What is the faithful response of the UMC to the LGBTQ community?
This week in our FAQ series we looked at the most pressing question at the forefront of The United Methodist Church today: What is the faithful response of the UMC to the LGBTQ community? In less than a month delegates from around the world will gather for a General Conference to discuss and hopefully decide a way forward in The United Methodist Church in regards to how our church is in ministry with people who are LGBTQ.
What is not being debated at this conference is the truth that all people are created in God’s image and are of sacred worth to God. It is not about whether or not LGBTQ persons can become members, worship, and/or serve in our churches. The topics being discussed are specifically in regards to marriage (will we allow marriages of same-sex couples in our churches?) and ordination (will we allow people who are LGBTQ to become ordained and will we allow our pastors to perform same-sex marriages?). The topics being discussed are related to current language in our Book of Discipline (BOD) and whether or not we will change it.
People hold different views on this issue, and not only that, but passionately hold different views. We will share a view commonly held views of traditionalists and progressives, so that no matter what side you are on, you can learn a little about the other perspective. Traditionalists (people who want to keep language in the BOD the same) believe scripture is clear in prohibiting homosexuality, referencing several passages in Leviticus and Paul’s letters to churches. They hold that centuries of Christian tradition show that homosexuality is outside of God’s will for human sexuality. They hold that the anatomy of males and females affirm that God created males and females for each other. They also see homosexual behavior as a choice. We all have a desire in us to sin, but we have a choice to repress those desires or act upon them. In regards to experience, they believe that while a testimony of a Christian who is LGBT is self-authenticating, it is not authentic to scripture. What’s ultimately at stake for traditionalists is the holiness of the church, where we are called to be a holy, set apart people from the culture. They worry about a slippery slope with allowing LGBTQ marriage and ordination.
Progressives (people who want to change the language in the BOD to be more inclusive) believe the passages that reference homosexuality were written in a particular context in light of the prevailing same-gender practice of their time, and they likely do not refer to loving, committed relationships among members of the same sex. They see the highest themes of scripture of love as superseding culturally bound references. They recognize that our church tradition has a track record of making changes in order to liberate people who had been harmed to include them more fully within the church (ex: slavery, ordaining women). They hold that scientific evidence suggests sexual orientation is a part of genetics and how people are wired. If a basic need of humans is to be in loving relationships with one another, why would God will someone not to uphold that basic need? Many progressives recognize that they have loved ones who are LGBTQ or are themselves LGBTQ, who are people who have the fruits of the Spirit and God’s love in their hearts. It grieves their hearts to see them not entirely included and welcome in the church. What’s ultimately at stake for progressives is God’s radical acceptance of all in the church.
At General Conference 2016, the Council of Bishops commissioned a task force of 32-people to make recommendations for A Way Forward in our church. The Commission recommended three plans: One Church, Traditionalist, and Connectional Conferences. The One Church plan removes the restrictive language in the Book of Discipline, but gives room for conferences and churches to make decisions based on their context regarding how they are in ministry with or by LGBTQ persons. This plan prioritizes unity of the church, recognizing the global nature of the church. The Traditionalist Plan keeps the language in the Book of Discipline the same but enforces it, in which there are consequences for pastors who perform same-sex marriages and no one who is LGBT can be ordained in the church. The Connectional Conference plan divides the United States into three conferences, one which is traditional, one which is progressive, and one which is in between those two. The Council of Bishops officially recommended the One Church Plan, however the other plans will also be considered.
In Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, he gives them a commandment to love one another as Christ loves them. Jesus states, “They will know you are my disciples by how you love each other” (John 13:35). Jesus said that to the disciples right after he said Judas would betray him and right before the disciples would abandon him. Jesus said these words in a time of tension, conflict, and uncertainty of the future. We believe Jesus’ words here are timely for our context today in the UMC. Jesus never talked about homosexuality, but he talked a lot about love. We live in a big tent church, where we do not all think alike, vote alike, or act alike. No matter what you believe about this issue, we believe that we are to love each other. We are called to treat each other as beloved, worthy children of God. If we cannot love another in the midst of disagreements, we fail as Christians. In the midst of this liminal space and the days that follow General Conference, we encourage you to stay in relationship and conversation with one another, even and especially when you disagree. For they will know we are Christ’s disciples when we love each other.
If you are interested in reading more:
- Commission on a Way Forward- Read here.
- Council of Bishops Recommendation- Read here.
- Way Forward Report- Read here.
- Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and The United Methodist Church– Buy a book here.
Questions to Consider and Discuss:
- Take note about how this sermon affected you. Did it make you angry? Did it give you comfort? Where have you been challenged in your faith?
- In what ways can differing views be a gift to Christ’s church? How do you characterize people who hold different views than you? In what ways can you intentionally love others, particularly when you disagree with them?