Being A Pastor in a 5-4 World by Rev. Travis Garner

With permission, I offer you this pastoral word:

Unless you’ve not being paying attention to anything going on in the world, you know that this week was a landmark week in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban marriage between same-sex couples. In many ways, the way the decision was reached and the response on social media are more indicative of the current state of our culture than the decision itself. It was a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, and the justices were very divided in their writings on the decision. If you’ve been reading social media (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen incredibly divided responses as well. I have good friends, people of faith, who fall across the spectrum on their response to this ruling.

The question I’m pondering this morning as I prepare to head to church is this: How do you pastor a congregation in a 5-4 world?

The fact of the matter is that we are a divided nation, a divided people. In today’s culture, every possible division between people is emphasized and expanded and exaggerated and exploited. Everything is turned into an “either/or” scenario. Either you agree with me, or you’re a bigot. Either you agree with me, or you’re completely immoral.

This week, there are people who, in the midst of their story and their struggle are celebrating equality. But this week, there are also people who disagree, people who have a different story and a different experience. The reality is that there are not “two sides” on this issue. There’s not a singular gay experience or a singular straight experience. Each of us has a different story, unique experiences, particular struggles, and when we make anything a simple “either/or,” we greatly miss the mark. When we proclaim from our soapboxes that you’re either in favor of this decision or you’re a hateful bigot, we’re being shortsighted. When we say you’re either against this decision or you’re championing immorality, we’re failing to understand the complex reality in which we find ourselves.

What I’m feeling this morning as I prepare to head to worship in such a divided time and cultural landscape, is a deep sense of gratefulness that I believe in a God who loves all people. I’m thankful to be part of a church that has an open table: all people are invited to sit at God’s table. Which means, by the way, that people with whom I strongly disagree are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. People who are and have been hurtful to me are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. After all, Jesus died for bigots. Jesus died for the immoral. Jesus died for all of us.

Every single one of us in the family of God are a mix of saint and sinner, of struggle and victory, of lost and found. None of us, singularly, have it all figured out. We need each other, the people who think and act like us, but maybe even more particularly the people who are different from us. For it is in our difference and diversity that the body of Christ finds its true strength.

As a pastor, I’m a pastor to both the 5 and to the 4. I’m a pastor to people who sharply disagree with one another. And the bottom line is this: all are welcomed in my church and loved unconditionally by God. And all are asked and enabled to become more than what they are when they walked in the door – a person who is continually growing and transforming into the likeness of Christ. I am grateful that this morning, at my church, there will be space for everyone; all are invited.

From Ephesians 4: May we all be rooted and established in love, completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Remembering that there is one body and one Spirit, and one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
*Travis Garner is a Church Planter in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church 


38 Comments on “Being A Pastor in a 5-4 World by Rev. Travis Garner”

  1. Paul says:

    We ALL have to own up to our own sins. We ALL have to answer for our sins. What I have a problem with is pretending that a sin is OK and is now acceptable just to include more people into the congregation. Do we teach our children it is now acceptable to be LGB or T even though the bible speaks directly against it? Do we tell them we out voted GOD and changed the rules? Gee, What other sins can we out vote GOD on, have fun, do as we please, and bypass Jesus Christ and GOD’S law and still get into heaven? I think I’ll take the path less traveled!

    • Paul says:

      I feel they should be welcomed in church and encouraged to follow the Bible’s teachings like everyone else. The church should NOT enable their sinful choices or way of life. If you help tie an animal down for someone else to beat it you are just as guilty of beating that animal. You helped to cause that pain and evil.

  2. Alan G Phillips Jr says:

    At one level, many of us in the UMC may be uncomfortable with Adam Hamilton’s “three-buckets” approach to Scripture in his recent book Making Sense of the Bible (2014).

    Perhaps, ideally, people want to somehow, systematically, reconcile all these different levels of tension in the Bible (the essentials, the non-essentials and the negotiables).

    But….and I say this cautiously, I really think at the practical theological level of what we really do in the church today Adam Hamilton is correct.

    We ARE selective with Scripture, whether or not we are “Mainline,” “Evangelical,” or “Fundamentalist.People cherry pick the “sins” that are/ are not relevant for attention, and unfortunate discrimination against groups is often the result.

    There is definitely an ongoing need for healthy, loving, constructive dialogue in the UMC about what the church really does do before we examine what the church should do in light of Scripture. This is an honest approach.

  3. Michael W. Duvall says:

    The Supreme Court can make gay marriage legal, but they can never make it holy. Since when does the U.S. Constitution trump Scripture?

