julie Mirlicourtois:The Eunuch went to Jerusalem to worship during the Jewish high holy season, maybe sent by the queen is a political move, but he's not allowed inside the Jerusalem temple. Why not?
Eric Huffman:Well, because according to Jewish law at the time, only Hebrew men in good standing, we're allowed to be inside of the temple. In fact, there's one verse in the Old Testament that says that any man who's genitals were cut off or damaged was no longer in good standing before God. So that meant this eunuch was not allowed inside.
Eric Huffman:The point is this man, his whole life was sexually other, and he didn't belong with the people of God according to the letter of the law. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. Then the spirit told Philip and go to that chariot and stay near it. So Philip ran up to the chariot, ran beside the chariot as the chariot's rolling along, the Ethiopians in the chariot reading from the Prophet Isaiah and Phillip said, "Do you understand what you're reading?" And this line just kind of wrecks me. The Ethiopian eunuch, the other said, "How can I, unless someone explains it to me?"
Eric Huffman:Do you hear his heart and the hearts of a million others who feel pushed away before anyone explains to them what the gospel means and how to read it and understand it for themselves? How can I, unless someone explains it to me? And so he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Julie Mirlicourtois:The passage the eunuch was reading from the Old Testament was the prophet Isaiah prediction that the Jewish Messiah, when he comes, we'll be humiliated and cut and he will bleed and die alone. The eunuch wanted to know more about this prophet
Eric Huffman:Why is he so curious about this prophet, this Messiah who was humiliated, who was cut, who was alone? You think a eunuch such as this Ethiopian might've resonated with the, like Jesus? Do you think you felt personally connected to this figure? Of course? So he wanted to know him. He wanted to know this rejected savior. Then Phillip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus and as they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?"
Eric Huffman:Let me tell you right now, Philip, as a leader in the church could have answered that question in a thousand different ways. He could have said, "Well, Mr Ethiopian Eunuch, I need to take it back to the baptism committee and we're going to have to get back to you on this. Well, we love you, but ..." He said none of those things. He gave orders to stop the chariot and both Phillip and the eunuch went down into the water and Phillip baptized him.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Why is the story so important to share?
Eric Huffman:I think it's because in the early Christian Church in a time that was even more fragmented and more tribal than ours is today, there was this poor Jewish rabbi named Jesus who started a movement. And in that movement, everyone was being welcomed. Everyone was being ushered into the Kingdom of God. And the only sin that really sent Jesus over the edge to the point of threatening a hell fire and damnation was the sin of religious leaders putting stumbling blocks in people's way.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So that sounds like some Christian leaders today.
Eric Huffman:It does. And that should scare us as leaders. I'm speaking to my tribe now, to pastors. We have to be very, very careful about how we handle issues like this.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Have you baptized openly gay people?
Eric Huffman:Yes, I have. Of course. And just a few months ago, I baptize the infant of an openly gay married couple in our church. And I did it without hesitation and I would do it again.
Julie Mirlicourtois:That didn't sit so well with everyone, did it?
Eric Huffman:No, unfortunately.
Eric Huffman:Sebastian, look at this water. Sebastian, I baptize you in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit that you always know, no matter what comes your way in this life, little man, you're never alone. The God of all creation is by your side and in your heart. Amen. Why don't you welcome, Sebastian into your family today.
Eric Huffman:It was right in the middle of our pledge drive. And during that service, that day, people were texting in their financial commitments for 2019 and one pledge that came in during that service was really substantial. It was well into the tens of thousands of dollars. But at the end of that service, after I baptized Blake and Benji's baby boy, that couple sent another text message in which they said, "We withdraw our pledge and we'll be praying about whether we can continue to support this church."
Eric Huffman:Yeah. So afterward I reached out to them and they were genuinely sad and upset because to them that baptism felt like an endorsement of gay marriage.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So in your 20 years as a pastor, have you ever performed a same sex wedding?
Eric Huffman:No, I have not.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Because of the Methodist rule book.
