Also, a direct link to a copy of the letter that Ms. Toney received (also quoted in the article above).
First off, let me set something straight here (no, that’s NOT an intentional pun). The so-called “action” being referred to here is excommunication. The church is NOT threatening her life or choices, ONLY the part in which the church and her personal life intersect.
I can see validity on both sides of this situation. This is EXACTLY the kind of situation that consider to be part of my calling to the Pagan ministry.
Ms. Toney has an extremely valid point. She has not been “in fellowship” (link defines fellowship in a Biblical context) with this church for 15 years. In fact, the church had a responsibility to contact her well before finding out she had married her wife. Others in the church, besides her family, were well aware that she was gay because she came out to her family and select church friends a long time ago. Not only that, but she does not say if her mother was excommunicated for divorcing her husband (which, from my rather conservative upbringing would have actually happened, and did to a number of my friends – the only acceptable reasons for a woman to divorce her husband in the church I grew up in were 1) adultery; 2) abuse; or 3) the husband was not Christian).
She should have been contacted at least 13 years ago, simply for no longer attending church. It’s the responsibility of the church to contact members who have not attended, or at least to find out the reasons for the lack of attendance (such as severe illness, which would REQUIRE the minister and/or the deacon(s) to visit the ill person, to give spiritual support to them). This church, and it’s elders, ignored that responsibility on their side until they found out about her “gay marriage” (personally, I look forward to the day it is simply called “marriage”).
So, that’s the part as I understand it from HER side.
But, she had a responsibility to her church in regards to her membership as well. Let me give you an example from my own life.
In my early 20s, when I was just starting out on my path as a Pagan, my father found out the way my spiritual path was turning. No I had not intentionally “come out of the broom closet” to him, he simply ran across one of my books on Wicca. After doing his own soul searching, and giving great thought to the situation, he insisted I speak to our pastor at the time, and if the pastor could not convince me to stay Christian that I must formally dissolve my membership in the church.
At the time, I was resentful and angry, because I viewed it as persecution. Why should I be forced to jump through these hoops just to be true to myself?
But, I came to understand my father’s reasoning, as I progressed toward becoming a priestess.
I was confirmed as a member of that church at age 13 (end of 8th grade). Confirmation isn’t just like starting a gym membership (as some people see the process). It is you making a promise to God and to that congregation that you agree with the precepts of that variant of Christianity, and promise to strive to be the best Christian you can be. It’s a vow given to God.
If your spiritual journey takes you away from that particular flavor of Christianity, or even if it takes you completely away from Christianity as a whole, once you have been confirmed you have a responsibility to formally resign your membership, and thereby be released from your vow to God.
Now, some flavors of Christianity don’t give confirmation to a person until they are an adult (minimum age 18). If that person has not yet been confirmed, there is no vow from which to be released. At that point, withdrawing your membership from that church is more of a courtesy.
Either way, she abdicated her own responsibility to the church by not withdrawing her membership, as she was well aware that THAT church’s doctrinal policy considered her being gay as a sin.
Yes, the letter focused on the sin. The reasons WHY it focused on the sin are based in the Bible (specifically Matthew 18:15-17 and I Corinthians 5:1-13). The letter is supposed to be the third, and final, step in the process to bring an “erring brother/sister” back to fellowship with the congregation. Sadly, quite often, only the third and final attempt is actually ever completed. Very rarely are the first two steps (speaking to them in private and speaking to them with 2-3 witnesses) completed. Or worse, it is assumed that options 1 and 2 have been completed already without any verification. Step 2 makes sure that there are people who can verify the “continued intent to sin.”
Too often there is more sin involved in many churches, making those who truly do attempt to live a Christian faith-based life a minority even while Christianity still maintains a majority in the U.S. The only sins that are confronted at this point are things like being LGBTQ. So-called “milder” or “less abhorrent” sins are ignored. And I’m strictly keeping to ONLY those discussed in the New Testament here. You can read a limited (i.e. not exhaustive) list of New Testament sins.
Let’s list some of the most favorite sins committed by quite a large portion of the so-called Christians in the US (including quite a large portion of our Congress):
|Please note, all linked items in this list are defined by Merriam-Webster|
I don’t know about you, but I can easily think of over 1,000 different famous (or at least semi-famous) people who boast (see?….sin!) of their “unblemished Christian faith” who have regularly committed at least a dozen of these sins, sometimes multiple times in a single day.
Yes, if they TRULY repent of their sins, they are forgiven. But true repentance requires the believer do their utmost to not repeat that sin. Repeating the sin again and again is not “doing one’s utmost to not repeat that sin.”
So, why is it that THESE sins are glossed over or ignored, when the Bible says that no sin is to be considered “better” or “worse” than any other sin, except for the “rejection of the Holy Spirit” which is considered the only unpardonable sin? Why is it that the very people who are decrying the issue of “gay marriage” are silent about their own, when their sins are just as heinous in the “sight of God” as those who are LGBTQ?
Christians, my friends, please search your souls, and reflect on Matthew 7:1-5: