Friday, April 27, 2018

E. Julu Swen: Sharing on the “Anti-Christian” Comments of Two Great Churchmen

Today's post is by E. Julu Swen. Mr. Swen is a journalist and United Methodist from Liberia. An original version of the piece appeared on the author's personal blog. It is used with permission.

The world was rocked a few years ago by the comments of Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and retired Archbishop Bishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church in South Africa in support of gay and lesbian communities. In their separate comments, each clergyman supported the fact that the constituents of these communities have legitimate rights to God's Kingdom and said that he was in no way going to serve as a barrier to any of these people in their attempt to seek entrance to God's Kingdom. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “God should allow gay people into heaven,” while Pope Francis said, 'If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”

Surely, these comments were too hard for any soft-headed Christian to take lightly, especially coming from Pope Francis and Bishop Tutu, two great Christians, if I may put it that way.

In Liberia and in the social media (Facebook) there were several comments about the truthfulness of Bishop Tutu's Christian stance on the gay issue. “The Bishop is not a Christian,” one comment read. As I read through the various comments, I was tempted to ask whether these people were now taking the place of God, to be condemning other individuals for their failings to follow God's instruction of righteous living instead of leaving that assignment to God.

I did not see similar comments on the pronouncement of Pope Francis simply because it was not on the social media (Facebook) or not on my page. With the millions of Catholics around world and the numbers of sexual abuse cases haunting the Catholic Church, eggs would have been thrown at the Pope or even at television sets if his congregations were watching around the world. As a matter of fact, thank God Pope Francis made the comment on the plane after a well-attended meeting in Brazil. Had he made the statement in one of those gathering in Brazil, he would have lost more than half his audience.

I strongly think that these two outstanding men are not alone in their thoughts and beliefs. As a matter of fact, I want to share in their stance on the issue of the rights of gay and lesbian communities. There are several institutions and documentation that support these positions. Additionally, I am sure it is not the place of any one person to condemn another for a decision that rests purely with God.

I read that Bishop Tutu's comments were in opposition to the decision of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who threatened to “chop off the heads of gays & lesbians in his country.” As if there were not too many criminal activities in that part of the African continent or on the continent as a whole, why would any leader want to kill his people just because of their choice of life? How many gallows are there for the armed robbers, drug pushers and users, sex offenders, and all the various kinds of trafficking and traffickers? Oh, maybe African leaders, especially in those countries where there are laws against gay and lesbian practice, are getting kickbacks from the other criminal activities, which they are not getting from the gay and lesbian people.

"I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this" Bishop Tutu said in his support of gay rights, something largely shunned and frowned upon on the African continent. Yet a lot of Africans, myself included, are not made destitute by the gay and lesbian people, but rather by the individuals who preside over our nations as presidents, lawmakers, and judges. These are the people we should shun, instead of the tiniest minority whose orientation is different from ours.

As I rumble through these classic statements (my description) of these two great Christians, especially, Bishop Tutu's, I realize that individuals with different sexual orientation have a place in God's Kingdom once they are transformed by God Himself. I am not certain that Bishop Tutu would want sinners and their sins in heaven, just as the Pope Francis would not want to interact with people who practice homosexual acts, unlike those with homosexual orientation. For example, Pope Francis stated, “There is a Catholic teaching that separates those with homosexual orientation from those who practice homosexual acts.” According to the Pope, the orientation is not sin; it is the act that is considered sinful.

I think the retired Archbishop Tutu's desire to be in heaven with gay people is rooted in the scriptures. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

This is where I share in Bishop Tutu's comment. If the Apostle Paul can recognize the already washed people of God with their former identity, who is the Bishop to think that gay people will not be in heaven? The logical content of the Bishop's comment gets my strongest support.

I would not have agreed with Pope Francis more if I had not read what the Scriptures said about God's position on these matters. As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:13-16).

For example, the Pope admitted that there is “a lot written about the gay lobby in the Vatican, but I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay.” The same is true about all the religious institutions (especially churches) in the world. We all go to church with some kind of sin under our sleeves or with someone we know is living a sinful life. Surely, we don't stop going because of that reason. We either talk them into changing or pray for them to change; and gays and lesbians are included.

The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons” (BOD para. 161, The Nurturing Community).

Based on all these documentations and others that I cannot cite in this piece, I share in and support the stance of these two great men who in my lifetime have presided over and are still presiding over large Christian communities in the world. I strongly believe that there is room for more at the Cross of Jesus and this includes washed and transformed gay and lesbian people. As a matter of fact, the UMC Book of Discipline states that “the grace of God is available to all”; and in my judgment, that grace can only be found in God’s house, the Church.


  1. What a nice piece! As I grow older and get more experienced, I question more exclusionary thoughts and practices especially on matters we have absolutely no say in. I hold strongly that no matter what we do, our orientation, religion, etc., we are all still children of God and His Grace covers us all. This said, I want to disagree with the author slightly that God's grace can only be found in the Church. Unless Church is in reference to temple and our bodies are temples of God. Christians or not, Jews or not, His Grace is sufficient for us all.

  2. This gets to a much larger problem than simply international connections. The current UM structure has become irrelevant even in wealthy countries in the US because it distorts and increases power differentials between individual congregations without helping the mission of the church.

    The underlying principle of our current structure is that the mission of the church is best managed and resourced from the top down. Congregations pay taxes in the form of apportionments to fund that mission and management. Whether its General Boards and Agencies or Annual Conference HQ's the "you can't do it without us" mentality has been strong. This is far from the original idea of a "connection" in which local congregations pooled their resources to accomplish what none could do individually. But it is reflective of the cultural mood in America in the middle of the 20th century, when vast political power began to pool in political and corporate centers.

    While a complete structural overhaul is desperately needed along the lines of Bill's comments above I don't believe it will happen easily or soon. Because it will inevitably diminish centers of power both in the US and in the Central Conferences. No bishop, regardless of cultural location, is going to let power move further away from episcopal hands. Nor are boards and agencies going to give up on their diminishing funding voluntarily.

    Yet, we have a useful crisis ahead of us. There will likely be a fire. And who knows what comes from the ashes