About that UMReporter Article…[response]

A Methodist Church United for our Daughters

In the November 2nd edition of the United Methodist Reporter (a national publication of the United Methodist Church with editorial independence) published an article “A Methodist Church United for our Daughters” by fellow Methoblogger Ben Gosden and myself. In it, Ben and I respond to Jack Jackson’s assertion that the UMC has only schism as the best option ahead of it regarding the LGBT debate. We disagreed completely with that assertion.

Here’s the article, take a moment and read it.

Over the weekend as friends read the article, it became apparent that the article ticked off people from both camps. Not only Traditionalists who believe that schism will solve the “gay problem” but also Progressives who point to the repeated evidence of ecclesial discrimination being increasingly numerically invulnerable (and thus difficult to remain in a denomination that practices this discrimination). Impressive to say the least!

From this point, I’m speaking for myself, not on Ben’s behalf. Just so we are clear.

The criticisms I’ve seen online seem to fall into three categories.

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Criticism one: Schism will end the ecclesial discrimination against LGBT ministers and allow them to serve openly. I write clearly with heteronormative privilege in that I am straight and serving as clergy. On the same day as this article came out, an article ran in Chicago about a Garrett-Evangelical seminarian who is openly gay and leaving the UMC because he can’t serve openly. So I understand completely this criticism that continuing on in this way is discriminatory against our LGBT ministers and no amount of idealistic hope will change that. I’m with you. But I also stand by exactly what we wrote in the article:

It seems progressives who want to split forget that the church they leave will continue to have gay children. And it seems traditionalists who want separation naively think separation will finally rid the church of the homosexual debate, as though gay persons will no longer inhabit our spaces of worship, formation and service.

Heterosexual couples have gay children; thus, schism does not solve the problem but perpetuates the cycle of violence against LGBT people. While I have privilege as a straight clergyperson, I’ve lost TOO MANY friends to other denominations who were unable to serve in the UMC. I have my scars. I’ve lost friends. I’ve begged for them to reconsider. I’ve theologically rationalized things. I’ve listened late into the night and agreed with their decisions (not that they needed my agreement).

In short, the reality of the ecclesial brain drain of the past 40 years doesn’t nullify my hope to end the exodus in non-schismatic ways. Indeed, the presence of dissonant voices in our denomination is the only hope it has.

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Criticism two: Idealism and a “better theological model” will not solve our problems, only practical measures will. I agree completely. Unfortunately, due to our editing constraints, I reduced my practical measure to exactly one sentence:

We may worship in diverse ways across our connection, and there may come a point where our polity is diverse as well (as it currently is in our worldwide church), and such diversity is not disconcerting in a Church with the Eucharist as its guide.

In that, I support the movements by the Western Jurisdiction to try different ecclesial standards that do not affect the ecclesial models of other jurisdictions. The truth is that this is already the case in the global UMC: the non-US conferences can change their books of discipline to match their contexts. That the Western Jurisdiction is doing this without Disciplinary permission will be worked out after three years of practice (or whenever the Judicial Council sounds off).

The practical truth is that recommending a diversity of polity that already exists in the global UMC solves an inequality problem in the USA region of the church and offers a non-schism approach to the LGBT issue (which would be our primary hope).

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Criticism three: Gridlock is not a theological value or an answer to the world’s problems. For some, the chasm between both sides of the LGBT debate is insurmountable. Unlike our issues with black clergy and women clergy, the LGBT debate is more like our problems with slavery, which practically required us to sever ties for a time. Neither side often want to talk to each other, and when one side is in the clear majority, the debate is over at the annual conference level. People are tired. Why would we want to keep discussing this?

Because, and again pointing to the article, I believe that we are reflecting our culture now and have an opportunity to do something bigger:

 In a world of polarizing politics, widening chasms between the “haves” and “have-nots,” demonization of the “other side,” what better means of grace could the Church offer than how to hold together unity in diversity, to welcome the varieties of the United Methodist experience around the Communion Table?

As I’ve written before, we have an opportunity to model for the world how differences can make us stronger, and a decentralized polity can empower local missions work. I’m now serving in the Western Jurisdiction and every month I’m made aware of someone else who has left my local church because of the UMC’s doctrinal stance on the LGBT issue, regardless of our Reconciling status as a local church. Our uniform polity makes missional variance extremely difficult, and extremely difficult to find clergy who can speak to these varied contexts. Do some churches function best under a Traditionalist? A Progressive? An open LGBT person? A closet Baptist? Yes and yes yes yes. Our church is that varied.

