Sunday, April 26, 2015

On Grace: A Sermon


Methodist support for North Carolina's 2012 ballot measure banning recognition of all forms of marriage--including domestic partnerships--other than one man and one woman.

There are times I wish I could reverse my baptism.

Yesterday I was out running errands in the Tanasbourne district. I was stopped at the traffic signal at Evergreen and 185th when two sign-wavers caught my eye. One was promoting the opening of a new restaurant. The other was promoting Jesus. I couldn't get a good look at the sign--I think it was something about him dying for sinners, evangelical boilerplate--though I did glimpse the words "Grace Bible Church" on the bottom of the sign. Turning onto 185th, I saw two more sign-wavers on the opposite corner. I couldn't make out what one of the signs said, but the other was clearly visible, and worded so effectively I was able to hold the entire text in my memory until I came to a stop light where I could enter it as a note in my phone:
Man doesn't define marriage
GOD defines marriage
And just like that, I knew what I would be writing the next time I sat down to blog.

I don't know what led these demonstrators to appear in Tanasbourne on a sunny April morning, though with the help of Beaverton Grace Bible Church's website, I have some ideas. There are comments about Oregon's new governor, an out bisexual woman; sermon titles like "The Homosexual Litmus Test" and "The Abomination of Desolation"; and the declaration that the church is "Christ-centered and Bible-driven." Googling the church also brings up news stories about how, after an excommunicated former member had the nerve to blog about her experience, the pastor accused her of libel and sued her for a half a million dollars. He lost.

Clearly, this church defines "grace" differently than I do.

I was taught in seminary that "grace" is the free gift of salvation, regardless of anything I've done or not done, by a loving God whose sole desire is to bring all the prodigals home. This definition is actually implicit in some of what Beaverton Grace Bible Church posts on its website. I suppose the argument could be made that true grace comes from God, which then frees up God's followers to be exclusionary, spiteful, and vindictive.

In other Christian homophobia news, the Sweet Cakes saga continues. The Gresham baker ordered in 2013 to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 for refusing their business has now found itself shunned by GoFundMe, the crowd-sourced charity web site Aaron and Melissa Klein were using to raise the money. GoFundMe, like the state of Oregon, has a non-discrimination policy, and being no more godlike than the state Bureau of Labor and Industries--or Grace Bible Church, for that matter--chose not to extend grace to the Kleins. Next step: call on Franklin Graham, heir to the Billy Graham evangelical dynasty, who is raising money for the Kleins through his charity, the Samaritan's Purse, and its "Persecuted Christians USA" fund.

At this point in the blog, my mind is blazing with thoughts and opinions. I want to go after the "Bible-driven" Christians who project their own bigotry on an ancient book that says nothing--NOTHING--about marriage as we understand it today. I want to wring my hands over the irony of "Christ-centered" Christians who refuse to bake a cake--A CAKE--for a couple celebrating their commitment to each other. I also want to shake my head at that couple, because really, of all the bakeries in Portland, you had to pick that one, and that cake they wouldn't bake is worth $135,000? And seriously, being held accountable for breaking a non-discrimination law is "persecution"? In the words of 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy, "Good God, Lemon!"

There's just too much to write, and while all of it might be good, I've said most of it before, and nobody that needs to read it will, so rather than repeat myself before a non-existent audience, I'm going to go back to grace, which is really the loveliest doctrine in the Christian canon.

It's grace, not love, that means never having to say you're sorry. There's a reason grace is best ascribed to God: we humans have a terrible time extending it. The best witness Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, the couple owed $135,000 by Sweet Cakes, could make would be to forgive the Kleins their debt. The best way for Grace Bible Church to get some gay people into its pews to hear the gospel is to stick to the first sign ("Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners") and lose the other one ("GOD defines marriage"). The best way for Devon Park United Methodist Church (see the photo at the top of the page) to defend marriage is to focus on the third party in its definition--God--and, in grace, realize that gender is not the same thing as love. And the best way for Franklin Graham's charity to live up to its name is to remember that, in the parable, the Samaritan extends grace to someone who has persecuted him for being different. (Luke 10:25-37)

That's what I'd preach, if I could get all these people together in a church with open hearts and ears. I'd preach grace and forgiveness, qualities I know from personal experience are incredibly hard for humans to manifest, but without which we will continue to spin our conflictual wheels for generations to come over an issue that should be as empty of meaning as a Sweet Cakes confection is of nutritional value. What we do between the sheets is such a small part of who we are (quite literally, in many cases) that, were we to be true to our professions of faith and philosophy, we'd readily admit that what counts most in the eyes of whatever higher power we claim allegiance to is whether we treat each other not with judgment but with grace.

The Bible says, in its very first chapters (Genesis 1-2), that we're made in the image of God, and that it's not good for us to be alone. How much more Christ-centered and Bible-driven could we be than to embrace grace for ourselves and each other?

Can I hear an "Amen"?

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