Monday, April 16, 2012

Homosexuality and General Conference

The petitioning, debate, and aftermath of the homosexuality issue at our General Conference every four years is dispiriting, leaving the winners and losers both feeling not exactly bursting with the fruit of the Spirit. I see the petitions that are coming, and I’m wondering if I might offer an alternative, which I actually submitted a few hours late due to a life and death week-long vigil I kept in an intensive care ward with my daughter’s boyfriend (who survives, thanks be to God).


This effort allows for the strongest possible disagreement on the matter (which we have, and which accurately characterizes the truth of where we are as a church). It can’t be wise to pretend we have some strong moral stand on such a personal issue when in fact thoughtful, faithful people disagree – and with intensity.

Some have asked me how we would handle ordination if we agree to disagree, and the answer would be that local boards of ordained ministry could decide – which oddly would work quite well in divergent cultures.

I realize any such effort might fail; but if it fails, many of us still feel the current language (if retained once more) is harsher than necessary (especially the term “condone”), so after my substitute petition I will share an edit to our current language that might be more conciliatory.

So here is my suggestion for the kind of thing I hope we might pass:

¶161 F) Human Sexuality. One of God’s most mysterious, confusing and lovely gifts is sexuality. Therefore, we reject any sexual expression that damages people, or exploits adults or children. This good gift of sexuality is to be exercised responsibly, with integrity, fidelity and holiness, as our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” The Church bears the wonderful burden of not only teaching but exemplifying a faithful stewardship of our bodies and minds in sexual relationships. And yet the Church is not one on the issue of whether God’s intention has been to restrict sexual expression to heterosexuals, or if homosexuality can also be accepted. Faithful, thoughtful people have grappled deeply with the issue without coming to consensus. Many, with biblical backing, and given the cultures in which they live, believe strongly that homosexuality is wrong; there is and will always be a place for those who believe this in the Church. Others, with theological logic and given their understanding of humanity, believe just as strongly homosexuality can and should be blessed; there is and will always be a place for those who believe this in the Church as well. The truth is we disagree on the issue, and about God’s people, all of whom are of sacred worth. We continue to reason and pray together with faith and hope that the Holy Spirit will soon bring reconciliation to our community of faith. In the meantime, God’s welcome, and ours in the Church, is to be extended to all people, which is our most faithful witness.

And then, if we “retain” the current statement, might the following be a way to make the current statement more palatable – and I’d say Christlike, without the demeaning verb “condone”?

Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Faithful United Methodists who have grappled deeply with this issue disagree with one another, yet all seek a faithful witness. Our best wisdom remains that we have no unarguable, compelling theological rationale to overturn centuries of Christian teaching, and so we do not endorse homosexuality. Yet we pledge to continue to reason and pray together, with faith and hope that the Holy Spirit will soon bring reconciliation to our community of faith. We affirm God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

14 comments:

  1. Thank you James. This is the kind of dialogue we as United Methodists need.

    Ray Foss

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes. Yes yes yes. And thank you. Reconciliation will only be possible if we first recognize and acknowledge the deep division that exists on this issue in our church - and if we then go on to affirm that we are all doing our very best to be the faithful loving witnesses that we believe God calls us to be. This is exactly the kind of language that could put us on that path.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I suppose the question is whether the Social Principles are intended to be a sociological or journalistic account of the the division of opinion within the UMC?

    I know lots of people in the church who disagree with or ignore other parts of the Social Principles. Should they be written to reflect the diversity of ideas as well?

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I appreciate your thoughtful wording, which is why I would be curious to know if the shift from "the practice of homosexuality" (which I understand does not refer to those who are same-sex oriented but remain celibate) to "homosexuality" (which I would read to encompass all who express a same-sex orientation, regardless of whether or not they act on it) is intentional. What, in your understanding, comprises "homosexuality"? Of course, I'm not sure we've adequately defined "the practices of homosexuality" (is it okay if they kiss? hold hands? take out the garbage in order to make the other one happy?).

    I don't mean to start a debate, just asking the OP if this was an intentional move on his part.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wesley preached about not preventing others from ministering to those in need, even if those others didn't believe exactly the same as you. He said that if you stop something that is producing discipleship, then you might be stopping God.

    There is no reason we UM's can't agree that we disagree on this issue. Seems to me this is the most loving thing to do for all involved! Thanks for your time and energy to create this document!

    ReplyDelete
  7. The language here is very tricky — as Cynthia's response indicated. I was frankly amused by: "we do not endorse homosexuality." The word "homosexuality" is now primarily used to speak of a person's sexual inclinations. So, some gay people would read such a sentence and say: "oh, I exist, but the church doesn't endorse my existence" — or some such thing. Maybe it's just too impolite to say: "same-gender sex" when that's what we mean. Oh well, lots of luck with the wording of this. It's your idea. You work it out. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. The other problem, of course, is politics. How could anyone convince conservative UMs that they have anything to gain in the adoption of the new language? It would need broadly based support to prevail.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I would have added something here: Others, with theological logic and "knowing the unconditional nature of God's love," given their understanding of humanity, believe just as strongly...

    ReplyDelete
  10. James,

    I appreciate what you're trying to voice. There are other good questions being asked here by other commentators.

    My question (suggested by another): what is the role of the Social Principles of the UM Book of Discipline for UM life together?

    Are our Social Principles descriptive of our agreements/disagreements, or endorsements of our "best wisdom?"

    ReplyDelete
  11. I believe this petition is to change the language of the Book of Discipline, not the Social Principles. Whereas the Social Principles are not binding on either lay or clergy members of the UM Church, the Book of Discipline is binding (at least in theory).

    ReplyDelete
  12. Emily--the passage he directly refers to is in the Social Principles, which are a part of the Book of Discipline. The Social Principles are further extended, explained and used as a basis for many of the resolutions in the Book of Resolutions, but the SP are still a part of the Book of Discipline. Although, as you note, we have had cases come before the Judicial Council as to whether or not the Social Principles are binding. There's some grey area here (or please, someone correct me if I'm wrong).

    ReplyDelete
  13. This greatly blessed me and I really hope that your idea is presented because I think it is a very great solution to a complex problem that comes with being a global church.

    ReplyDelete
  14. If the authors were inspired BY GOD where is the error... are you suggesting that God didn't know we would be reading his word in the 21st century??? The Authors didn't know everything and that's why they had to be inspired! I won't stand for anyone making my GOD little

    ReplyDelete