It will take a diverse polity and willingness to practice humility to try something new, and that could be our lasting witness to a world satisfied to tear itself apart into ghettoized camps–and for my daughter’s generation, I don’t wish that.

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In short, what Ben and I hope for in the article is that:

  • people find value in seeking unity, not for unity’s sake, but as a witness to the world that differences do not make us weaker but stronger;
  • that gridlock is not the end-all of a diverse theological system;
  • that unity in diversity is more powerful than uniformity;
  • that mission is varied across contexts and thus polity ought be as well;
  • that the people called Methodists were began by a tyrant but do not need to practice tyranny in their polity;
  • that there is hope and God is not done with the United Methodist Church.

Thoughts? Reflections? Stories? Feel free to post comments here!

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Comments

  1. Mike Peters says

    Ben Gosden
    Jeremy Smith
    Just read your interesting article in the Nov. 2 UM Reporter. Thank you for sharing your ideas, in a reasonable way, about one of the most divisive topics in religion and possibly the world today.
    I’m not accustomed to the term traditionalist being attributed to the renewal movement. It seems you are equating the homosexual issue with the issue of racial equality. There is no correlation between the two. Your assumption seems to be that “traditionalists” want to exclude homosexuals from our buildings. That is untrue. Folks on the progressive side sometimes tend to distort the facts. So your position is understandable. Race is a condition of birth, bur sexual activity is a choice.
    It is true that racial segregation was a big issue in the 1840’s. In the 1950’s it was argued in the Methodist Church as strongly as the GBLT issue is today. The difference is that folks in the renewal movement want no human being to be excluded for any reason. Segregation of any kind is wrong.
    It is the duty of church to provide proper council to each other over matters of sin and bad behavior. You wouldn’t want someone to attend a service with a bottle of booze in hand and yell swear words. In that light the UMC, was more or less forced, to make a statement about the practice of homosexuality. I would prefer that we said “any intimate sexual relationship outside of marriage between one man and one woman” but the current language was born out of the push to promote same sex activity among church members.
    It has never been the intent of the UMC to exclude any sinner. God alone is Judge. A lot of attention was given to the pastor in Virginia, a few years ago, who told a practicing and unrepentant gay man that he was not yet ready for membership. Yet the Bishop, who was proven to be wrong, was never held accountable.
    I wish both of you much success in your ministry.
    Mike Peters
    Lay member
    New Milford UMC
    Rockford, IL
    Coinmanana@aol.com

  2. d says

    “In short, what Ben and I hope for in the article is that:”

    Where is your evidence to support your ” hoped for”?
    The evidence points in a different direction.
    Uniformity is one of the great welcoming characteristics of the RCC.
    Any RCC member will tell you, “No matter where they go in the world, the church service, practice and doctrines held are the same.” They know what to expect and welcome and embrace the practice. They find it comforting.

    In numerical value, just how many friends have you lost because they are closeted and serving in the UMC?

    What standards do you believe the Bible sets to serve as a leader in the UMC?
    Where does compromise begin and end and doctrine take center stage?

    The Un-United UMC in the Un-United USA is evidenced every where you look.

    I agree with Peter’s comments
    I disagree the tern “progressive” should equate with acceptance of homosexuality in the CC.
    Those that do not support full inclusion of homosexuality see it as a giant leap backwards.

    If you put the platform of so called progressives and list them together you get the following:
    1.Support abortion rights
    2.Support same sex marriage and full inclusion in the CC
    3. Legalization of drugs, Marijuana
    4. Call for unions outside of marriage. (living together)

    What things “Holy” do you find in the above?

    • d says

      A few other points.

      Have you taken into account the practical application of what you are suggesting?

      By your plan:
      1. Depending on the jurisdiction or individual church one may or may not be considered a member of the UMC. Membership of practicing homosexuals would be denied in some localities accepted in others.

      2. Who would and would not be able to participate in the Baptism Service, take Holy Communion with the church?
      Will UMC pastors have to place a hand over the communion cup?

      3. Tourists and visiting members on both sides of the isle may be hesitant to attend or give funds to another UMC because they will not know what to expect.

      A deeper look at what you are suggesting may lead to chaos not unity.
      Are you confusing tolerance with unity?
      They are not the same thing.

      http://umc-gbcs.org/faith-in-action/ecumenical-pact-does-not

      • says

        In reply to your follow-up points:

        1. Membership is being denied already based on sexual orientation. As long as the pastor reserves the right to accept or deny membership requests, this is happening. If you don’t think pastors are denying openly gay members, then you’re just wrong.

        2. What are you talking about? I’m not following that reasoning and I think you’re heading down a slippery slope.

        3. People are already “hesitant to give funds” — this has little to do with what they expect and more to do with we’re collectively poor with our financial generosity and stewardship.

