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John Becker, 30, of Silver Spring, Md., waves a rainbow flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Thursday June 25, 2015. The same-sex marriage ruling is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Women should keep silent in church.

After all, that's what the Bible says.

"If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home," declares 1 Corinthians. "For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."

Yet how many Sunday morning churches practice that?

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David Cook

Hopefully none.

God doesn't want women silenced. Or African-Americans oppressed. Or Muslims persecuted. Yet for centuries, mainstream Christianity encouraged such violence because violent hearts interpreted verses in violent ways.

Thankfully, God prevails. An evolved understanding of psychology and the human condition combined with grace and heroic leadership have transformed much of mainstream American Christianity to hold more enlightened view of verses that once dehumanized and degraded.

But the work is not done.

In six days, more than 800 United Methodists leaders from across the world will gather in St. Louis in a special General Conference designed to answer one core question:

How will the Methodist church treat gay believers?

Currently, not well. Gay Christians can't marry. Can't preach. In some ways, Methodist doctrine even suggests gay Christians can't be Christians.

In St. Louis, 16 delegates from area Methodist churches will join other delegates in deciding between two main plans:

The Traditional Plan: nothing really changes.

The One Church Plan: rather than a universal standard, individual churches may decide how to treat LGBTQ Christians.

Many area Methodists seem aligned with the Traditional Plan.

But not all.

"As we prepare for this important legislative gathering, I urge equality for all our members," announced the Rev. Charles Neal.

For years, Neal pastored area Methodist churches, including downtown's First-Centenary. Named a minister emeritus, he's also one of the wisest men I know.

Not long ago, he wrote an open letter to local delegates.

"Regardless of what the General Conference decides, the general public and especially Methodists need to think about the way our denomination is oppressing our LGBT brothers and sisters," he told me.

His letter matters, not only to Methodists, but to all religions, as we continue to honor the heart of God, which is best defined in one word: love.

Here's most of what he wrote to delegates:

"From a theological perspective it's important to remember that those who lived in biblical times didn't have a concept of sexual orientation," Neal writes. "As Matthew Vines says in his helpful book God and the Gay Christian, 'same-sex relations in the first century were not thought to be the expression of an exclusive sexual orientation,' but rather 'the product of excessive sexual desire in general.' Failure to recognize this historical reality leads to a misinterpretation of scripture."

"A frequent argument for not changing our denomination's current position on the LGBT issue is the need to remain faithful to scripture," Neal writes. "However, to be consistent, the church would need to apply the same reasoning to such issues as divorce or the role of women in the church."

"While Jesus never makes a statement forbidding same-sex relations, he does say 'anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of un-chastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery,'" Neal writes. "If we honored this position today, it would adversely affect a significant percentage of United Methodists."

"The church changed its position on divorce and the role of women not just because the culture changed, but because the church realized that such changes were an expression of God's love," Neal says. "I trust that the church will make the same changes regarding its position on our LGBT members for the same reason — inclusiveness is a grace that will make United Methodism a more loving Body of Christ."

"Last but not least," he concludes, "is the peril in which we place our young people when we fail to bless their sexual orientation. Many gay youth have tried to change their orientation only to be left with feelings of degradation, a hopelessness which can lead to suicide. I don't believe the United Methodist Church wants to be part of a cultural prejudice which leads to such a tragedy."

Amen.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329.

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