Bishop Sally Dyck (Northern Illinois) was the chair of the unity task force of the Council of Bishops. She always struck me as a person I could dialogue with, even though we disagreed on some key issues. Her latest blog, however, makes me question whether discussion with her is even possible, and points up the deep theological divide that threatens to splinter The United Methodist Church.
In a snarky and sophomoric blog, Bishop Dyck portrayed the division of our church as being between one group that is “gay-friendly” and another group that wants to be “gay-free.” This caricature does not describe any of those I know who are part of the group that has suggested the UM Church may want to consider the possibility of amicable separation. Dyck is stereotyping people who on biblical authority refuse to support same-sex marriage and affirm homosexual behavior as haters and homophobes. She didn’t use those words, but that is the message her blog conveyed.
Evangelical United Methodists strive to be in ministry with all people. Most evangelical churches include gays and lesbians and/or family members of gays and lesbians. We seek to introduce people to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and help people begin and continue a journey of discipleship that transforms every one of us, gay or straight, into the likeness of Christ. We are all lost and sinful apart from the grace of God, and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation and heal sin in our lives. We do not believe it is necessary to condone people’s sins in order to welcome them into the Body of Christ, whether our sins are greed, lust, murder, deceit, adultery, or homosexual behavior. No matter the sin, the medicine is the same: repentance, faith in Christ, and the journey of discipleship. No evangelical I know wants a “gay-free” Methodism.
Evidently, Bishop Dyck wasn’t listening when we shared those perspectives with her at our “deep listening” sessions with the unity task force.
Not only does Dyck caricature and insult evangelicals in her blog, she also threatened our brothers and sisters in the central conferences. In the event of a separation, she presumed “they’ll go gay-free. Are they willing to also go gay-free in terms of money from gay-friendly churches and annual conferences?” In other words, our brothers and sisters should compromise their biblical principles and consciences, so that they can keep the money flowing from Big Brother/Sister in the United States. Are progressives now trying to hold our brothers and sisters hostage with mission money to force their acquiescence to a pro-gay ideology?
Essentially, Dyck does not take seriously the concerns of evangelicals. She distorted our perspective and makes it into a straw man that she can easily demolish through her arguments. There are so many distortions I can’t even begin to reply to all of them. Here are a few of them:
Dyck asked, “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?” The prohibition against same-sex unions is not found in the Social Principles, which are not generally binding but instructive for considering how to apply biblical principles to current cultural situations. No, the prohibition is found in our book of covenant, ¶341.6 and 2702.1. It is a crisis of covenant when some among us decide they are “bigger than The United Methodist Church” (in her words) and override the church’s teaching with their own personal judgment. When persons promise to uphold a covenant and then intentionally disobey it, it creates a crisis of trust and threatens the unity of the church that covenant is designed to protect.
Dyck asked, “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?” It’s important to ask, who is doing the “tearing apart” here? It is not those who are naming the problem who are the problem. Instead, it is those who are violating the Discipline and failing to enforce the Discipline who are “tearing apart” the church. Often, when a couple gets to divorce court, the divorce recognizes the reality that the marriage has already ended. If United Methodism comes to the point of amicable separation, it will recognize that the unity of the church was already torn apart irrevocably.
Dyck maligned the group of leading pastors and theologians who have asked the questions about separation as “a group of large church pastors who think they’re bigger than The United Methodist Church.” No, the ones who are “bigger than the church” are those who believe they can take the law into their own hands and act with impunity to disregard the results of our holy conferencing at General Conference. The ones who are “bigger than the church” are those who impose their personal agenda on the church by insisting that the church change—and that if it won’t, they will act as if it did anyway. The ones who are “bigger than the church” are those like Love Prevails, who think that they are entitled to disrupt meetings and take over agendas in order to push their own personal ideology. The ones who are “bigger than the church” are bishops who have decided not to enforce the Discipline, who refuse to process complaints against pastors who violate our covenant, who determine that there will be no consequences for disobedience, and who publicly advocate a position contrary to the church’s teaching.
We have watched as the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have all experienced a painful separation in their bodies because some in each insisted on promoting the affirmation of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage. In nearly every situation, there were hurtful actions and millions of dollars spent on legal fees. May we not learn from their experience? If there is to be a separation in Methodism, may we not approach it as Christians, with love and grace toward one another? May we not treat one another with love and respect, even as we may have to acknowledge we cannot walk together on the same path? Apparently for Bishop Dyck, that is no longer the case.