Eric Huffman:In the early days of my ministry, it was because of the rule book. I said in part one of this episode that I started out in ministry as a radical liberal activist, and that's true. And in those days, the only thing that kept me from doing same sex weddings was the rule book. Because back then it was different for me. Jesus was not my Lord, he was just a leader for me. He was just a half step above MLK and Gandhi and guys like that. And so I didn't really live with a sense of submission before him. I liked him, but I didn't worship him then.
Eric Huffman:And all of that really changed six years ago when for the first time in my adult life, I was overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, not just by his teachings or his words. I felt him for the first time and I surrendered to that. When Jesus becomes your God, the book that presented him to you is far more important all the sudden, and it's far more credible all of a sudden because Jesus took the Bible seriously. So I knew I needed to start doing the same, even if it meant admitting that I'd been wrong about some things because I had been wrong. And even if it meant losing some friends and I did lose some friends. But when Jesus becomes your God, you can't keep ignoring the Bible's moral guidance, even on matters like sexuality, just because you don't like what it has to say. And as I started taking the Bible more seriously, it became clearer to me that same sex weddings were not part of God's good and perfect will for humanity.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So now, even though you wear skinny jeans and you get your cool hair cut from a tattooed gay hairdresser at a super hip salon that serves you whiskey while you wait.
Eric Huffman:That's all true.
Julie Mirlicourtois:You're putting yourself out there at the risk of being boxed in as a conservative Christian who is seen as unloving and bigoted.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. I mean, I guess that's right.
Julie Mirlicourtois:But that's not who you are at all. I've known you and your wife and co-pastor Geovanna for almost four years now. And together you've created the most loving and authentic community of new Christians that's literally changing lives. I mean, I've seen every week healing families, embracing all people, including queer people, and in the spirit of total vulnerability, my husband may not like this, saving marriages, including my own.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. I mean, I've been affected by this powerful community too. And for me, I'll just say that this issue we're talking about in this episode should be so far down the list of concerns that we Christians hardly even talk about it. But sometimes it feels like it's all we're ever talking about and why? I think it's because talking about other people's sins is so much easier and more fun than talking about our own. And we single out queer people in the queer community so we don't have to deal with our own greed and selfishness and pride and gluttony. I don't want to deal with any of that.
Eric Huffman:And so historically, Christianity's treatment of gay and lesbian people has just been a disaster and it has been just an abomination because we're talking about human beings here with beating hearts and eternal souls. So we shouldn't be reduced to a political football or just a gay agenda or something. These are people made in God's image, so we Christians, we've got to do better.
Julie Mirlicourtois:I really hope people can keep all of that that you just said in mind when they listen to this next part of your talk. This is where you explain to the story Houston why you believe the Bible's teachings about sex and marriage are still valid for Christians today.
Eric Huffman:Here is one thing that I think is clear that we can clear up from that whole debate is that in Bible times there was such a thing as homosexuality, especially in the new testament time and the Greco Roman world. It was known and in many circles accepted life for two people with the same gender to have a life together. And so the idea that the Bible speaks to something that didn't exist then that does exist now is at best that chronological snobbery we talk about some times where we look back down our noses at the past, like those Dark Ages, those people, they knew as much about homosexuality as we do today.
Eric Huffman:What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality or homosexual people? The first place to begin is everyone's favorite book of Leviticus, which always garners that kind of reaction because people tend to want to just throw Leviticus out and whenever we talk about these passages from Leviticus that prohibit homosexual acts, people say inevitably, invariably, well, have you eaten any shellfish today? Which is to say Leviticus also prohibits eating shellfish, and if we're eating shellfish, then how can we really say we're taking Leviticus seriously?
Eric Huffman:Basically the argument there is that we're picking and choosing. The issue there with that particular argument is that in the New Testament there is a resolution on the shellfish issue. In the New Testament, in Acts chapter 10 God sends a vision to Peter saying there is no food that is inherently unclean. And so there is a resolution within the Canon of scripture itself about such an issue. The same is true for the slavery question. You'll often hear people say, "Well, the Bible is also a pro slavery. And so if the Bible's pro slavery, why should we take it seriously on any moral issue like sexuality or sexual orientation issues."
