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Q & A
Q&A: Jimmy Creech still pushing on gay issue Mary Jacobs, Nov 25, 2011
One morning in 1984, United Methodist pastor Jimmy Creech was visited by a parishioner named Adam, who revealed that he was gay. Adam had chosen to leave the United Methodist Church, in light of the denomination’s then-recent decision that self-avowed, practicing homosexuals could not be ordained.
That led Mr. Creech to rethink his belief that homosexuality was a sin, and ultimately convinced him to perform same-gender commitment ceremonies. He underwent two church trials, and, after the second, his ordination credentials were revoked.
Mr. Creech tells the story in his new book Adam’s Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays (Duke University Press, 2011). On a recent visit to Dallas’ Northaven UMC, he spoke to staff writer Mary Jacobs; here are excerpts.
What have you been up to in recent years? Since 1998, I’ve been speaking around the country at churches of various denominations, on college campuses and to various community organizations that support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered [LGBT] people.
[After the trial] my wife and I went through a period of discernment. It was really her idea that she would work, and I would not get a job, so that I could be free to travel the country and speak and also to write.
Did you imagine that the denomination would still be wrestling with this question in 2011? I think the dynamics within the United Methodist Church are different from dynamics in other denominations. The Presbyterians and the Lutherans have changed their policies toward same-gender couples to include them, not only in membership but also as ordained clergy. These bodies are really based in the U.S., but the United Methodist Church is an international body that includes delegates from Africa. It’s going to take longer and it’s going to take more work and patience.
What we hear in letters from readers is: “How can we do anything but condemn homosexuality? It’s wrong, and it’s right there in the Bible.” Your response? It’s not right there in the Bible. We read it into the Bible. It is the prejudice that is current that we read back into the Bible. The stories that allude to same-gender sexual activity are very few in the Bible and they happen to be in contexts that are objectionable—violent rape which has to do with the Sodom & Gomorrah story; idolatry which is related to the Leviticus passages and the first chapter of Romans; and then issues of promiscuity or exploitation in the New Testament.
The other significant point that needs to be stressed is, sexual orientation is an innate aspect of the human personality that was really not discovered until the late 1800s. There was no comprehension, no understanding of it in biblical times. It’s inappropriate to claim the Bible says anything about sexual orientation. You can’t claim the Bible says something it doesn’t.
The other argument against ordaining or marrying gays and lesbians that we often hear is, ‘If we allow that, where do we draw the line?’ What’s your response? We’ve been taught that homosexuality is some kind of perversion, and it’s hard for people to give up those kinds of teachings. That’s what people mean when they say, “If we allow this—what is the limit? You allow everything possible to be OK.” Those are the same kinds of arguments I heard in the 1950s and 1960s: “If we allow the races to mix, what’s going to happen to the white race, the black race?” You hear the same kinds of fears being expressed now, although it’s about gay people instead of African-American people.
We understand now that homosexual orientation is a normal, natural aspect of human personality. As a pastor it’s important to nurture the whole person. You cannot say, “I nurture you spiritually and emotionally and intellectually except for one part of you, which I reject.”
Another argument: The churches that are conservative on this issue are growing. I can also say that the church is losing people because of this. Young people are frustrated to no end. They are growing up knowing friends who are LGBT. They don’t want their friends excluded. They don’t understand how a church can talk about God’s love and then exclude their friends, talk about them as if they’re disordered. So we are losing youth. I can understand how conservative churches are attracting folks who are resisting the change and not wanting to be open to gay people, but I don’t think those churches are going to survive in the long run. Once the generation that is resisting so strongly now has gone, these large churches are not going to be appealing any longer to the younger folks, who are wanting to see the change happen.
Your book title uses the word “persecution” regarding the church’s stance toward gays and lesbians. That’s a pretty strong term. I was very intentional in using that term because the church, because of its policies and its teachings and behavior, has targeted same-gender loving people for exclusion and condemnation. That has caused them to sometimes be outcast from their own families as well as their church families that they have been part of since childhood. It has even caused them to feel disordered, as if there was something wrong with them, to hate themselves. Self-loathing is one of the deadly consequences of the teachings of the church for LGBT people. That I consider to be persecution. It is an act of spiritual violence against gay people.
Gay people keep being told, “This is just a choice. You can choose to be not gay.” Gay people know that is not true. It torments them. They’re told they’ll only be accepted, and worse, only be loved by God, if they pretend to be someone they’re not.
What are your thoughts on the United Methodist clergy who are publicly pledging to perform same-sex unions? The church is going to have to decide whether it’s going to use its resources to prosecute all of these clergy. I think that’s going to be a big question. It’s a waste of resources. I think it’s actually a scandal to use the church’s resources to prosecute clergy for being pastoral.
Do you miss being a pastor? Yes, I do, very much. I love the United Methodist Church. It’s my tradition. I feel a responsibility to help the church change. I think it’s a matter of justice for LGBT people but also for the integrity of the church. I don’t think we can speak authentically about God’s love when we’re doing harm to LGBT people. I feel like that’s my ministry now, even though it’s not a pastoral ministry.