In anticipation of the United Methodist Church’s upcoming Call Special General Conference on human sexuality, I led a three part Sunday school class for my church on the theology behind the conference. During our first class I unpacked all of the letter from the LGBTQIA acronym, and in the second class we looked at the five passages in scripture that mention homosexuality. To conclude the class we debated whether or not the UMC should change its current language.
Considering the fact that many people in the room felt strongly about the future of the UMC, I wanted to make some of what I taught and some of what was discussed available to a wider audience via this blog. Below you can find some of my notes and some of the reactions from people in the class.
This is not meant as an exhaustive theological resource regarding the call to remain the same or change, but merely as a brief and general overview. And, to be clear, the opinions/comments below are not from me alone and represent comments from the entire class.
The Future Is Important
The current doctrinal position of the United Methodist Church is that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This manifests itself in a number of ways from self-avowed practicing homosexuals being barred from ordination in the UMC, to clergy being punished for presiding over same-sex unions, to some pastors using the language to prevent members of the LGBTQIA community from becoming members in the churches they serve.
For decades the denomination has debated our current position and whether or not to enforce our doctrinal position, or to change it.
Why Should The UMC Maintain Its Position?
The witness of the Bible is explicit regarding homosexuality. Though mentioned rather infrequently, the mentions are unified in its being against the perspective of the Law.
We are a global church and there are vary different opinions about homosexuality throughout the world, but theological and cultural. In order to stay unified, we need to make sure that the language is applicable throughout the globe.
Salvation is at stake. We don’t want to encourage anyone to disobey the commands of God should it remove from them the possibility of their heavenly reward.
Why Should The UMC Change Its Position?
Though the witness of the Bible is explicit regarding homosexuality, it is often included in a list of laws, some of which were abandoned within the first century of the church. It appear incongruous to emphasize some laws over the others, particularly when homosexuality is mentioned less than other moral/ethical concerns like adultery, divorce, dietary restrictions, etc.
Homosexuality it not a choice. Why then would we tell people they are incompatible if they are unable to change who they are?
Questions about sexuality often lead to despair in young people, particularly those who are involved with a church. If we are a church who believes than some are incompatible, then we are telling people who question their identity that God has abandoned them.
Jesus would not reject homosexuals – he would welcome them with open arms.
Homosexuals have as many gifts for ministry as heterosexuals do.
The future is important for the United Methodist Church. What happens in the next few weeks will largely determine (for better and worse) what that future will look like. For some there is hope that maintaining the integrity of the Biblical witness will carry the church into the future. For others there is hope that opening the doors for homosexual ordination and marriage will carry us into the future.
No matter what happens, some people will leave the church and some churches will leave the denomination. The sheer fact that we are being compelled to discern and vote on something like this points at the irony of a name like the UNITED Methodist Church.
If you would like to read more about the plans being presented, and the ramifications of each, you can read about them here: Overview of Plans to 2019 General Conference