- by Dr. Leland Spencer, a response to Dr. Maxie Dunnam's reply to Bishop Hagiya.
Last month, Dr. Maxie Dunnam wrote a response to a thoughtful column by Bishop Grant Hagiya. Bishop Hagiya's article reflected on his own discernment process around the church's position on marriage, and Bishop Hagiya humbly confessed that he cannot say for certain that his position represents the final truth of the matter. In a reply certainly not befitting the humility of the original post, Dunnam repeatedly asked of Hagiya, and by implication, of all of us, even if you can't trust your own discernment, "Why can't you trust the church?"
The risk, of course, in replying to any such argument is that a reply offers the argument in question a degree of legitimacy the argument's merits alone may not warrant. I take that risk because while I suspect Dunnam meant the question to be reflective, I intend to treat it as literal. Dunnam posed a question, and I have an answer. I won't presume to answer for Bishop Hagiya, but I will answer for myself.
Setting aside the question of the desirability of marriage as a political goal (within or beyond the church), my answer to Dunnam's question "Why can't you trust the church?" is: "I can't trust the church because the church has proved, time and again, to be untrustworthy." By definition, privilege is invisible to those who have it, so we might not be surprised that Dunnam can ask that question without even a hint of reflexivity or irony. As a straight white male, Dunnam may never have a reason to question the trustworthiness of the will of the church (when such a will is operationally defined as the democratic outcome of votes at General Conference and other legislative bodies).
The rest of us, we hope, have a longer view of history. Trusting the church, throughout the centuries, has led to theological justifications for slavery, Apartheid, segregation (including the Central Jurisdiction), and centuries of spiritual, emotional, physical, and ecclesiastical subjugation of women. The list could go on, but I've made my point. I can't trust the church.
I can, however, trust grace. The church did not--by itself--remedy or begin to remedy any of the sins I listed above. However, by the steady and persistent work of God's sanctifying grace, the church recognized, over time, its sinfulness in each of these areas. By God's grace, the church has begun to repent from these sins, and while we continue to have much work to do in the areas of gender and racial justice, the church at least sometimes moves in the direction of the more excellent way.
Ultimately, Dr. Dunnam, this is why we--LGBTQ United Methodists--stay in the church despite its continued and persistent violence toward us. Not because we trust the church, but because we trust that by God's grace, the church will someday repent and begin to discover a more excellent way.
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