Eric Huffman:That's a good point except for the fact again, that there is a clear movement through scripture itself away from slavery. In the Old Testament, in the prophets through Isaiah, for example, God is clearly calling his people to be better than slavery. And then Jesus in Luke chapter four when he's sitting in the synagogue and his hometown, he's given the scroll to read from in worship for the first time that we know of and he stands up to read from the scroll and he selects a passage from Isaiah where he says, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me," And among other things he says, "To set the captives or the prisoners or the slaves free."
Eric Huffman:Jesus's mission statement involves the end of slavery, so we have to deal with these passages in another way. Y'all follow me? You don't have to agree with me. You have to follow me. Leviticus says, "You shall not lie with a male, as with a woman, it's an abomination." First Corinthians 6:9-11, or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived now that the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves, nor the greedy or drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.
Eric Huffman:These are hard teachings I recognize, but I want you to see that as far as the Bible's concerned, if the Bible is to be our book, our primary source of authority as it pertains to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, there's not much wiggle room here, y'all. It's pretty clear that God's ideal at creation for human sexual expression was that which takes place between a man and a woman in the context of covenant marriage. And so by definition, anything outside of that, any sexual act or expression outside of that is inherently sinful, not in that you'll go to hell if you do it, but in the sense that there is an objective ideal, a truth, a good with a capital G that God sets as the standard for sexuality or anything else, and anything that falls short of that is, by definition, sin. It doesn't mean that LGBT people are an abomination or somehow extra sinful or somehow bound for hell more so than the rest of us.
Eric Huffman:I hope that the answer there is self evident. I hope I don't have to explain it, but those of you that don't know me or this church or maybe you've had bad experiences in church where the answer would be yes, I hope you hear me say emphatically, no. That is not what that means. And any Christians who want to take those passages out of context and send a whole bunch of people to hell because the phone, they're probably just covering up their own sin. Anybody that's so eager to point the finger and condemn a whole bunch of people they don't even know instead of loving them and making a way for them to know Jesus, I dunno, I'll see one too many Ted Haggards in my life.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So how should we treat gay people in our church, Eric, whether they're celibate, we're married?
Eric Huffman:I think we could start by not labeling or stereotyping people. Queer people are just people and Jesus said, love people. So let's do that. And I think that means friendship. If you're a Christian and you don't have any gay friends, I think that's a problem.
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:50:04]
Eric Huffman:If you're a Christian and you don't have any gay friends, I think that's a problem. And I don't mean the say hi in the donut line at church kind of friends. I mean the have them over for dinner once a month kind of friends. That's love. Christians ask me all the time, "Hey, should I go to my gay friend's wedding? They invited me. Should I go?" Yes, you should go. "Yeah, but isn't that enabling their sin?" Listen, if you're really friends and if you've been honest with them, they know where you stand. So by showing up to their wedding, you're not saying, "Hey, I changed my mind and it's all good now." You're saying, "Hey, God changed my heart and I love you no matter what." Your job as a Christian isn't to make a point or win an argument. Your job is to be Jesus to people.
Eric Huffman:What do we see when we look at Jesus in the New Testament? He's always hanging out with sinners and all kinds of people on their turf. The Bible doesn't say he hung out with them because they left their sin behind and started living the right way. He hung out with them because he loved them, full stop.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Wow, that's really powerful. What do you tell a gay person who comes to your office for advice about their sexual orientation?
Eric Huffman:Well, I tell them thank you, first of all, because that shows a lot of trust in me, so I'm grateful. I also tell them that I'm sorry if the church has harmed them or damaged them some way in the past. Then, I tell them that nowhere in the Bible does it say that being gay is a sin. Same-sex attraction is not a sin, biblically speaking. Your orientation is not a deal-breaker for God. You are not an abomination for God.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So then what do you prescribe to people? Do you prescribe celibacy?
