Archives for November 2013

Dissident Group Promises ‘Disruption’

Fred Brewington speaks on the issue of inclusiveness in The United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by Kathleen S. Barry.

Fred Brewington speaks on the issue of inclusiveness in The United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by Kathleen S. Barry.

Acknowledging that “usual approaches … have failed to end the discrimination that is destroying our church,” the group “Love Prevails” has announced a new campaign to secure “the complete removal of all discriminatory language against LGBT people in The Book of Discipline.” In a flier distributed at the Council of Bishops meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, advocates charged that “for longer than the Israelites wandered in the wilderness the United Methodist Church has systematically and categorically denied the full humanity of LGBT people.”

Love Prevails is a program ministry of Kairos CoMotion that was founded out of the support team for the Rev. Amy DeLong at her June 2011 trial in Wisconsin for performing a same-sex union and being a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Love Prevails is the same group that organized and prosecuted the demonstration on the floor of General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Love Prevails is proposing a three-part strategy “to abolish the policies of discrimination against LGBT people.” The strategy is to disclose(t), divest, and disrupt.

Disclose(t). The group promises to “speak out publicly about our lives, our families, our friends, and our ministries” and “claim equality for ourselves and our LGBT brothers and sisters.” They also plan to “no longer self-censor” when they conduct same-gender unions and weddings. They will thereby increase their public advocacy and disclosure of acts of disobedience, as well as continuing to forcefully lobby for a change in the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Divest. In a break with tradition, Love Prevails pledges to “redirect our time and treasure to efforts aimed at ending discrimination against LGBT people,” forsaking their “loyalty to the institution.” In supporting the church with prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, they believe they are “complicit with policies and practices [they] believe to be both un-Christian and unconscionable.” Thus, they plan to withhold apportionments from parts of the church they deem to be discriminatory.

Disrupt. The final prong of the Love Prevails strategy is to “protest and disrupt local, national, and global events” and “undermine all policies that limit or deny the full participation of LGBT united Methodists in the life of the church.” “The time for polite persuasion has passed,” they believe. They plan to “stand in the way of business as usual,” including a pledge to disrupt the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

The Connectional Table (CT) this week felt the first application of this strategy of disruption. As the CT began its meeting, members of Love Prevails sang and spoke over those who were leading the meeting. Love Prevails would not allow the meeting to continue until the CT had changed its agenda to create time for discussion on the issue of LGBTQ inclusion. (It is difficult to see how one could call what took place at the CT meeting “Christian conferencing.”)

Bishop Bruce Ough, CT chairperson, is quoted as saying, “There are many places where we have not created the settings where we can listen deeply and profoundly enough” and get a “sense of what God is calling us to do.”

With all due respect, we have had many years of studies, conversations, dialogs, and times of holy conferencing. All of this discussion has bent over backwards to include GLBTQ persons and even at times been rather one-sided in presenting a more permissive viewpoint (such as at the recent CT meeting). Despite all the discussions and dialogs, The United Methodist Church has remained consistently opposed to condoning homosexual behavior.

However, those promoting the acceptance of homosexual practice will not accept the outcome of decades of holy conferencing. In their minds, they have the only right answer, and they are going to keep pushing, by force if necessary, until the church agrees to their demands. Friends, it is not that we haven’t talked about this issue enough; it is that some people don’t like how the conversation came out.

If it were evangelicals who were advocating the withholding of apportionments and disrupting meetings to try to force our viewpoint on the church, we would be roundly (and rightly) condemned by the church. However, because many of our church’s leaders favor the LGBTQ cause, they are not speaking out against the bullying tactics being employed by groups like Love Prevails. There is a difference between convincing people and intimidating people by force to attempt to change their minds. As long as our church leaders allow this coercion to continue, our church will be held hostage to an ideological agenda that is a distortion of the Gospel.

One mourns the loss of church time and resources because some people are unable to live within our United Methodist covenant. They should have the freedom to practice ministry however they feel led — outside The United Methodist Church. However, they do not have the right to force their opinions on the rest of a global church, simply because they disagree with Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian teaching. For all our sakes, it is time for our church’s leaders to stand up with clarity and firmness to prevent our church from being hijacked by an intolerant and divisive ideology.

When ‘Do No Harm’ Is Impossible

This past Saturday, 36 United Methodist pastors and 9 clergy of other denominations joined to do a service of holy union for two men in Philadelphia. Their action was an intentional and public violation of the stance of our church, which proclaims God’s love and the sacred worth of all persons, while maintaining that the practice of homosexuality is outside the boundaries of Christian teaching.

One of the arguments frequently made on behalf of same-sex marriage and the affirmation of same-sex behavior is that we are to “do no harm.” This is one of our three General Rules, developed by John Wesley to guide our understanding and practice of the Christian life as Methodists. Those supporting same-sex relationships believe the church is doing harm to gays and lesbians by refusing to condone their behavior as equal to heterosexual love and relationships. Therefore, they say, they are bound by conscience to disobey the church’s teaching and perform same-sex weddings or unions. (I disagree with the premise that refusing to condone homosexual behavior always does harm to gays and lesbians, but that is a subject for another post.)

However, it is becoming apparent that in their zeal to “do no harm,” same-sex supporters are in fact doing harm themselves. Their actions, while encouraging some United Methodists who agree with them, also disheartens other United Methodists who believe what the church teaches—that sexual relations belong solely within the bonds of heterosexual marriage. We get reports quite regularly in our office of strong, faithful Christians who leave United Methodist congregations because of what they perceive as unfaithfulness to the Scriptures and to the authority of the United Methodist Church.

The “trickling out” of faithful, orthodox United Methodists in turn hurts the congregations of which they were a part. Such members usually supported a disproportionate share of the church’s budget and leadership as volunteers. They provided much of the energy for mission and ministry in their local congregations. But they could not stand by and watch the Bible and the church be disrespected by the actions of a few.

The United Methodist Church is hurt in a larger way by same-sex supporters who defy church teaching with their actions. It is becoming quite clear that there is a deep theological divide within the UM Church that has been held in tension for many years. What is new is the determination to live outside the tension, to resolve the tension by taking matters into their own hands. Such actions deepen the sense of division in the church. These schismatic actions give the impression that the United Methodist Church is incapable of holding its pastors and leaders accountable to the policies and moral teachings of the church. This lack of accountability in turn erodes any sense of confidence that laity might have in the leadership and direction of our church.

Finally, the actions of same-sex supporters hurt the process by which we have agreed to make decisions in our church. For decades, same-sex supporters have been calling for “holy conferencing” as the means to settle debates in the church over human sexuality. Annual Conferences and the General Conference have engaged in unprecedented times of “holy conferencing” as a prayerful means of discernment of what the church should teach about human sexuality.

Consistently, these times of “holy conferencing” have led to the reaffirmation of the church’s core teaching that sexual relations belong within heterosexual marriage. Not satisfied with that answer, same-sex supporters have disregarded the results and gone ahead with their actions anyway. The integrity of our church’s process of decision-making through “holy conferencing” has thus been perhaps irreparably harmed. Why should United Methodists engage in “holy conferencing” if those who disagree are simply going to do what they want, if they don’t like the result that conferencing brings? Why should United Methodists who are faithful to the church’s teachings ever trust the “holy conferencing” process again?

What should Christians do when trying to “do no harm” to some means harming others? May I suggest that this dilemma demonstrates that making a decision based on the General Rule “do no harm” is not an adequate rationale for overturning the church’s teaching on human sexuality?