|Commentary: Church at impasse on
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Russ
The Rev. Russ
As The United Methodist Church prepares for its 2008
General Conference, perennial issues related to sexuality are
again popping up.
Last fall, a letter urged me to work with my congregations
and draft petitions to General Conference that get really
tough on homosexuality. In short, I was asked to rally my
people to stand firm and say that homosexuals who wonít repent
of their lifestyle are not fit for membership in the
I havenít received any letters from "the other side," but I
imagine theyíre making similar efforts through similar
Homosexuality has been a contentious issue in The United
Methodist Church and at every General Conference since 1972,
soon after the denomination officially came into existence in
1968 through a merger.
What has happened in the 36 years of debate since?
Not much. While denominational policies have slowly become
more conservative, roughly the same proportions of votes for
or against have occurred every time. Neither side is gaining
In other words, my friends, itís a stalemate.
How does one resolve a stalemate? Quit fighting, and find a
different way to confront the problem!
"We are losing all ability to
work together for the greater glory of Godís Kingdom because
weíve gotten so divided and distracted on one
Am I going to lobby on this one? You bet! But Iím going to
lobby in a manner different from what the lobbyists urge. And
I would appreciate my United Methodist brothers and sisters
arising and telling both sides firmly, "Enough already!"
Do I have an opinion on homosexuality? Of course I do, and
I am sure that you do, too. I arrived at my conclusions after
a great deal of prayer, study of Scripture and consultation of
historic church tradition, as well as current thought on the
issue. I'm sure others have done the same. My opinion on
homosexuality is not a primary point. I donít think yours is,
My point is that a lot of people have been so focused on
this issue that they miss the real point. We are losing all
ability to work together for the greater glory of Godís
Kingdom because weíve gotten so divided and distracted on one
If you really want to know my position, ask me privately,
and I will tell you privately. If we donít agree, that's fine.
I love you even when we arenít eye to eye on something. Isnít
that part of the nature of the true church?
I would think that declining United Methodist membership
since 1968 might serve as a glaring warning that we need to do
some serious "getting together." If we are to do that, we need
to lower our swords and let them be plowshares.
I do not believe the right answer is simply to deny church
membership to people of homosexual orientation. Simply put,
itís not godly.
If I toss out gay people because of their unrepentant
attitude, there are a number of unrepentant persons who, in
all fairness, I should also excommunicate. For instance:
members who gamble or wonít stand against gambling, though
they know full well the United Methodist position on the
practice. Also, members who use tobacco (our Book of
Discipline says that use of tobacco is not a morally
indifferent issue) or alcohol (after all, we did start
recite membership vows in the presence of God to support their
church with their prayers, presence, gifts and service. Then
they never show up in worship or contribute in any way to the
life of their congregation, although they still expect the
church to be available when needed.
A communion chalice, broken in protest of
the church's stance on homosexuality, is mended and
returned to the 2004 General Conference altar in
Pittsburgh. A UMNS file photo by Mike
The list could go on, but I think you get the point.
Iím a pastor. What shall I do with all these sinners? Oops.
I guess I also should give myself the old heave-ho since I
wrestle with sin as much as anyone.
Please donít misunderstand. I am not attempting to make sin
less important. The Bible is clear that "all have sinned and
fall(en) short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 NIV)
Sin is sin. Whether you cheat on your spouse, murder your
neighbor or steal ó itís all sin. If we are going to "get
tough" on the practice of homosexuality because, as the
Discipline states, it is "incompatible with Christian
teaching," perhaps we should, in all fairness, get more
specific and tough on all sin, whether controversial or not.
An instrument of grace
Itís a God-given truth that if you want to receive Godís
salvation, you must repent of your sins, devote your life to
following the Lord Jesus Christ and give up conscious sin.
There is no salvation apart from Christ and His church, and a
place of eternal misery awaits those who will not accept Jesus
But it's also a God-given truth that there is grace for
those who truly seek transformation. As the "children" of
Methodism founder John Wesley, we understand this to be the
process of perfection in grace: how God, by His grace,
transforms us into the persons He always meant for us to
The church is an instrument of Godís grace. No one should
be deprived of the place where itís most likely that you will
be influenced to turn to Christ and live for Christ. The final
judgment of the condition of our souls will be made by God on
Judgment Day. Let Him handle this one.
This doesnít mean unrepentant sinners should be able to go
anywhere or do anything in the church. A person unwilling to
repent of clearly identified sin should not be a leader in the
Body. The Bible is clear on this. But why on earth should we
shut him or her out and away from what is needed the most?
Expelling people because theyíre stuck in sin denies them
the opportunity to truly experience a holy transformation they
wonít find elsewhere.
Thorn in the flesh
This debate is going nowhere in the church, nationally or
locally, despite all of the "politicking" on both sides. Weíre
stalemated. It is time to consider a different tack.
"Perhaps itís time we United
Methodists ask ourselves, 'Why isn't God removing this thorn
from our flesh?'"
The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians about a thorn in
his flesh that God would not take away, no matter how much
Paul asked Him. Perhaps itís time we United Methodists ask
ourselves, "Why isn't God removing this thorn from our flesh?"
Perhaps it's time that we work for peace in our "valley" by
first celebrating what we hold in common: the foundation of
our unityóthe salvation of Jesus Christ.
The next step is that we do ministry and bring glory to God
instead of giving the media ammunition to report on "who
attacked whom at the General Conference."
We may never reach consensus on this issue. Why not use all
of this energy differentlyóand create peace instead of
division? We surely will bring more glory to the Father in
this way than by breaking the Body.
This is my hope and prayer. Peace, my friends.
*Whaley is an elder in the Dakotas Annual Conference,
currently serving the Pembina-Joliette-Humboldt Charge.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615)
742-5470 or email@example.com.
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