As I write this our global denomination’s General Conference is meeting in a special called session to deal with the complex and controversial issue of human sexuality. More specifically, they are dealing with proposed changes to our Book of Discipline revolving around how we are to be in ministry to and with homosexual persons. I don’t yet know what decisions will ultimately be made around the various proposals to modify or maintain the church’s present prohibitions against the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals or the celebration of same sex unions in our churches or by our clergy.
By the time that you read this, the decisions will have been made and the die will have been cast. Right now, there is a lot of anxiety and fear in the denomination about what the future may hold. There are deeply held convictions on both sides of these issues, and whatever decision is made I fear that there will be some measure of split or schism in the United Methodist Church.
My advice as your pastor is for everyone to take a deep breath. Whatever the General Conference has decided, we will faithfully gather for worship on Sunday and Jesus will still be the risen Lord of the church. If the plan being proposed by the Council of Bishops is adopted, there will really be little to no impact on the life of local churches. There is ample room in that plan to respect the rights of conscience for both clergy and congregations. (Nothing would be “forced” on anyone.) Whatever your opinion is on this issue, I want you to know that I respect you and your right to conscience. We don’t have to agree on every issue in order to continue to hold one another in Christian love and be in ministry together!
To those who feel so strongly about these issues that they would be willing to see the church split rather than concede that theirs may not be the only Godly position on the matter, I would make the observation that our denomination has been down a similar road before. Over a century ago, the Methodist church split in two over the issue of slavery and it took us about seventy years to, by the grace of God, come back together. It is interesting to note that in that split, it was the Southerners who were able to point to the Bible as what seemed at the time to be obvious warrant for maintaining the status quo. (See Paul’s letter to Philemon, for example, or the numerous references in Deuteronomy or Leviticus that assume the institution of slavery.) All the direct appeals to scripture were on the side of those who wanted to maintain the institution of slavery! History has not, thankfully, vindicated their view. Perhaps this should serve as a cautionary tale for those who would point to a handful of verses in Leviticus or Paul as the last word on the matter of human sexuality and insist that agreement with their position be the price for remaining together in the same church.
Grace and Peace,