Thursday, May 8, 2008

The UMC and Gays - Our Witness NOW

Gay rights supporters react tearfully to an April 30 vote at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, retaining the church’s position that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

The once every four years assembly of the United Methodist Church’s legislative body, General Conference, is not scheduled to meet again until 2012. For four more years anyway, those of us who are United Methodists will have to continue living in a house divided, a house where the majority — made up of equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates—upheld church policy by a vote of 504 to 417 declaring the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The matter was first addressed at the General Conference in 1972. The position taken was this: "Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all." At each General Conference since that time, the position has been unsuccessfully challenged. In fact, it has been extended to prohibit the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry of the church, as well as prohibiting ministers from performing ceremonies blessing same sex unions.

In its majority report at this year’s assembly, the legislative committee recommended that delegates delete the incompatibility sentence and adopt the statement, “Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.” The revision also would have asked United Methodists and others “to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices as the Spirit leads us to a new insight.” Alas, this recommendation was defeated and the old policy maintained.

The assembly affirmed that all people are "individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God." Delegates also retained statements asking "families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends."

other actions related to sexuality, the conference:

- Asked the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to develop educational resources and materials on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism, the discrimination or prejudice against lesbians or gay men by heterosexual people.

- Continued the policy of not funding groups that promote the acceptance of homosexuality, but noted that funds also should not go to groups that violate church principles against rejecting or condemning lesbians, gays and friends.

- Retained language defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

- Let stand language in the Book of Discipline regarding pastoral authority over church membership.

The church did not take action to remove transgender pastors from ministry, leaving the Rev. Drew Phoenix to lead his Baltimore congregation. Phoenix transitioned from female to male about two years ago.
I do not want to suggest that the General Conference was focused only on sexuality. It wasn’t. You can follow the link above and see what other matters the conference addressed. However, I think it appropriate to say that homosexuality was the elephant in the room.

In response to my earlier posts (Saturday and Monday) on this issue, I was encouraged by the number of you who, like me, were sad and angry, who were not leaving the church, but determined to stay and work to change the church from the inside. When it is changed, and I believe it will be, it will be because of people who are inside continuing to struggle against the gross injustice of the church’s policies. However, I understand and have considerable sympathy for those who have concluded that it is better for them to be in another place, especially when there are faith communities where LGBTQ are fully accepted and affirmed.

If you read the actions above, you might conclude that the UMC is afflicted with a kind of institutional schizophrenia. On the one hand, to be LGBTQ (those having orientations different than heterosexual) is held to be in conflict with Christian teaching and unacceptable for ordination as clergy. Clergy are forbidden to perform same sex union services and congregations and general agencies of the church are forbidden from funding organizations that promote acceptance of homosexuality.

On the other hand, the General Conference asks families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends, which sounds to me like we asking families and churches not to do what the denomination has already done with its policy. Further, the conference authorized the Board of Church and Society to develop educational resources and materials on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism. Huh? Will these resources take as their first case in point the homophobic policy of the United Methodist Church?

What these diametrically opposed actions indicate is not so much one mind that is split, but rather the reality of two separate minds trying to coexist in one institution. The General Conference has folded its tent for another four years. What are we—who believe the church perpetrates injustice on those whose orientation is other than heterosexual—to do? I hope we refuse to silently accept the action of the General Conference, and continue to protest the unjust policies by demonstrating what is right in congregations, annual conferences, and jurisdictions.

In response to this General Conference, a friend of mine has composed a new hymn to sing in these days ahead. Sing it to the tune of “Kingsfold” (179, 285, 606 in the United Methodist Hymnal).

We are called to love and serve and lead, our church can tell us how.
As we pray for justice, love for all, let this be, "Our Witness NOW."
LGBTQ who serve our God we make this vow for you,
You are loved and welcomed as God's child. This will be, "Our Witness NOW."

Our Communion feast spread out for us is a broken table NOW.
How can we with open hearts and minds close the door and change our vow?
We have said the church belongs to all, all doesn't mean just some.
May that table be transformed today so that all who love may come?

As we seek to teach the words of Christ can we take the steps he trod?
Can we stand for those the 'church' may judge as we 'stay in love with God?'
Can we make disciples for Jesus Christ, echo his love for all?
Say that sexualities are 'gifts from God,’ can this be, "Our Witness NOW?"

Copyright Trudy Williams, May 2008 Use lyrics with appreciation by Trudy.
Let this be our witness NOW!

- Milo

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