  4. Church Mouse says:

    Unfortunately, the UMC is becoming as irrelevant as every other mainline denomination. The UMC used to be a moral leader in every small community in this country. No longer so. My next church will not be a UMC but a community church that maintains a biblical worldview. John Wesley never said we should not be a denomination without limits. The big tent theory with Open Hearts, Open Minds makes us sound like Burger King. At the UMC, you can have your religion, your way. This is not what is accorded to us in the Book of Discipline and certainly not in Scripture. If Scripture defines homosexuality as sin and the BOD states that it is not compatible with Christian teaching, should we not be tying to lead our brothers and sisters in Christ out of homosexual sin rather than stamping the seal of approval on it? Our bishops can’t even control their own, i.e. Melvin Talbert. The UMC’s death knell has already been sounded. The only question for the General Boards and the Council of Bishops is how wretched is the split going to be? I will pray for you in your ministry.

  5. Mark Barrett says:

    I live with a split decision in my heart. I know many gay and lesbian couples and cherish and love them dearly. I encourage them to come to church and acknowledge that all sin is sin and only man feels that sin is ranked in degree of worse than. God does not rate sin, so “those who are without sin should cast the first stone”. Jesus sought out the sinners, tax collectors etc. and told the Disciples that all are welcome in his father’s home if they renounce their sin. So, we as Christians need to seek out sinners and non-believers and encourage them to come to Christ and listen to his word and teachings, it is up to them to follow or reject. If you exclude them from that opportunity, you are rejecting Christ’s wish and command to be a missionary.
    My question to the church and to the Pastors is should the church allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in the church. The Bible is clear on same sex relationships, just as it is on divorce. The church cannot control divorce but it does have a say in whom it will allow to marry in the church. Is it wrong to deny a church wedding to gay and lesbian couples? I cannot recall a sermon or conversation with a minister in which support was offered to commit a sin. No Pastor has ever offered an alibi for me to cheat on my wife or provided a hiding place for me to stash goods stolen from my neighbor. Absolution for those sins is granted if you truly repent and ask for forgiveness, but participation in the sin by the church would not be part of God’s plan.
    I do believe that the Supreme Court decision was correct and recognize the rights of all in this country. I do not judge, I love and let God make the final decision on judgement. I also understand that gay and lesbian people do not chose to be gay, it feels unnatural for them to be heterosexual. Just because I don’t understand why people feel or do what they do, doesn’t mean that I have a right to force my will and beliefs on them. It is important that if they chose to commit to each other they be afforded that opportunity and are entitled to share the benefits of other couples (insurance like health and life; legal right to inherit estates etc). I do not believe that the right to marry means that right to wed in a church. As I stated earlier, the church should not be duplicitous in our sins, but should not exclude sinners from joining in worship.

  6. DELL CLOVER says:

    Very well written, Sir–you said it all exactly as I would like to. I’m a devout Christian woman, straight, divorced–stumbling along on the path, loving Jesus and continuing to listen to Him and learn, best I can. I’m never going to be perfect until I get Home, and I’m grateful everyday for GRACE which encourages me to keep moving forward, progressing. God bless you.

  7. Dan says:

    Would it not be more accurate to call “open table” “communion of the unbaptized” which is what it is? I think this is a better description since it more clearly reflects the UMC departure from accepted practice regarding Holy Communion which was established 2000 years ago.

  8. Louis Jordan says:

    Being a Church in a 5-4 World?

    As I read Travis’s excellent words, the question that echoed in my soul is “How can the UMC be a church in a 5-4 world?” As Travis says and the responses to his words illustrate, we are deeply divided on this issue. There are indeed many experiences, many perspectives, and many stories; we cannot reduce the diverse expression of God working in the world and hearts of humanity to two sides and an “either-or” choice. We must recognize the faithfulness of others to their experience of the Gospel and must respect each other with love and without condemnation.

    That is the only hope I see for the UMC in a 5-4 world. I pray that God will enable us to see the hurt and hope in all persons. I pray that our churches and clergy will be able to follow their own convictions in performing same-sex marriages without fear of reprisal or being branded as “for“ or “against”. I pray our leaders will move the conversation from church law to helping us discern God’s will. Someday, perhaps, we will have a universally accepted doctrine and understanding of sexuality. Until then, the UMC must welcome, accept, and respect both the 5’s and the 4’s. We either seize this opportunity to witness for openness and mutual respect, or we become a shrill voice that does not effectively witness for God in this multifaceted world.

    • Michael W. Duvall says:

      God gave us HIS Word that we might know what is true and how we should live. I don’t need the Methodist Discipline or their Social Principles to “clarify” the Word of God. We all have sins that we must confess and put under the blood of Jesus, but we should call sin what it is, and not turn a blind eye to it because we have a friend or family member who is gay. Emotion and compromise lead to rationalization, which usually leads to justification of the sins we don’t want to surrender to God. We all have the privilege to come to God the way we are, and then allow his Holy Spirit to work in our lives to make us what we need to be for the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught righteousness, not permissiveness. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are crucified with him and become new creatures; we become Ambassadors for Christ, not Ambassadors for our culture. Countless Christians have died because they refused to submit to corrupt cultures. Will you stand with the Word of God and the Church of Christ, or will you stand with a corrupt culture? Your move!

