Schism: Gay-Free or Gay-Friendly?
Let me see if I’ve got this straight right.
There’s a group of large church pastors who think they’re bigger than The United Methodist Church and they are calling for an “amicable separation” based on their sense of a crisis of covenant, the willingness of some clergy to perform same-gender marriage in violation of the Book of Discipline, a crisis of discipleship where people have different understandings of personal and social holiness, and an organizational crisis where some bishops in some contexts aren’t willing to prosecute clergy to the max who perform same-sex couples.
So what would such a separation—amicable or not—look like exactly?
Would those calling for the separation be the Gay-free Methodist Church? If human sexuality is the defining reason for amicable separation, then call it what it is.
If so, would their vows be to give their prayers, presence, gifts, service, witness and commitment to be gay-free in all they do and say?
Would they write a doctrinal creed that every member has to sign that says each person will stay gay-free in all relationships? That the church will be gay-free in membership and outreach? That the church won’t take any money from gay people? If not, won’t it just find itself in the same place we’re at now, welcoming LGBTQ people but not entirely?
What will the central conferences do? I guess we can assume they’ll go gay-free. Are they willing to also go gay-free in terms of money from gay-friendly churches and annual conferences?
Seriously now, it feels to me like this is a final death rattle, not for the church, but for those in the church who see that now 44% of the US population lives in a state where it is legal for same-gender people to marry. Newsflash: they may be living in a state where legal marriage is coming to them…soon! It seems to me that every church is going to hold some gay-friendly families and friends, not to mention…could it be?…gay people. Then what?
How will that be when the sweetest, hardest working formerly United Methodist Women’s president (I assume UMW will go away, too) gathers everyone around her Thanksgiving table and her grown child (whom she has known in her heart to be gay since elementary school) asks her why she belongs to a gay-free church? It was bad enough with the hairball of disciplinary statements that made “mom’s church” less than gay-friendly. Now mom’s church is choosing to be gay-free?
If it’s a crisis in covenant that is at stake here, how is it that tearing apart the unity of the church isn’t a serious violation of covenant? A crisis of covenant is in shattering our history, mission and witness?
If it’s a crisis that some pastors aren’t obeying the Discipline by performing same-gender marriages, especially in states where it’s legal, why are other violations of the Social Principles not chargeable offenses? What makes this the deal-breaker? In fact, there’s much evidence that the deal-breaker is with those who have given up on the church because we aren’t welcoming and loving toward LGBTQ persons.
If it’s a crisis in organization that some bishops aren’t willing to prosecute to the max for this chargeable offense, I don’t understand. The Book of Discipline states that we are to work toward a just resolution with trial as last resort. There are no mandatory sentencing laws in the Book of Discipline so either in the just resolution process or even in a trial, it’s not automatically “one strike and you’re out.”
And if it’s a crisis of discipleship because we don’t all understand and live out the our social holiness in the same way, where do I even begin to describe the many ways in which people live out their social holiness? And personal holiness suggests to me that people should be in lifelong committed relationships and that’s why I’m supportive of same-gender marriages.
And when did the Discipline say that the Scriptures are the infallible word of God, as mentioned in the statement of these clergy? Sufficiency or primacy of Scripture, yes, but United Methodists don’t describe our understanding of Scripture as infallible. Perhaps they would be welcome under the Baptist umbrella or another. (But then I hear just about every denomination has some tension or disagreement about being gay-free and gay-friendly, too.) In fact, at least in the United Methodist Church we can talk about these things.
But about this amicable separation thing. Amicable means pleasant, benign, friendly. Having watched countless couples work for an amicable separation, it doesn’t look like too many can pull it off when it just involves two people, much less 11 million. And I’ve never seen an “amicable separation” not extol a high price on the parties involved and those who depend upon them. Our mission, focus and impact on making a difference in the world through all our ministries would take a devastating hit. The pain of all of this won’t magically disappear if we separate but will continue in new and deeper wounds between us and among us and with those depending upon our “doing all the good we can.”
And what about the Gay-friendly United Methodist Church? Will everyone promise to give their prayers, presence, gifts, service, witness and commitment to work for gay-friendliness? Maybe we should add immigrant-friendliness. And incarcerated-friendliness. And earth-friendliness. Or, maybe we should just add love of neighbor…and then mean it.
I believe that the present statement on homosexuality in the Book of Discipline is not only wrong, but it’s incompatible with our witness of God’s grace and love as demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus. But I’m open to loving my United Methodist neighbors who don’t agree with me.
And didn’t Jesus have a lot to say about that?