On Saturday, September 1, 2007 The Asbury Park Press announced that at the annual meeting of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, anyone who desired would be allowed to speak. The issue of concern was that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association did not allow a lesbian couple to have their union legalized (officiated) on a part of the property called the Pavilion. The leadership of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) claimed that because the Pavilion belonged to the Methodist Denomination which does not permit legalization of such unions, the ceremony for this couple could not be allowed on the premise.
For many years, the OGCMA has held its annual meetings and they were short, poorly attended meetings. This time was to be different, way beyond the expectations of the OGCMA leadership.
I have been to a number of meetings where the gay/lesbian/transgendered people protested and I have to say that they have excellent organizational skills. They call, they write, they organize and they show up. By the time I got to the meeting there were no places inside. Over two thirds of the people present inside and outside had signs given to them by the gay/lesbian/transgendered groups.
After the ordinary business meeting was completed the floor was opened to the people who wanted to speak. Without mathematical precision, I have to say that there were over 60 people speaking against the OGCMA and about 6-8 speaking neutrally or for the OGCMA. It was interesting to me that The Asbury Park Press on the day after the meeting did not mention at all any of the people who spoke on behalf of the OGCMA.
There were arguments of community (we have been living together all these years - you, OGCMA are a bad neighbor,) economics (this area is going to go downwards fast unless we the gay/lesbian/transgendered continue to support it,) threats (we will make sure that all the money you received from the state’s Green Acres you will have to return with great interest.)
Being a church historian and a religious observer, I am always interested to see how people use Jesus. There have been at least three ways in which Jesus has been used in supporting gay/lesbian/transgendered issues:
1. The silence of Jesus - Jesus did not speak on this subject; therefore, homosexual/lesbian/transgendered behavior cannot be wrong. However, I find that the arguments regarding the silence of Jesus are some of the weakest that gay/lesbian/transgendered community have been putting forward. I do not know of any biblical argument constructed on the silence of Jesus.
2. The loving Jesus - God loves us all and how can you treat us this way. If you are followers of Jesus, then you should love us. Quoting Jesus is dangerous, and if we do it, we have to be able to respond to some other passages that are not so endearing about Jesus.
3. The Jesus calling us to suffer - I was thinking that one concept that Jesus has spoken so often about was completely absent from the gay/lesbian/transgendered agenda. Jesus said “blessed are you when you are persecuted for my name sake.” This concept was completely absent from this meeting and any other meeting that I have attended in the past.
Even though I did not intend to speak, because of the scarcity of people speaking on behalf of OGCMA, I decided to take one minute and speak. I organized my thoughts into three points: (after all I am a preacher and we need an outline)
1. As one who lived in Eastern Europe where Christianity was denigrated and persecuted and Christians have been accused often and dragged before the police and courts, since I came to the United States I have never felt unwelcome in public meetings. This one proved slightly different. After a while, since I was not clapping and cheering for speakers and I did not carry one of the placards, people started to stare at me. The smiles between loving community members quickly disappeared in the section where I stood.
2. I mentioned that the day before (Sunday, September 2, 2007) most Christians recited either the Nicene or the Chalcedonic Creed. The Nicene Creed was written in part by Athanasius who was exiled six times for the truth. If the opposition would have won, we would all be Arians today, and believe like the Jehovah Witnesses that Jesus was not of the same essence with the Father or possessing the same eternity. Yet, during his lifetime the expression was coined: “Athanasium contra mundum,” because many times it looked as though he was the only one who believed in the truth.
3. Lastly, I addressed myself to the OGCMA, asking if they consider themselves fighting for the truth of the Bible, and if they would lose this argument in the courts of NJ justice, would they be willing to sacrifice the Pavilion and hold the truth?
On the home way, I was reflecting on some more ideas that came to my mind:
Sometimes my evangelical brothers and sisters do not know how to exhibit grace in public places. By thundering condemnation, we are not able to dialogue too much.
One of the most shocking scenes still for me, after being to so many meetings where these issues are being debated, is to see gay/lesbian/transgendered ministerial couples. There were ministerial types from the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the Methodist Church, and even though none of these denominations accept the unions, by wearing their ministerial collars and speaking about the loving Jesus, they confuse the issue and give it the acceptance that it does not officially have in the denominations they represent.