Eric Huffman:I'm not really interested in prescribing anything for queer people. The New Testament does say that celibacy is the highest calling, but it says that for all of us. And so, even straight Christians, that's our highest calling. So I think it's unfair for the church to be pointing fingers at one group of people saying, "You guys better be celibate or else," when the rest of us aren't willing to do the same thing. And so, it's better I think if we focus on just loving people, loving them with the grace and the truth of God, being the kind of community that says, "We love you just the way you are. We're going to be honest with you whenever you need accountability, but we love you unconditionally." And until churches are I think willing to welcome queer people into membership, and small groups in the life of the church, just telling them to be celibate or else is unfair and unloving, and I just don't think it works.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Within the Christian community, there are a few paths that gay people have chosen from once they've accepted Jesus. Some Christians feel strongly that God doesn't want to deny them a partner, this is like Bishop Oliveto, as long as they're in a monogamous relationship. These Christians call themselves Side A Christians. Others like David Bennett believe God is calling them to live celibate lives. And so, he's a Side B Christian. And there's another choice that some Side B Christians make. We weren't actually planning on talking about this option at all. It can be really hard for people to understand, until a young woman from our church actually approached us after your talk.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, that was pretty cool. We were already in full production mode on both parts of this episode, and it was almost like God was saying, "Guys, wait. I've got one more story for you to share with your listeners."
Aimee:I am Aimee. I am a nurse. I am a mom of two girls.
Eric Huffman:Aimee, her husband, and their two daughters. They've been attending The Story for about a year now, and I've got to say, before getting to know her in person, I totally misjudged her, because she and her family, they just look so polished and perfect. They just look like the idyllic American family, and so I just assumed based on that that Aimee had it all together; that she came from a standard issue, picture perfect background. But I could not have been more wrong. This is Aimee's first time sharing her story with any outside of her inner circle. What is it that makes you hesitant or nervous about talking about this?
Aimee:Because I don't want people to think that what I'm trying to do is fix anyone, or that I'm trying to suggest that anyone needs to be fixed. But just to share a different perspective that was really incredible for my life. I have been questioning whether or not I'm doing the right thing. I'm going to get emotional. Whether or not I'm going to do justice to a very important message, and in my mind, that comes with some responsibility.
Eric Huffman:Aimee has a stepbrother and several close friends who are gay, including some who go to The Story with her. From what I've seen, people on the margins just tend to flock to her. Aimee says that loving others unconditionally has always just come naturally to her, even as a kid.
Aimee:I was bullied when I was in my earlier years. I was often kind of poked at for my weight, and for my appearance. I had some really thick Coke bottle glasses that I really donned every single day-
Aimee:... and I had really long, mostly brushed hair. There was a time when a boy in my school said to me ... There was a mentally challenged little girl in our class, and he said, "The only weird people in this whole class are you and her." I've never forgotten how I felt in that way, and so I think because of that, I have totally gone above and beyond to try to make sure that everyone feels loved.
Eric Huffman:Aimee was born and raised in Los Angeles, and one of her first memories as a five year old was living through the Rodney King riots in the 90s.
Group:No justice, no peace!
Speaker 1:You can hear them now.
Group:No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!
Aimee:I lived in an apartment with my mom, and they would come and knock on our doors. The police officers and community would come to your house and do head counts, because there was curfew at that time.
Eric Huffman:But she has no memories of ever seeing her mom and biological dad together. He left Aimee and her mom when she was just two months old.
Aimee:He had a history of having a hard time staying in a monogamous relationship, and there was some physical and emotional abuse.
Eric Huffman:Your dad was abusive toward your mom?
Eric Huffman:When Aimee was just two years old, her mom met a man named Mark, and they started dating, and eventually they got married. While Mark stepped in as the father figure, Aimee's biological dad was involved in a gunfight and he killed another man.
Aimee:And so, he spent a number of years behind bars.
Aimee:During that time, and my mom married Mark, and he just swooped right in and took care of us, and ended up asking for the chance to legally adopt me. He was not a stepfather to me.
Eric Huffman:So you called him Daddy.
Aimee:Oh, yeah. He was always Dad.
Eric Huffman:At what point did you become aware there was something a little different about Mark?
Aimee:Mark was tall and he was thinner, and he frequently wore a leather jacket and Ray-Bans. It didn't matter how much money we had or didn't have, he always looked very well-kept. He drove a turquoise Chrysler LeBaron convertible.
