Stepping around Scripture and Discipline in West Ohio

News Commentary by Gregory D. Stover

Stepping around Biblical teaching and the firm stance of our United Methodist Discipline, proponents of full inclusion for practicing gays and lesbians gained another victory at the 2010 session of the West Ohio Annual Conference.

On Monday, June 7, conference members elected Mr. Bill Brownson, a self-avowed, practicing gay man, as the conference’s new Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services by a thin margin, 948 to 920.

West Ohio’s Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) chose Mr. Brownson from over fifty applicants for the position. The news release announcing his nomination emphasized his “financial experience, integrity, proven strategic planning abilities, and dedication to an effective ministry of financial management and administrative responsibilities.” It also included a brief reference to his homosexual lifestyle: “Originally from Northwest Ohio, Mr. Brownson is a member of King Avenue UMC and lives in Columbus with his life partner of 20 years….”

In a letter to all conference members supporting the election of Mr. Brownson, resident Bishop Bruce R. Ough wrote, “He was the only candidate ready right now to assist CFA and the Conference to address the financial constraints that are threatening our mission capacity… I am fully cognizant that some persons will seize upon my participation and support of Bill’s nomination as advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle. The only agenda I have had in the entire search process has been for a financially challenged West Ohio Conference to have a superior CFO.”

Despite a process carefully planned by the conference’s Unity Task Force to ensure fair, informed, and civil debate, many believe the decisive factor in the debate was a seemingly intentional strategy crafted by the CFA outside the agreed upon debate process. These actions included:

• Presenting Mr. Brownson to lobby with youth and young adult members of the conference prior to the vote with no provision for presentation of an opposing view.

• Using the conference treasurer’s report to repeatedly affirm and endorse Mr. Brownson. The conference treasurer compared the conference to an airliner flying in a storm on one engine. Without Mr. Brownson’s election, the last engine would be gone and disaster would be certain.

• Although the conference suspended the normal rules of debate, the chair of the CFA was permitted the customary closing speech after debate had concluded in addition to a lengthy nomination speech.

While acknowledging Mr. Brownson’s professional abilities, prior to the conference, evangelicals worked both behind the scenes and publicly to oppose the nomination and election. Before the close of the conference, evangelicals presented a letter signed by over 100 clergy and laity, including three district superintendents, protesting CFA’s actions and the election of Mr. Brownson. Groups are organizing across the conference to channel the anger and frustration of United Methodists across West Ohio.

Supporters of Mr. Brownson’s election stressed that the Discipline contains no specific statement forbidding the election of self-avowed practicing homosexual laity to positions of significant spiritual leadership in the annual conference. The irony of this argument is found in the fact that the whole spirit and tenor of the Discipline provides a different sense of the will of the General Conference. In addition to the foundational statement in the Social Principles that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” the Discipline denies ordination to self-avowed practicing homosexuals, forbids the performing or blessing of homosexual unions (an offense for which clergy can be charged), and refuses funding for the promotion of homosexuality.

Proponents of full inclusion of practicing gays and lesbians have long argued that specific statements about the matter in the Discipline are legalistic and unnecessary. Then with further irony, these same proponents continue to use every silence in the Discipline to further test the church and promote their agenda.

The Scripture clearly teaches an inclusive Gospel—“Whosoever will may come.” Jesus reached to all of us who sin, and most especially those who were rejected and marginalized with a gracious and balanced Gospel of love and accountability, repentance and forgiveness, transformation and reconciliation. Evangelicals believe that Jesus’ balance was lost in the West Ohio decision.

Once again, the clear teaching of the Scripture and our own covenant as United Methodists has been set aside in the interest of practicality and a flawed interpretation of inclusiveness.

Gregory D. Stover is Senior Pastor of Armstrong Chapel UM Church in Cincinnati, a former district superintendent, and four-time delegate to General Conference.

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