Our Ministry of Inclusivity
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH’S POSITION ON HOMOSEXUALITY?
The issue in the United Methodist Church goes back to the 1972 General Conference. The General Conference, which serves as the church’s top legislative body, was considering a statement on social principles including a section on the goodness of human sexuality. In the final hours of the conference, an amendment was approved to declare the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The wording was inserted in a paragraph that affirms that all people are of “sacred worth” and urges friends and families of gay and lesbian people not to “reject or condemn them.” Significantly, this wording was in the Social Principles and not considered church law.
In a similar legislative discussion in 1984, the General Conference adopted this statement: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.” In 2003, the General Conference added a new provision to the Book of Discipline, making this statement church law. The list of chargeable offenses against clergy was expanded to include performing same-sex weddings and being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” This has led to church trials with judge, prosecution table, defense table, witness stand and jury box — hardly the church that we believe Jesus had in mind.
WHAT IS THE SITUATION CURRENTLY IN THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH?
Sadly, unless consensus is reached, the church could split as other denominations have. According to a recent article in THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, “Positions of schism are on the table, and both sides make arguments for it. But what exactly would a schism look like? …. Even though positions on homosexuality with the church can to some degree be regionally mapped, there is little chance that a split could take place along regional lines. Instead, experts say, the United Methodist Church is likely to end up with two geographically overlapping national organizations.”
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
There are two passages in the Bible (in Lev. 18 & 20) that label homosexuality as an “abomination.” The same word is elsewhere used to describe dietary violations, liturgical mistakes, child sacrifice, and general wickedness. It does not address loving same-sex relationships.
The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, enumerates many activities, taboo to the Israelites, but ones we think very differently about today — and rightly so. For example, 175+ years ago during the debate on slavery, the Bible seemed to be clearly on the side of the slaveholders.
We understand that our God is a welcoming God, seeking out and inviting all into intimate relationship as sons and daughters. This dignity of the human being reflects God’s deep love and stands against all forms of violence, discrimination, and injustice. Scripture reveals to Christians that just as God does not abandon that which God loves, neither should we.
While Jesus never addressed gender preference specifically, in Matthew 22 a legal expert put Jesus to the test: “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” He replied to him, “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind. This is the first and foremost, and the second is like it: You are to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hangs everything in the Law and in the Prophets.”
As Christians, we believe in a God that sides with the oppressed. We critique the sexual mores of any given time, including our own, by the love ethic exemplified by Jesus. Such a love ethic is non-exploitative; it does not dominate; it is responsible, mutual, caring and loving.
IS SEXUAL IDENTITY A MATTER OF CHOICE?
According to the American Psychological Association, “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. … no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”
Both sides of this issue point to clinical studies that substantiate their position on whether or not sexual orientation is a matter of genetics or choice. However, genetics has nothing to do with determining whether a group of people needs to be protected from discrimination in employment, housing, equal access, and other basic human rights, such as the freedom to participate fully in the religion of their choice.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO BURKE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH? WE’RE VERY WELCOMING!
At Burke Church, we are guided by the life and teaching of Jesus which has been distilled into a set of Core Values: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. All of these offer a way of looking at our relationships with LGBT members of the community.
Radical Hospitality goes beyond being friendly. It means that we are called to spiritually embrace others for who they truly are. It also means that Burke must be a place where ALL people can feel safe to live openly and be as God created them, without fear of discrimination, gossip and judgment. Jesus said, Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Matthew. 10:40)
Passionate Worship means we worship a God of love for all people, without reservation. All are called to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and are invited into all of the sacraments, ministries and traditions of the church. God says, Is not this the holy day for which I have given orders: to let loose those who have wrongly been made prisoners, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the crushed go free, and let every yoke be broken? (Isaiah 58:6)
Intentional Faith Development means everyone can grow in love and loyalty to God. It also includes extending that love to the people around us, particularly in crucial issues facing society. Jesus said, Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 9:13)
Risk-Taking Mission and Service calls us to push ourselves outside our comfort zone in service to others. It may be a VIM team, prison ministry, a hypothermia program — or it may mean being in spiritual service to other members of the congregation or community. We grow best by being challenged. For I have come not to be served, but to serve. (Mk. 10:45)
Extravagant Generosity encourages financial support to the church for its many faith and outreach programs. However, it also means a generosity of spirit, of not holding back on loving support and concern for other members of the congregation. Jesus said, Give, and it will be given to you – a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…. (Lk. 6:38)
In addition to these core values, we commit ourselves in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We also “confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, putting our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.”
Finding Our Way
References and Resources
This list of resources was compiled by members of FOW with the intent of locating scholarly and appropriate material to aid the conversation. It is not an exhaustive list, nor is it necessarily representative of the feelings of any one person, Burke United Methodist Church, or the United Methodist Church.
If you would like a resource to be considered for addition to the list, please contact a member of Finding Our Way.
History of the UMC Position
Genetics/Physical Orientation vs. Lifestyle
A Podcast of this resource is available at http://www.vaumc.org/ncfilerepository/sound/150328-125711.mp3
Other Religions/Faiths View on Homosexuality