Conservative Christians Just Retook the United Methodist Church

Via:  Bob Nelson  •  7 months ago  •  1 comments

Conservative Christians Just Retook the United Methodist Church
The mainline denomination voted on Tuesday to toughen its teachings against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ clergy. It must now decide whether it will stay together.

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512 The United Methodist Church has fractured over the role of LGBTQ people in the denomination. At a special conference in St. Louis this week, convened specifically to address divisions over LGBTQ issues, members voted to toughen prohibitions on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. This was a surprise: The denomination’s bishops, its top clergy, pushed hard for a resolution that would have allowed local congregations, conferences, and clergy to make their own choices about conducting same-sex marriages and ordaining LGBTQ pastors. This proposal, called the “One Church Plan,” was designed to keep the denomination together. Methodist delegates rejected its recommendations, instead choosing the so-called Traditional Plan, which affirmed the denomination’s teachings against homosexuality.

This is a consequential vote for the future of the United Methodist Church: Many progressive churches will now almost certainly consider leaving the denomination. It’s also a reminder that many Christian denominations, including mainline groups such as the UMC, are still deeply divided over questions of sexuality and gender identity. While the UMC in the United States is roughly evenly divided between those who identify as traditionalists and those who identify as moderates and liberals, it is also a global organization. Many of the growing communities in the Philippines or countries in Africa are committed to theological teachings against same-sex relationships and marriages.

Self-described traditionalists in the United Methodist Church got the outcome they’ve been fighting for. Still, “I think there’s a lot of grief on all sides,” said Keith Boyette, the head of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and a main proponent of the Traditional Plan, in an interview on Tuesday. Methodists are in mourning for a United Methodist Church that might be on the brink of a mass exodus.

For years, LGBTQ Methodists, clergy, and their supporters have argued that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities should be fully included in the denomination as leaders, and that their families should be recognized. “As someone who has grown up in our Church, as someone who is gay and goes to one of the least religious colleges in the U.S., my evangelism on campus has grown,” said J. J. Warren, a senior at Sarah Lawrence College who hopes to become a Methodist pastor, during the conference on Tuesday. “We have brought people to Jesus … They did not know God could love them, because their churches said God didn’t … If we could be a Church that brings Jesus to people who are told can’t be loved, that’s what I want our Church to be.”

Others in the denomination, however, see LGBTQ issues as a proxy for bigger divisions over biblical teachings. “This is not a political or social kind of difference. It is primarily, for us, a theological difference, and the truth that the Church has been raised up to share,” Boyette said. “When a Church begins to fracture around its compliance with its doctrine and ethics and discipline, it becomes a house divided. It becomes dysfunctional.”

According to its Book of Discipline, the denomination’s collection of laws and doctrines, Methodist pastors are not allowed to conduct same-sex weddings, and “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained. In practice, however, a number of Methodist clergy and churches have made clear that they disagree with this teaching, at times openly defying it. A lesbian pastor, Karen Oliveto, was even elected a bishop in the Church , a position she still holds even though the denomination’s judicial council later ruled that her marriage to a woman violated Church doctrine. At the same time, other churches remain deeply committed to UMC teachings against same-sex marriage and relationships.

The United Methodist Church, which was formed in a 1968 merger between two denominations, has known for a long time that it would eventually have to address these deeply felt disagreements over LGBTQ issues. At the denomination’s 2016 General Conference, delegates asked UMC bishops to produce recommendations for how the Church should resolve divisions over LGBTQ issues. Over the next three years, Methodist leaders developed the One Church Plan, which would have allowed local pastors and regional conferences to make their own decisions, keeping the denomination together but allowing for diversity in its ranks.

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Lead image: Delegates at the United Methodist Church General Conference react to the defeat of a proposal that would have allowed pastors to perform same-sex weddings and LGBTQ people to serve in ministry in some areas.     Sid Hastings / AP


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Bob Nelson
1  seeder  Bob Nelson    7 months ago

The United Methodist Church has spent the last few days becoming DISunited. I'm not a church-goer, and not even sure that churches are a good idea... but I am sure that having a "Christian" church that excludes gays is very precisely contrary to everything Christ taught.