Eric Huffman:Oh, my.
Aimee:Yeah, right? He watched Martha Stewart every Saturday morning. He had a real knack for design. He sewed beautifully. He sewed all kinds of doll clothes for me, and I had a whole set of Barbies, and he would sew all these teeny, tiny Barbie clothes for me. It was the coolest thing ever. No one else's dad did that, I promise you.
Eric Huffman:Aimee's mother Rosemary worked full-time while Mark took care of Amy.
Aimee:Mark would take me to school every morning. He would brush my hair, do my hair, help me get dressed, and then he would pick me up from school in the evening, and we would get dinner started, and then Mom would come home.
Eric Huffman:So, what was this secret that made Mark so different?
Aimee:That he was a homosexual man.
Eric Huffman:Did that change upon meeting your mom?
Aimee:The fact that he was same-sex attracted did not ever change. He met my mom and he fell in love with my mom, and he took care of my mom. But that never changed.
Eric Huffman:Rosemary and Mark were set up by a mutual friend. He admitted to Rosemary early on that he hadn't always dated women. So, what do you know about how he lived before meeting your mom?
Aimee:The part where he bartended in ass-less chaps, like that part? In a gay bar?
Eric Huffman:I thought ass-less chaps was the name of the gay bar. So he actually-
Aimee:Well, it could've been.
Eric Huffman:He wore the chaps.
Aimee:He legitimately wore those ass-less chaps. Yeah, he slept with men, more than one.
Eric Huffman:You think your dad felt like his sexual orientation was bad or sinful?
Aimee:This is not meant to offend anyone, but he knew that he was not living the way that God would have liked for him to live. He said that he felt like he was living a shallow life before.
Eric Huffman:This is not a story you hear very often.
Eric Huffman:I've never heard a story like this, at least not with someone still so young and virile and 28 years old, you know? It's the time to live it up.
Eric Huffman:And he comes across your mom-
Eric Huffman:... and you, and your terrible twos, probably awful.
Eric Huffman:And he's like, "I got to get me some of that." What is it? What happened?
Aimee:It's not that he met my mom and was like, "My life changed. All of a sudden I'm straight." He got a diagnosis that I think made him pause and consider his entire life a lot more closely. Sometimes it takes something really extreme for people to slow down, for him to stop and really think about his life and how he wanted to live what would be the remainder of his life.
Eric Huffman:What was the diagnosis?
Aimee:He was HIV positive.
Eric Huffman:Before marrying your mom.
Aimee:Before marrying my mom.
Eric Huffman:Did he tell her?
Eric Huffman:I know this story is hard for people to understand, right? But keep in mind that Rosemary was a struggling single mom, and her previous relationship was with Aimee's biological father, who was physically and psychologically abusive toward her. And Mark was facing the reality that he was dying, and he turned to God and he asked God, "How do you want me to live out my days?" And together, Rosemary and Mark agreed that marriage is a lot more than just sexual attraction. Mark wanted to be part of a loving family. He wanted to honor God, and he wanted to be a dad. And Rosemary wanted a loving and stable influence in her life, and she wanted a father for her baby girl. Julie, you spoke with Aimee's mom over the phone. What did she have to say about her relationship to Mark?
Julie Mirlicourtois:She actually admitted that they didn't have much sex, not as much as she would have liked as a woman in her 30s. He wasn't very interested in that part of their relationship. She'd actually have to schedule it with him. But, she never, never, ever doubted his love for her and for Amy.
Rosemary:He adored me. I came from a broken relationship, and he really was powerful in building my self-esteem and making me feel more valuable. The amount of self-worth that he gave to me was huge.
Eric Huffman:People often criticize mixed orientation marriages as fake. You know? Like it's not a real marriage, because one person at least, maybe both, are going to be naturally repressed and unhappy.
Eric Huffman:Was that your experience with your mom and dad? Do you feel like they were in some way together, repressed, and unhappy?
Aimee:No. I never felt that. He really got a lot of pleasure and happiness out of taking care of our family, out of taking care of us as a family unit, and that it was a different kind of love. I just want to do justice to his story, because he should be telling that story. He should be the one that's telling people how much different his life was in a committed, monogamous family unit instead of the lifestyle he was living before, and he's not going to get to do that.
