I’m a pretty high volume news consumer when it comes to the world of religion, politics, and social justice, so I’m generally aware of big stories and happenings. However, it seems I have been left behind a bit regarding the news of a certain cowardly and hateful movement within the United Methodist Church opposing the marriage of same-sex couples. The group (I guess its a group? Really its a petition people are signing), Faithful UMC, purports to be protecting the integrity of the UMC from the over 900 clergy who have pledged to continue in their blessing of committed unions between all people, regardless of their sex.
Now, I sort of think that people are entitled to their own opinions. Kind of. Well, I wouldn’t say that people are cowardly for expressing their own opinions, anyway. But what infuriates me about this petition is that the authors and signers are hiding behind the guise of institutional stability instead of just stating their opinion on the matter. Those who ascribe to the Faithful UMC message are not primarily worried that disobedience of church law would hurt the United Methodist Church as a denomination. Nor are they solely concerned that it would sully the reputation of “holy conferencing.” I think they simply do not believe homosexual unions have any place in the church, especially the UMC.
(I will go no farther in assuming their collective beliefs on sexual identity, as I’m sure it runs the (albeit limited) gamut of people who can’t quite accept sexuality as part of God’s creation.)
In their “defense” of United Methodism in its present form, however, they seem to have forgotten both our history and our future. They seem to have forgotten pain caused by the exclusion of people of color and women from membership and ordination, from representation at Annual and General Conferences, from any major leadership roles until embarrassingly late in history. Following the Book of Discipline’s institutionalized racial and sexual segregation and discrimination caused rifts we as a denomination still have yet to fully heal. I would have hoped that, retrospectively, we might have realized that institutions (even gasp churches) are not above perpetuating injustice, and we must critique institutions by what we know of God’s will for creation as it moves on toward perfection.
The lay petition claims:
"No institution that values its health and its integrity can allow those who represent that institution to willfully, publicly, and repeatedly undermine its policies by their actions or their statements. Doing so, whether in the name of compassion or diversity, will rupture our unity, weaken our witness, and cause our members to mistrust our leaders. The United Methodist Church must not sacrifice all the positive ministries of transformational discipleship that we are attempting to build for the sake of a defiant minority."
I don’t know about you (actually, if you’re reading this, I probably do), but I most mistrust clergy who accept what they know to be wrong in the name of denominational vitality. In fact, if leaders of the church are not fulfilling their call in the name of compassion, they should perhaps be the CEO of a company instead.
But like I said before. I don’t think this really has very much to do with the UMC’s longevity. Mostly, these people don’t believe homosexuality to be compatible with Christian teachings (abridged from my memory of the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline). And I think, were the blessing of same sex unions allowed at the upcoming General Conference, this group would act contrary to that decision, in the same manner they claim as anathema today.
I love the United Methodist Church, despite many of its flaws. I’ve had a Book of Discipline since I was in college, and a copy of the Social Principles for longer than that. I’m a life long member of First United Methodist Church Shreveport, I’ve been a delegate to the Louisiana Annual Conference, I’m a product of a UM college and I’m currently attending a UM seminary. So, you know. I’m pretty invested. But I truly believe that we as a denomination answer to something higher than the Council of Bishops (did I just ruin my chances of ever attaining a spot? I could have come up with awesome shirts.) or the Book of Resolutions.
The arc of the moral universe is long, so Rev. King reminded us, but it bends toward justice. I sincerely hope that we can be on the right side of history this time around. But if our denomination cannot, I hope our clergy will.