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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Religion

Faith and Values: Smudges, sneers and small gods

Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for the Spokesman-Review. COLIN MULVANY (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for the Spokesman-Review. COLIN MULVANY (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Paul Graves For The Spokesman-Review

Today, let’s consider the pain of judgmentalism and the judgmentalism of pain. In Matthew 7:1-4 Jesus’ judgment challenges: … It’s easy to see the smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?

It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”)

Since spring 1972, the United Methodist Church has had a family feud about homosexuality. Six weeks ago, our governing body, the General Conference, narrowly voted to keep the restrictive language and punitive attitude toward ordained LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings.

So we’re still feuding, and the increased heat could result in some kind of organizational splinter of our denomination. That would be painful enough. What is even more painful is the emotional harm being felt by LGBTQ persons, clergy and laity alike, plus their families and allies.

I count myself as an ally! So I struggle to clearly and graciously see how Conference delegates who voted for a “traditionalist” church plan were reflecting a Jesus-like attitude toward the marginalized we call LGBTQ. But God knows how hard I’m trying to transform my disappointment and anger!

The day after the General Conference over, I was moved to pull a certain book from my library: “Your God Is Too Small,” by J.B. Phillips. Published in 1952, it is a classic reminder that our perceptions of God are many and – too often – distorted by our own limited experiences of God.

As I reviewed Phillips’ insights, I was determined to project them onto the people I totally disagree with. Whether they may fear homosexuality, or rigidly limit their views of homosexual behaviors in the Bible to only the words they see, or they seek political control, we are in full disagreement.

It’s easy to label persons who think differently as having gods that are too small. But slowly, I began to wrestle with another thought: Maybe my god was also too small, but in ways different from the “traditionalists.” Maybe we “progressives” have gods too small for the moment, too!

Slowly, this column took a different direction from my original intent. I grieve over the close General Conference vote. (A 54-vote majority suggests that 28 votes for an inclusive church may have had “traditionalists” screaming foul like crazy).

So what do we do now? One fundamental task our whole church might undertake is to humbly admit we revel in taking sides. It’s easier to control others, and our little images of God, when we take sides, and believe God is on our side. But our fences only hem us in, not God!

Traditionalist Methodists pay lip service to the truth that homosexuals are of ultimate worth, but they want to determine where that worth is played out. Progressive Methodists know LGBTQ persons are of ultimate worth, but maybe aren’t so sure about Traditionalists.

Both “sides” are wrong, simply because they choose “sides.” The biblical God has a real bias toward the marginalized persons of society, but that’s not taking “sides.” It’s destroying the fences and bringing all persons together.

If your God creates fences rather than taking them down, I humbly suggest your God is much too small to be of any redemptive good.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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