Eric Huffman:Aimee knew that Mark was sick, but she never expected him to die. And one day when she was just eight years old, she headed to school and asked the teacher if the class could help her make get well cards for her dad. That day, while she was at school, her mom called over their neighbors.
Aimee:They all circled around him, put hands on him and prayed for him, and then they all carried him into the car with my mom, and my mom drove him to the hospital and he died on the way to the hospital, just the two of them.
Eric Huffman:How did Mark change the course of your life? Your life could have been much different.
Eric Huffman:With a biological dad was by definition a murderer I guess, and in prison.
Eric Huffman:How did Mark change your life?
Aimee:I cannot even begin to imagine what my life would have looked like if he hadn't have given us just a chance. Think about what my idea of a father figure would have looked like had I never been reminded of my worth, had I never been loved and valued and cherished, and watched a man love and value and cherish a woman. I have no clue what kind of decisions I would have made in my life.
Eric Huffman:You have a lot of gay friends, as you said before.
Eric Huffman:In telling this story, are you suggesting what your dad did is the best way for everyone? Or-
Aimee:No. I definitely don't think that that's a life for everyone. I think you have to be fully invested. I think you have to be invested in your relationship with God because like anything, you are going to need some assistance in making any kind of life change and then sticking to it. I also think you have to be really invested in the lives of the people that you're taking on. So no, if this is just like a trial and error thing, I would say no. If you have-
Eric Huffman:Yeah, you can do a lot of damage, right?
Aimee:Yeah. If he had just decided a couple years out, "You know what? This is for the birds. I miss the bar and I miss that man," or whatever, then what would've happened? Right? That would've been the second human being that abandoned me, and it would've been the second human being that abandoned my mom.
Eric Huffman:That's the part that really everybody needs to hear. God used a formerly promiscuous gay man with AIDS to save your life.
Eric Huffman:Because that's how God works.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So, Eric, now that we've heard these two incredible stories, let's circle back to the debate inside the United Methodist Church and the vote happening this weekend at the general conference. You said earlier you have an issue with the voices on both sides of the debate. Tell me more about that.
Eric Huffman:Yes, I do love how passionate all of the people that we interviewed are really, but I loved Rob Renfroe's passion just about Jesus and his personal relationship with Jesus. But he also said a few things in our interview that left me wanting more. He said he doesn't necessarily think people are ever born gay, and I think the evidence is pretty clear that some people are born predisposed to same-sex attraction, and I think we should be okay with that. But he also said that while his church loves all people, they couldn't receive a gay couple as members, and that, I just don't get, because if church membership is only for people who have it all together and have fully repented of all their sins, then how could any of us ever really belong?
Julie Mirlicourtois:Absolutely. I actually talked to David Bennett about this, and Rob's unwillingness to welcome same-sex couples into his church.
David Bennett:It reveals a deficit in understanding of the gospel. When the gentiles were adopted by God through Christ in Paul's ministry, they were doing all sorts of things all the time that were off. If you read 1 Corinthians, I mean, everything is going wrong. Paul was constantly struggling with trying to get the Gentiles to understand what had fully happened in Christ, and they constantly got it wrong. But a lot of them eventually got it, and so I think we have to wait for people to get it. When I came into the church, if anyone told me gay marriage was wrong for the first three years of my work, I would have just stormed out. In fact, I may have left the church.
Eric Huffman:That's exactly why I think we can't have this high bar for belonging in the church. Let's open the church up to everyone and when they're there, let's teach them the Bible, and then let's let God sort out the rest of it. That's why I love how passionate Adam Hamilton and Bishop Oliveto are about the church being more welcoming and more loving. That, I'm with them on. But I also had this big problem with their treatment of scripture, because whenever I pressed Oliveto to say that maybe some other kinds of sexual expressions are sinful, are wrong, just objectively wrong, like premarital sex or pornography, polyamory, open marriage, et cetera, she consistently refused to say that. She doesn't really seem to believe that the Bible can prescribe any objective sexual ethic at all outside of just, "Don't be abusive." Listen, I've seen it myself in many circles on the far left: open marriages and polyamory or pansexuality are already being discussed and accepted, and even championed as the next frontier in this sexual revolution.
