A Vote Splits the United Methodist Church

March 4, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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In a world where views on human sexuality serve as wedges the drive deep disunity, the United Methodist Church voted last week in a special conference to retain its practice of not ordaining practicing homosexuals into ministry, according to the stance outlined in its Book of Discipline:

The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.

The UMC is almost certainly headed for a split.  The vote was close:  53 percent to 47 percent were in favor of not ordaining practicing homosexuals.  What is especially interesting is from where many of these more traditional votes came.  The New York Times reports:

While membership has steadily declined in the United States over the past 25 years – a trend that is true for most mainline Protestant denominations – it has been growing in Africa.  About 30 percent of the church’s members are now from African nations, which typically have conservative Christian views; in many of them, homosexuality is a crime.

What Methodists believe in the progressive West turns out to be very different from what Methodists believe in the African South.

In one sense, those who reject a traditional and, I would argue, orthodox view of human sexuality are stuck with a Gordian knot that is not easily cut.  On the one hand, anything less than a full endorsement of all the causes célèbres of the LGBTQ movement is anathema in many progressive circles.  On the other hand, the same progressive circles that demand an affirmation of all kinds of human sexualities also decry a Western cultural imperialism that seeks hegemony over other cultures that think and act differently.  But it is difficult to see the reactions of many progressives within the UMC as anything other than a soft form of the very imperialism these progressives claim to reject.  Take, for instance, the response of Will Willimon, a longtime prominent voice in Methodism, to the vote:

The traditionalists did a bang-up job of political organizing and counting the votes. The progressives were all busy talking about unity and community and listening and loving. The conservatives were on the floor getting the votes.

Willimon’s inference seems to be that traditionalists played politics cynically while progressives loved selflessly.  I’m not sure this accusation adequately captures the truth of this debate – or this vote.

Those who claim Christ’s name are called to love, care for, listen to, defend, and invite in those who are LGBTQ while also upholding certain guidelines and guards around human sexuality.  The only way to cut the Gordian knots of competing cultures is to look beyond these cultures to the One who loves all people from every culture.

As a Christian, I uphold a traditional – and, I would argue, biblical – sexual ethic because I have this hunch that the culture and the age in which I live does not always know what’s best for it.  There are truths that are bigger than what we can see or know right now that stretch across space and through time.  The Christian sexual ethic extends beyond my zip code, my state, and my nation.  It also extends beyond my time.  It was around before me.  And it will continue on after me.  Thus, I am called by Scripture to humbly submit myself to this ethic while also loving those who vehemently disagree with this ethic.  After all, love is a really important Christian ethic, too.

So, instead of choosing the ethic of sexual restraint or the ethic of reckless love, I think I’ll keep both.  For the Church needs both as it lives under the name of the One who displayed both.

Entry filed under: Current Trends. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Christina Olivarez  |  March 4, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for this, difficult times demand that we go to the scriptures and do what God asks, love one another..as he loved us.

    Reply

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