  9. Bryan Ens says:

    Reblogged this on Quest for Whirled Peas and commented:
    Although I don’t often reblog other people’s writings, this was too good to not share. One of the best balanced articles I have read on this topic.

  10. Norman Weber says:

    Travis and Bishop McAlilly: Words of eloquence, of passion and compassion expressed from the heart. We United Methodists gladly announce Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds. The words expressed in the pastoral letter, indeed, echo the slogan so effectively. Yet, I do miss a word about those for whom the 5-4 decision was given. You speak of welcoming all to the table of the Lord, you express most passionately the fact that God loves all. As we minister to all who come, at what point do we struggle with total inclusiveness of all no matter what each person’s life style is. What is meant by “transforming into the likeness of Christ?” Indeed this is a challenge that all of us face who believe in Christ and attempt to be a disciple of Him. Gladly have I shared this timely pastoral letter with the members of an adult Sunday school class to continue the conversation.

  11. I have family that I love who identify as homosexual. They are good people as far as people go, better than I in many respects. I don’t condemn them; I love them. If I am asked whether I will be true to God’s word or deny it, I cannot deny it. God is God and who am I? I honestly shudder, though, at how some people who call themselves Christian speak in the world with harsh, condemning, go to hell attitudes. We are not one bit different than our neighbors who identify as gay other than we have stumbled on grace that is grasped by faith, and that is not of ourselves, lest any man boast. But sometimes we use that very grace to excuse our own sin while we “stand on the word” condemning others, especially homosexuals. We need to clean our own house and then get about the business of loving a lost and dying world lest these four words be our destiny – I never knew you. I also fear for my friends and family who have wholeheartedly embraced and celebrated something that misses the mark – as we all do to be sure – but our choices of what to embrace and what to yield to God are the difference between choosing to hit the mark and allowing God to have His way in us. We are either willing to do God’s will and allowi Him to do His work in us; or we are going our own way.

  12. Dennis Olson says:

    Rev. Travis,
    I understand your concern as a pastor and the difficulty of pastoring in a 5-4 world, but I believe you as the leader of your church must make a stance on such an important issue and I did not see that in your posted response to the Supreme Court Decision. I do hope you take a theological stand with respect to same sex marriage and I do hope that it that you do not support it. I am in the Cal-Pac Conference of the UMC where the leadership is certainly overwhelming against my traditional UMC position on same sex marriage. I certainly do not feel a lot of love from the conference leadership. I ask for you prayers for myself and many others in the conference that are traditional United Methodists. Dennis.

  13. Jim Odom says:

    This bonds religion with government, against the dictates of our Constitution.

  14. Stuart Ballew says:

    I agree that we are all sinners and all saved by grace should we accept it but The Bible also points out that right is right and wrong is wrong. We should accept everyone; pray for everyone but we should not condone what it clearly wrong. Each of us need to look at our own lives and find the sins within and ask for forgiveness. That’s my Baptist point of view.

    • connie says:

      thank you for this response…just wonder if you are related to dempsey…if so i am forrest mother

  15. Valerie says:

    God has already judged this gay issue. Why in 2015, are we still dealing with this? Maybe to take our attention off other, maybe, bigger issues?
    If we don’t stand against sin, where do we stand?

    • Marty says:

      Which sin…. The gay on Jesus never talked about, or the ones where we don’t do unto others as we would have them do unto us… Or failing to turn the other cheek? Not the old covenant… What does Jesus say?

      • Paul says:

        Jesus DID say marriage was between a man and a woman. He made no direct ruling directly at LGT (Bi-Sexual -is adultry all the way around and is spoken against EVERYWHERE.) Jesus did speak through those he left behind instructions to BUILD HIS CHURCH and THEY spoke against LGBT directly. 1 John 3:6 and Galations 1:6-12, 5:19, 6:1-10.

  16. Bryan Ens says:

    may I reblog this?

  17. Bryan Ens says:

    I am not a pastor (although I have held that title in the past), and I am from Canada, so this 5/4 ruling does not directly affect me, but the same issue is certainly very prevalent here in Canada as well. I have really been struggling with how to respond to this issue in a manner that is not “This is right and that is wrong”…but in a way where I can state my understanding of the Bible’s words on homosexuality AND the Bible’s view of loving one another without condition. It’s a challenging thing to do! I appreciate your well balanced article…and especially your call to love one another and fellowship with one another…even if/ESPECIALLY if we disagree with each other.

