I have a request for us, United Methodist Church. Can we please avoid linking the same-sex marriage conversation with the declining numbers conversation in any way, shape, or form?
I’ve read articles that try to make these links in reaction to decisions by the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in recent months, and I’d rather not we rehash it in the UMC.
I have heard two arguments, essentially. One is, “The church will die if we allow same-sex marriages” and the other is, “The church will die unless we allow same-sex marriages.” There have been a few variations on those themes, but that’s the gist.
Can we just stop that altogether? It isn’t helpful. I honestly do not think the impending death of the church has all that much to do with whether or not we marry gay people. Please, let’s not make this question the scapegoat for our impoverished ecclesiology.
One thing that I do know, from real life experience, is this: The fight about gay marriage could very well be what kills the church in the end. Okay so, it may not actually kill the church, but it sure isn’t helping it live, either. The nastiness (so different from the actual content of the Gospel) is eroding the contemporary church from our core outward.
The numerical decline of the church has to do with a whole lot more than just who can get married or not. Honestly, it has more to do with outdated measurement tools than it does with human sexuality. But sometimes it’s as if we cannot allow ourselves to actually engage the nuanced and complicated cultural shifts taking place in the world around us that are impacting the church.
Or maybe gay marriage has become the symbol of these shifts, so we are obsessively latching on to it as “the issue,” so that we might be spared from honestly discerning what’s really going on, let alone confronting it.
In the UMC, gay marriage is not currently allowed; some congregations are shrinking, some are growing, and the denomination as a whole is in decline.
If gay marriage is allowed after the 2016 General Conference, some congregations will shrink, some will grow, and THE DENOMINATION AS A WHOLE WILL STILL BE IN DECLINE.
That decline is a result of decades of enmeshed issues that would (will?) take decades to unravel. I hope that gay marriage proponents are not so naïve as to believe that droves of people will flock into our pews once we can marry same-sex couples. At the same time I hope opponents of gay marriage are not so naïve as to believe that as long as we keep marriage between a man and a woman, all our problems are solved.
Gay marriage will neither kill nor save the church, and it borders on idolatry to think so.
We can and should be talking about gay marriage. We can and should be talking about the church’s decline. But I hope that we won’t talk about them as if the one is causing the other.