Local church takes open stance on homosexuality

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Gay speakers at Malibu United Methodist Church talk about the importance of including gays and lesbians into the church, and the history of homosexuality.

By Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

The issue of gay and lesbian acceptance as a part of mainstream society has taken great precedent as of late. Popular TV shows highlight and satire homosexual lifestyles and issues, and have brought certain gay and lesbian figures into everyday conversation. The state of California is presently forced to reconsider legislation concerning marriage to include the civil union of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. And President Bush is looking to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. However, one organization gays and lesbians would hope to be accepted by and participate in this present dialogue is often the first they feel the most unwanted by-the church.

“It’s ironic the one place a gay or lesbian would not feel comfortable is the church,” said Tim Cline, one of two speakers at this year’s “Reconciling Sunday” at Malibu United Methodist Church.

Malibu United Methodist Church celebrated its annual “Reconciling Sunday” on March 7, a day where the church publicly recognizes gays and lesbians as vital members of its congregation. Speakers Cline and Rev. Steve Swafford, both moved from their positive experience upon visiting last year’s celebration, delivered this year’s sermon on the importance of gay and lesbian inclusion in the Christian church.

Cline, president and founder of Tim Cline’s Insurance Corporation in Santa Monica, spoke of his long struggle to reconcile his own faith with his professed homosexuality. Growing up in the small farm community of Walter, Ore., population 500, Cline strongly felt the tight set mores of the firmly knit community. “It was a place where I definitely wanted to fit in,” Cline said. At the revelation and then disclosure of his own sexual preference during his second year in college, Cline said he started to feel the heavy judgment of his family, friends and the church. Individuals started to repeatedly tell him that while he was loved, he was certainly going to hell.

His parents took him to an ex-gay ministry to try to fix, with God’s help, what had been “broken.” Cline brings up a study from the American Psychological Association that found there to be “no evidence that conversion treatment can treat a homosexual’s feelings for another man or woman.” Cline professed that, while for most of his life he felt shunned by the church at large, he now finds a community of believers at the Malibu United Methodist Church where he can be accepted as himself, a homosexual man.

Swafford, a newly ordained Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) pastor and reverend of a MCC West Hollywood parish, came from a similar background as Cline. Swafford grew up in the small farm town of Pratt, Kansas where he, too, felt great pressure from the conservative right.

This is what brought Swafford to deliver a sermon on the importance of inclusion in the church, as well as educate members on the history of homosexuality. He argues that the word “homosexual” was not found to be in existence until 1869 when it was first used in Germany by the writer Korly M. Benkert. Not only this, but Swafford asserts there are only three texts-found in the Epistles, not the Gospels-in the New Testament that mention homosexuality, and moreover that Jesus is silent on the issue. He states that the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 was that they did not offer hospitality to visitors, and has nothing to do with homosexuality.

If this is truly the case, then why is there so much conflict across the board with the issue of homosexuality?

“It really is ignorance,” Cline responded. “What we see in the media-sensationalizing homosexuality, making it into some distorted image-is reprehensible. People look for a way to support their own uncomfortableness, label people and put them in boxes instead of grappling with the real issue.”

This is what like-minded individuals may feel Pepperdine University has done in recently denying SAH, Students Against Homophobia, the charter to be an acknowledged group on campus. “It’s unfortunate that Pepperdine fails to recognize certain parts of their community, and that they deny the very work these folks try to achieve as they strive to include people,” Cline said.

Rev. Larry Peacock of Malibu United Methodist Church offered Pepperdine students the opportunity to attend Reconciling Sunday and find the same warm reception Swafford and Cline felt on their arrival a year ago. “We’ve taken an open stance on gays and lesbians,” Peacock said.

As the church liturgy that Sunday echoed, they “welcome all persons as full participants in the life of our church.”

And while all parties are thankful for how far many churches have come in instituting a “Reconciling Sunday” attitude into their congregations, all feel the church at large has some further strides to take on the path of reconciliation.