        4. Key term here is “unity in diversity.” This is NOT the same as tolerance. This is a challenge to love (not tolerate) despite our differences. What we’re calling for much more demanding than tolerance, hence why we root it in Eucharistic theology.

  3. Rev, Andrew Coon says

    I appreciate the care with which you have approached this challenging issue. I join you in praying that the UMC holds together.

    I lament the way that your suggestions, and others like them, have been lambasted. It is hard to watch those who confess to follow Jesus become so verbally abusive in dialog.

  4. Rev. Sarah Flynn says

    I do believe that short of schism, ‘noncompliance’ is the only other alternative. But it is a weak reed to lean on. Either the Judicial Council or the next General Conference may seek to make mandatory explusions of those found in violation of the rules. Attempts to weaken the rules have in the past resulted in more rules being imposed, not less.
    While I am inclined to agree with your Eucharistic theology and a more diverse approach to polity, I think neither one is very realistic in the present situation. For one thing, even the casual visitor to a UM congregation will discern that the Eucharist is not a central metaphor for who Methodists understand themselves to be. It is at most a monthly celebration for the vast majority of UM congregations, and for some it isn’t even that. Methodists still value preaching and hymnsinging over all else when it comes to church and many resist more frequent celebrations of Holy Communion. And while Methodists seem to have a great deal of variety in worship, (even at odds with the official services of the church), there is little tolerance for departures in polity as witness the reaction of the Conservatives to those few exceptions made for LGBT people. Even liberals seem to quake at the consequences of ‘breaking the covenant’ — while not showing not nearly enough apprehension about denying the baptismal covenant which precedes and is of greater significance than the connectional covenant. So I would have to reluctantly agree with your critics who say that you lack realism in what you propose. The UMC is not a church centered in the Eucharist, even though J. Wesley believed Methodists should be so centered. They aren’t, and saying they should be won’t make it so any time soon. And diversity in polity is no more welcome than diversity in membership is in over half of the congregations of the UMC.
    Finally, I must ask you to step out of the cocoon of the UMC and look at the cultural revolution that has taken place in our society around LGBT people. We are approaching a tipping point on gay marriage, we have seen the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we may some day get nondiscrimination against LGBT people mandated by Federal statute. All this change in the space of one life time (my own). And why has it happened? Because a few had the courage to stand up and tell the truth and refuse to accept the oppression of the past. Some have paid dearly for doing that. Each year we remember the lives of over 100 trans people murdered in the US alone. Those changes have come about because LGBT people have refused to be silent and complicit with oppressive institutions in our society— including the churches. Insofar as LGBT people have the courage to do that in the UMC they face negative reactions in most congregations, and clergy face trial and possible dismissal,or removal as ‘unappointable.’. Now unless you as a straight man are willing to face the same consequences, how appropriate is it to give advice to stay to those who choose to leave? By leaving, and by schism LGBT people ARE creating an alternative path for the next generation. They ARE becoming visible, and refusing to be complicit in the conspiracy of silence expected of LGBT people in many UMC congregations. Those churches that do welcome LGBT people deserve our support. Those that don’t stand with us, deserve whatever consequences that befall them as a result of our departure.
    Liberal minded clergy either need to work to make their congregations welcoming and reconciling, or move on. It should be part of their up front intentions for taking a parish assignment. And they should expect support from their DS and bishop to accomplish that task. Frankly, I don’t expect to live long enough to see that happen. And for the sake of younger LGBT Methodists I say noncompliance or schism should be the watchwords for the future. No more caving into Conservatives in the name of preserving the connectional covenant. There is a greater covenant to which we are to be accountable. It is the New Covenant of which we are made a part by Baptism and faith in the Gospel. Methodism was a response to a socially bound up state church, an outreach to the outcast and forgotten. And eventually it became a separate church because the people it reached weren’t welcomed in the Established Church. American Methodsm may have outlived its purpose and become a haven for those who seek to escape from the claims of the radical inclusiveness of the Gospel. If so, it is time to pack your bags and start over …
    I had to face that same situation 30 years ago. Being out, there was no place to go in the UMC. There still isn’t in many conferences of the UMC. But the good news is that there are non Methodist churches out there that will receive you with open arms. It is time to let the dead bury the dead and rejoice that the Reign of God has appeared even in churches that once refused it. My LGBT brothers and sisters I encourage you to follow the Spirit in coming out for Christ’s sake, be that in the UMC where some will accept you, or if they won’t, then in some other church that will affirm you as a child of God.

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