  18. Scott (aka Table97) says:

    Reblogged this on Not Quite Home and commented:
    I wish I had written this… There is great wisdom here. I, too, feel the tension of pastor in in a 5-4 world.

  19. redstar1212 says:

    Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds – none of these are truly open until the Methodist Church allows same-sex marriages. Marriage is a basic human right.

    • Michael W. Duvall says:

      As God designed it, yes, between a man and a woman yes – As Society has perverted it, NO! The Supreme Court can make it legal, but they can never make it holy. Even if the General Conference reverses what the Methodist Discipline says, Holy Scripture still has the final word. Perhaps the perversion of God’s Word by the church is why in spite of a $6 billion annual budget, we are still losing members. If the Discipline is changed, I for one will walk out the door and never come back and I know many more members who feel the same way.

  20. Marty Shaw says:

    Sin is still sin, not because I say it is sin, but because God (in perfect love) says it is sin. All sin was purchased at a great price. We must not dilute the Gospel for that which is financially expedient and socially acceptable- that is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we avoid the obvious problem of sin in our understanding of what Jesus Christ did for us, we end up substituting the Gospel of Christ for a gospel that is powerless to save souls.

    • David says:

      It is called capitulation which by definition compromises the Word. “All are welcomed in my church” the pastor says. Really? How about someone clearly intoxicated and disruptive, or would that person be escorted out? Drunkenness is a state of sin, 1 Cor 6, as are other identified states. This is all basic information and not over-complicated at all (thank God for clear scripture understandable by the average person). I agree: must not dilute or sugarcoat.

  21. John Collett says:

    Travis,
    What a blessed pastoral word! I was trying to formulate some thoughts around the same reality: a 5-4 world. We as pastors are THE persons in all of society who live every day in this divide. And we try, by the grace of God, to pastor all people in that grace. It’s a hard and tense place to be and live. But for such a time as this, that is where God has place us. It might just be the most important ministry we be give Right now. My sense is the divide, that many work each day to make wider and more bitter, will get worse. So this kind of ministry is going to test us going forward. John

  22. ekkeac says:

    This post actually makes me want to leave the United Methodist Church. As my family sat in church today, our pastor (who agreed with the SCOTUS decision) quoted part of the dissent. I didn’t see it happen, but as soon as I looked at my wife’s face, I knew. When she was listening to the quote, she saw a head nodding and “Amen” mouthed. She left the service crying and I stayed with our kids.

    My wife of 23 years or three days, depending on who is counting, and I had to explain to our children on the way home how some people, even though they smile and pass you the peace, it’s not real. Why do I have to make room in my heart for this? I left thinking maybe it was only one or two people, but as I read this I am left to wonder if it is four out of nine, so I am sorry if you feel in the middle of two sides on this one, but from where I sit, I’m not sure I will feel welcome again.

    • Do not go back. There are plenty of Bible based churches that you can join with that shares your and your wife’s values. Do not buy the Jesus is ok with all relationships mantra. This is the time I believe that Jesus is calling out the believers from this church. You will lose good friends over this because they are unable to choose Jesus’s truth over satan’s lies. I pray for strength for you to stand in the Name of Jesus.They are wrong but we love them

      • Alexi V says:

        I think you misunderstood what Ekkeac was saying…. Why is reading comprehension (and compassion) so difficult for people like you? It makes me sad and fearful for the future of this country.

  23. John Engelland says:

    Thank you for your beautiful post. I am so grateful for the love and leadership of Connell Memorial UMC, in Goodlettsville, TN. I’m grateful that all are invited, even me. On the other hand, I wish, “this morning, at my church, there wasn’t SO MUCH space for everyone”!

  24. Irene Spears says:

    I agree with you. Thank you for posting this message. I believe God loves all people, straight or gay He sees the heart.

  25. Ed Miller says:

    Thank you, Travis. As an Episcopalian, who was raised as a Methodist, I appreciate your acceptance of all people. I face similar issues daily in regard to the Death Penalty. I am a lawyer who knows many reasons why government should not kill. Yet, I have friends who support the Death Penalty. I respect them, and they respect me. Today, at church, I had a discussion with someone who had not had the explanation that I gave her. It gave her a new understanding. Likewise, we must be understanding of differing opinions in regard to same-sex relationships. Thank you for your openness. I would be pleased to have a continuing discussion with you. Give Bishop McAlilly my best regards. I met him went we were both visiting on Death Row.

    Ed Miller

  26. Matthew Stuart says:

    We have to come together as Christians..no matter what side we are on.. to work together to spread the word of Christ and not let this issue come between us and we can work through this using God’s love to guide us. Griffin Ingram Tiptonville First United Methodist Church Tiptonville, Tenn.