Eric Huffman:Now, Adam Hamilton, to his credit, did say that he's not on board with all of that. He did say he believes that God's will is for two people, and only two people, to get married. But his way of looking at the Bible can be really confusing for people, because he says we should continue to honor the parts of scripture that still apply to us today, and we can leave behind the parts that don't. But who gets to decide which parts still apply and which ones don't? It's really anyone's guess.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Right, right. David Bennett brought it back to Jesus and how he operated with grace and truth. He says Rob Renfroe's church has too much truth, not enough grace, and Oliveto and Hamilton's ministries, they offer only grace, which he says can actually just cheapen grace.
David Bennett:People often ask to me, "What does the church need to do to help gay people belong?" And I was like, "Well, don't be lukewarm, because if you're a lukewarm Christian, when that gay person comes in and they experience the grace and love of Jesus and then they give up their sexuality like everyone is supposed to do, they're going to look around in a church where no one's doing that, and they're not going to be able to belong." And so, I think the pressure shouldn't be on the gay person; it should be more on the straight, everyday Christian person not to live a lukewarm Christian life. Jesus says, "Be hot or cold, or I'll spit you out of my mouth." That's a pretty strong rebuke, and I think we need to hear that.
Julie Mirlicourtois:So, Eric, any final thoughts about what's happening this weekend in St. Louis?
Eric Huffman:Well, I'll just say that the United Methodist Church has needed major reform for years, but it has nothing to do with human sexuality. I can probably think of a dozen better reasons to break up this denomination than same-sex marriage, but behind all the noise we're making over these superficial issues, there are some seriously unsustainable systems that need to die. They need to go away so that something new can live in its place, and I think that's why whatever happens in St. Louis, I refuse to be afraid or anxious about it. I know it's time for something new. I trust God to make it happen, with or without the United Methodist Church.
Julie Mirlicourtois:That's a bold statement. Do you support any of the plans?
Eric Huffman:What I'm sure about is that the One Church Plan is just about the worst possible outcome, because I can see that plan doing the most harm to the most people. I see people on the left, right, and center being harmed long-term if the One Church Plan passes. And then the traditional plan, the one that Rob Renfroe supports, is basically what we already have. And we know that that's not working, or we wouldn't be in this situation at all. And so, I guess unless conservatives are prepared to hold several thousand church trials and get roasted publicly in the press, I can't say that we should support that plan either.
Eric Huffman:I think if we're trying to hold this denomination together, the best hope that we have is this third plan that we didn't really spend much time talking about, because it hasn't gotten much attention. It's called a Connectional Conference Plan, and it creates three sub-denominations that would remain in connection with each other in some ways, but each group can then chart its own course on social issues.
Julie Mirlicourtois:Okay, so for anyone who wants updates on what actually takes place at the conference this weekend, head to Maybe God's Facebook page next week. We'll keep you all updated. And also, I really encourage everyone to check out David Bennett's book. It's called A War of Loves, and you can buy it anywhere books are sold. It's incredible.
Eric Huffman:It really is an amazing book. I hope everyone picks it up and reads it. I just want to say thank you for listening, and for sharing this episode with your friends and with your churches and your families. Remember, though, that maybe God isn't meant to be a one-way conversation. We really do hope that you'll send us your questions and feedback, and even your ideas for future episodes. Just head over to our new website, maybegodpod.com, and of course don't forget to leave us your glowing reviews on iTunes so that you can help us spread the word about this podcast. We will be back in mid-March with the continuation of season three, but for now, thank you for listening. Bye, everybody.
Julie Mirlicourtois:This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric Huffman. Nathan Bonnes and Aubrey Snider are the sound engineers, and our editors are Shannon Stephen, Brittany Holland, and Justin Meyer. As always, a special thanks to our co-creator, Brandon Duke. For more information or to tell us what you think, head to our website, maybegodpod.com.