Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time for the UMC to Change: For the sake of the mission

Several people have recently asked me my opinion on the question of marrying same-sex couples, especially with the current build-up to the United Methodist General Conference next year. I have also been asked recently why I haven’t written as much about homosexuality as I used to.

My simplest answer to both is, I really don’t have anything new to add to the conversation. I have written a bunch about my beliefs on the question; a brief search of “Enter the Rainbow” would illuminate them fully.

Here’s the un-nuanced, nutshell version - first, I know that my understanding is limited and fallible, and I am not privy to the entire truth of God. Secondly, I believe that Scripture is clear about what it condemns, and it does not condemn a mutually loving and respectful relationship between two adults of the same gender. Thirdly, I have come to this belief through deep study of Scripture, earnest prayer, a lot of reading, and many hundreds of conversations and experiences with others. And fourthly, I know that there are many who do not share my belief, and many of those happen to be dear friends whom I know are faithful, loving, gracious followers of Jesus who are not hateful or homophobic or hypocritical in any way. I truly lament when some who share my belief accuse others of such hurtful things.

Lately, I have begun to be alarmed at how the United Methodist positions on same-sex marriage and ordination of people who are gay hinder the mission of the church. The official positions of our denomination on this issue create the perception that our church preaches one thing but enacts another. We’ve all read about the research done by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons that came out in 2007 in their book “unChristian.” (Here are some of their data - This study has led to others, and Adam Hamilton does a wonderful job with this topic in his book, “When Christians Get it Wrong.”

Anecdotally, all it takes is a Google search. Go to Google, type in “Christians are” and a space, and let the drop down suggestions do the rest. The first one I got just now was “hypocrites,” the second was “crazy” and the fourth one was “annoying.” (The third one was “like pumpkins,” which is that trite little piece about how God scoops out our internal junk and carves smiles on our faces. Horrifying!)

Experientially, all it takes is a dozen or so conversations with a few teens and twenty-somethings. The UMC’s position is seen as so completely out of touch with the real world as to be almost laughable. It would be laughable, in fact, if it wasn’t so sad. I’ve had dozens of conversations with dozens of people outside the church who simply consider the church to be so far removed from their lives that they would never even consider turning there for spiritual connection. And it’s not animosity; it’s simple ambivalence.

And so here am I, a pastor who is passionate about helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ who are working to make the world better for God’s sake. And I am discovering over and over again in multiple conversations with many different people who are “outside the church” that I am unable to accomplish that mission, simply because people don’t see why they need to be a part of what they see as a hypocritical organization in order to make the world a better place. They’re already doing that, thanks.

We in the church are told over and over again by so many different people that we need to stay focused on the mission above all else. Districts, conferences, denominational offices, inter-denominational groups - everyone seems to be calling the church to an intensive focus on the mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This renewed focus, they all say, is what it is going to take to save the church from its impending demise.

Well, okay then. How serious are we about that? If there a couple of phrases in the “Book of Discipline” that are proving to be a significant stumbling block to undertaking that mission, should we not remove them?

(Again, I welcome dialogue on these questions. However I invite you to respectful and grace-filled dialogue only, please. Please comment and express your perspective on matters, but please do so in a way that indicates you have read Romans 12 at least once in your life.)


Kansas Bob said...

These are very polarizing issues Andy. I understand why some (on both sides) want to make it black and white but is there not room for gray in the debate?

I would hate to see the UMC go through what the Episcopalians went through a few years ago when many more conservative churches left and became Anglican.

Carey Adams said...

The congregation I belonged to for 12 years before coming to Campbell was an open and affirming church in a different denomination. While my family and I love Campbell, the UMC position and the silence of our congregation on this issue weigh very heavily on me. A straight friend from that other church once told me that he couldn't be part of a church where our gay friend could not be totally open and accepted, and I have always felt that my doing so is a betrayal of my many GBTL friends.

Your point about most people being ambivalent toward the church is spot on. For decades churches and denominations have fretted over how to be culturally relevant while, ironically, it has grown more irrelevant to that the culture.

Anonymous said...

YIPEE. Great post. I love so many things about this. Thankfully, the Presbyterians got it right. The folks who originally wrote the "book" for the Methodists need to re-think what it means to be Christ-like. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. That's what I thought. . .

bob said...

I can appreciate your position, but what good is a religion that tosses aside beliefs to accomplish their mission. If we believe something is wrong it doesn't give us license to be hateful but we certainly ought not condone sinful actions.

bridger said...

I believe all Christians must use cultural relevance as way to introduce lost people to the truth of Jesus Christ. We should meet people where they are in life, but we should not camp out there. Making disciples means teaching the disciplines of life that bring people into spiritual relevance with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our culture is not eternal, our God is. Through study of scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit, we should discern God's position on any issue and teach it without wavering, although teaching it in a loving manner as Christ did. Paul taught on Mars Hill about worship of other gods in a way that showed the overall love of Christ and those listening were drawn to the truth. That should be our model.

iptl4evr said...

There is no doubt that the UMC is divided on this matter. I am of the opinion that it will ultimately lead to a split in our church simply because the two beliefs are in opposition. It is impossible for us to be about our mission when we are having to invest 4 decades in keeping the church faithful to Scripture. The UMC will not likely change the position now in the BoD, but those who disagree with it will continue to commit acts of anarchy and find ways around the will of General Conference. It is tiring and heart breaking. I see no resolution any time soon.

Kay Neavling said...

sondHelen said - My Uncle was homesexual born "back"
in the 20's. I loved him . He was a taLented artist and
could play the piano with not even a lesson !! he had one boyfriend early in life but never married, but I've
had trouble with that idea. I thought there was a
scripture in the Old Testament that stated a man
was not suppose to lay with a man and a woman was
not suppose to lay with a woman. AM I wrong? I know
God Is the ULTIMATE JUDGE NOT ME .......please clear
up this matter for me. Thank you !!