Part of the fallout from the ongoing conflict within The United Methodist Church over the church’s ministry with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons is the damage to people’s trust in the church. The erosion of trust in the institution of the church and in the leadership of the church was pinpointed by the Towers Watson study for the Call to Action report in 2010. Since then, the erosion of trust has only accelerated.
Those promoting the acceptance of homosexuality by the church have adopted an “ends justifies the means” approach. That is why there have been disruptive demonstrations at General Conference every time since 1992. Since 2011, however, the “means” used to force the church to abandon its biblical stance have intensified.
- Hundreds of United Methodist clergy (active and retired) have promised to violate the Discipline by performing same-sex unions or “weddings”
- Dozens of such services have been performed, many quietly and others publicly
- Pro-gay advocates have begun publishing the stories of clergy who have performed same-sex services, some from more than six years ago (and thus exempt from the filing of complaints due to the statute of limitations) and others from a more recent time
How has the institutional church and its leadership responded to this escalation of tactics?
- Bishops (both active and retired) have spoken out against the church’s biblical stance on human sexuality, even though they are called to “guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition,” and to “teach and uphold the theological traditions of The United Methodist Church” (Discipline, ¶414.3, .5)
- Most bishops have refused to warn the clergy in their annual conferences not to violate the Discipline (Bishop Jones and Bishop Hayes are notable exceptions)
- Most bishops who know of violations committed by clergy in their annual conferences have refused to file complaints against them, insisting instead that any complaints filed come from other clergy or laity, rather than initiating the accountability process themselves
- Some bishops have appointed known pro-gay advocates to serve as counsel for the church, charged with enforcing the Discipline’s prohibition against same-sex “marriages” or against the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, tainting the process from the very beginning
- One bishop (along with several district superintendents) publicly attended a same-sex “wedding” performed in his annual conference in support of the persons being “married”
- One complaint against two pastors for performing same-sex “weddings” was “resolved” by the counsel for the church without a trial by simply accepting a 24-hour suspension of the two pastors involved, ignoring the expressed desires of those who filed the complaints (how can there be “resolution” when there is not agreement of the parties involved?)
- The Council of Bishops promised to uphold the Discipline, yet is not sharing publicly what, if any, actions they are taking to hold Bishop Melvin Talbert accountable for his violations of the Discipline in performing a same-sex union in Northern Alabama last October (lack of transparency fosters mistrust—just ask the NSA and the Obama administration!)
- The General Council on Finance and Administration voted to unilaterally offer benefits to same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual partners, contrary to the teachings of our church
The bottom line of all these actions is that the institutional church cannot be trusted to implement the provisions decided upon by the duly elected representatives of the worldwide United Methodist Church. It doesn’t appear to matter what the Book of Discipline says. Bishops and clergy will do what they want to do. Why do we pay $10 million for a General Conference to meet when its actions can be so cavalierly disregarded?
These actions and responses are like a corrosive acid, burning away the “connection” in our connectional church. All systems need trust in order to function in a healthy and effective way. When that trust is lost, it takes a long time and lots of effort to rebuild (just ask any married couple that has survived an affair). The “any means” approach of pro-gay activists and the failure of our leadership to respond (or in many cases their collaboration with the pro-gay tactics) is severely damaging the trust relationship that our church needs in order to function. Regardless of which way the church goes in the future, that damaged trust will hinder the church’s ministry for years to come.
What do you think?