I'm not a Methodist, but they've always seemed reasonable. Some still do:

Practical Holiness Is Wesleyan Orthodoxy

512 I just spent a three-day Cursillo retreat with mostly older, conservative small-town United Methodists in our very conservative annual conference of Louisiana. It was an incredibly beautiful, life-giving experience, much of which I can’t share. What I can share is that it rekindled my love for actual orthodox Wesleyan theology, which could be summarized in two words: practical holiness .

I wish that every General Conference delegate had to go on a Methodist Cursillo or Emmaus retreat immediately before General Conference and had to frame all their proposals in terms of the practical, accessible Wesleyan theology presented there. Does it have to do with prevenient, justifying, or sanctifying grace? Does your proposal result in greater means of grace or more obstacles to grace? Or how about which aspect of Jesus’ character in John Wesley’s favorite devotional book The Imitation of Christ  is your proposal embodying?

Throughout our sexuality debate, the traditionalists have spoken of the fear that orthodox Wesleyan theology is being muddied into incoherence by a vague commitment to “openness” and a capitulation to secular liberal social mores. I absolutely share their concern and I see the danger of theological incoherence in liberal theology. Turning the church into a basically secular social justice and community service organization leaves it spiritually dead.

But the gender essentialism that makes same-sex marriage a problem is not an organic product of our Wesleyan theological system. It is an alien element borrowed from generic social conservative sentimentality that is every bit as theologically incoherent as the secular liberalism of many mainline churches.

Yes, there are a few (very few) isolated proof-texts in the Bible that can be used to oppose same-sex marriage. Yes, Wesleyan theology is committed to the Bible as our primary authority for spiritual discernment. But Wesleyans are not un-thoughtful Bible thumpers who flip open to random pages to figure out what to do each day. We read the Bible to find all the means of grace that we can and to root out all the obstacles to grace we can so that we can be perfected in love as vessels of God’s grace. We have a specific Wesleyan theological agenda that we bring to the biblical text through which we interpret the text.

Under a Wesleyan account of practical holiness, sin is sin because it gets in the way of God’s grace, whether it causes active harm to people or simply poses an obstacle to God’s sanctifying work within us. Sin is not sin by divine edict; it is sin because of its impact (which is ironically the primary message of Romans 1:18-32 in its illustration of the cascading corruption of idolatry). We do not think of sin legalistically in terms of abstract rules that have no practical justification; we think of sin in the virtue-based terms that the apostle Paul gives us in Galatians when he exhorts us to live in ways that cultivate fruit of the spirit instead of the flesh.

Practical holiness does not accept unprocessed chapter-verse citations from scripture as the final word in any conversation about holiness. John Wesley believed in understanding and explaining in plain, accessible ways how our holiness fits together. If John Wesley believed that same-sex marriage were wrong, he would accept the onus of explaining why it’s wrong in the same terms of practical holiness with which all of his sermons were filled. In addressing the issues of his time, he didn’t just wave Bible quotes at people and expect them to fall in line, even though the Bible was a lot more culturally authoritative in his day than ours. His sermon arguments always appealed to the common sense standards of his time.

I have never heard traditionalist Methodists explain their opposition to same-sex marriage in practical holiness terms. What they say is that support of same-sex marriage is theologically “symptomatic” of compromised “lukewarm” theology of “mainline” churches that are shrinking. They argue that “evangelical” theology makes churches grow. And they point at Africa where people oppose same-sex marriage and the church is growing.

In other words, the practical arguments of traditionalist Methodists (that I’ve heard) are made almost entirely in terms of church growth instead of a specifically Wesleyan theology of gender. If they were conservative Southern Baptists or Calvinists, they would say that our society has fallen apart because women have stopped being obedient to their husbands in marriage and staying home to raise their kids while their husbands are the sole breadwinners, and that same-sex marriage is a further slide down the slippery slope of the collapse of God’s ordained roles for men and women. Hierarchical gender essentialism is a major aspect of the authoritarian structure of  Baptist and Calvinist theological systems. It is alien to a Wesleyan theological system shaped by the practical pursuit of perfection in love.

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