“Open table”—the belief that everyone is invited to receive communion—is a very popular United Methodist belief. It is a favorite rationale of moderates and progressives to argue for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Yet, it has a different meaning for traditionalists who also believe that the table is open to all who repent of their sins, including the sin of homosexual behavior.
This Maundy Thursday post-St. Louis, we are confronted by our differences in the sacrament. Spread out on the table are the central questions facing us: What is inclusion? What is sin?
As a progressive United Methodist, I believe in the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons and I believe our understanding of the Lord’s Supper supports it. But the sacrament supports inclusion in ways that my fellow progressives do not understand.
Progressives have arrived at the right conclusion based on the wrong interpretation of Wesley. “Open table” does not mean that anyone can or should take communion regardless of their intentions, beliefs or desires. Wesley was not making a sacrament of modern liberal ideas of tolerance and equality.
Yet, Wesleyan theology works on a deeper, richer level that can enrich and reform our progressive convictions.
“Come, sinners, to the gospel
let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
Ye need not one be left behind,
for God hath bid all humankind.”
First, we ALL come to the table as sinners in need of grace. Straight and LGBTQ alike are sinners, persons alienated and rebelling against God. On that, all United Methodists can agree. But, the sin is not in one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. More so, it is not a sin to express romantic love to someone of the same sex or gender. This is where I and my traditionalists brothers and sisters disagree.
The sin is not in who we love but how we love. Straight and LGBTQ believers are held to the same standard of bearing the fruit of the Spirit in all relationships. And the gift of the Holy Spirit empowers both LGBTQ and straight believers to produce that fruit in all their relationships, romantic and otherwise.
Just as we share the same sins, we express the same desire for Christ. This is the only criterion for receiving the Lord’s Supper. Do you want Jesus in your heart?
Second, we ALL receive God’s grace at the table:
“Let every soul be Jesus guest…the invitation is to all.”
LGBTQ persons receive God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ without having to deny their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Lord’s Supper is “the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God” (Sermon 26: “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount VI”, §III.11) and LGBTQ believers are children of God. As God’s children, the Spirit dwells in them without them having to be straight, act straight, or be celibate.
The mark of discipleship and new life in Christ is not the suppression or denial of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity but love. Both LGBTQ and straight believers alike express the love of Christ to their spouses. We violate belief in salvation by grace through faith when we make heterosexual behavior or celibacy a necessary mark of the new life. The hymn’s promise applies to all believers:
“Jesus to you his fullness brings,
A feast of marrow, and fat things:
All, all in Christ is freely given,
Pardon, and holiness, and heaven.”
You don’t have to be straight, act straight, or be celibate to be a Christian. We are save by grace through faith in Jesus Christ—nothing more, nothing less.
This Maundy Thursday, Christ pleads with LGBTQ seekers to come to the table:
“Do not begin to make excuse;
ah! do not you his grace refuse;”
Don’t let the hypocrisy and hatred of some Christians turn you away from Jesus:
“your worldly cares and pleasures
leave, and take what Jesus hath to give.”
Leave behind your misdirected desires and malfunctioning anger that keeps you from God’s love. Stop resisting God’s embrace because the church has rejected you:
“Come and partake the gospel feast,
be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of our God,
and eat his flesh and drink his blood.”
The Church is constituted at the table. Both straight and LGBTQ believers gather at the table because Christ has called all to repent of their sins and promises to give pardon and holiness and heaven to all believers without requiring them to sacrifice who God made them to be.