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.