This “simple statement,” the church announced, is “intended to be a gift to those who have experienced hurt and discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.”
“The Church seeks nothing less than the healing of the world, and Central UMC wants to offer words and acts of healing to those hurt and marginalized,” the website states.
Jeff Buchanan, the director of Exodus Church Equipping & Student Ministries, agrees that the Church must display love and compassion for those in the LGBT community. But he opposes the message that CUMC is sending through their “Being Gay is a Gift from God” campaign.
“Why would God bestow this ‘gift’ only to condemn it throughout the Bible? This would seemingly contradict His character as a God who is loving and just.”
The Toledo church’s controversial billboard ad is directly connected to a long month-long sermon series by its new pastor, Bill Barnard. The church is hoping that the ad will move the public towards tolerance, reported ABC 13, and not perpetuate anti-gay attitudes and behaviors, which were harming the LGBT community.
The purposes of their recently launched campaign are threefold: to offer welcome to all persons who are gay; to challenge the larger Church to fully accept persons who are gay into the life of the Church; and to call on all people to bring all the gifts of who they are to God.
“By welcoming and living in community with faithful Christians who happen to be gay, we have come to understand that being gay is part of who God made them to be,” CUMC proclaims on their site. “And by gay Christians bringing all that they are to God, the body of Christ has been strengthened.”
“In fact, we would experience the body of Christ as incomplete without LGBT persons.”
Barnard told ABC, “We really believe that being gay is a gift from God, and it’s not anything that anyone has to apologize for or be ashamed about. So that’s how [the campaign] came to be.”
Believing sexuality to be a “good gift from God” – or as they declared yet another way in God’s infinite diversity – CUMC defines sin as denying who God created them to be.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence is that people are born with their sexual orientation, that it is not a choice,” the church contends. “Fully accepting one’s sexual orientation and identity is key to leading a normal and healthy life.
“Forcing people to act against their God-given sexual orientation will lead to disordered lives. Allowing people to act in accordance with their God-given sexual orientation leads to reconciliation.”
While deeming the marginalization of LGBT persons as “unjustified” – mentioning that Jesus did not speak directly regarding homosexuality – the Toledo church recognizes that the Church today continues to be divided over interpretation of Scripture related to homosexuality.
Just two months ago, 33 retired United Methodist bishops urged the denomination to remove its ban on homosexual clergy, prolonging the undying debate within the church body.
CUMC hopes to unify believers by focusing more on “things that [they] agree on, such as kindness, justice, and humility,” instead of contributing to hate and discrimination, which they believe leads not to reconciliation, but to self-destructive practices within the LGBT community.
“Holding people responsible for matters in which they have no control is irrational and immoral,” the church declares. “We believe that both those within and without the Church are hungry for dialogue about homosexuality that reflects compassion and humility rather than intolerance and strife.”
Buchanan contends that CUMC’s message “tells people that the only option they have is a gay identity.”
But “people need to understand that thousands of men and women have found there is another way and have found freedom from homosexuality through the power of Christ,” he says.
Even if there was conclusive evidence supporting the theory that people were “born this way,” Buchanan stresses that Christians were called to be “born again.”
“While we may not choose our desires, we do have the ability and responsibility to choose whether or not we act on those desires. Our goal should be living a life that is congruent with Scripture,” he says.
“Genesis describes the fall of man and the permanent effects that sin has on us spiritually, mentally, and physically. Just because something may be inherent does not mean it was intended.”
Despite the outcry of many from the Christian community against CUMC’s campaign, Barnard continues to proclaim that homosexuality is a “gift” and has people come and remain just “as they are.”
Working to accept persons who are gay into the full life of the Church, CUMC is a founding member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which is the United Methodist movement for gay equality in the denomination.
Two of the volunteer staff members at their church, including the music director and lead team chair, live with their partners and have served the church for over seven years.
Grieved over the misinterpretation of Scripture and false teaching that is being promoted by CUMC and many other churches like them, Buchanan encourages churches to deliver the message of Christ with love and grace, but also with accuracy and uncompromised truth.
“We must always remember that authentic love is built upon a foundation of grace and truth.”