Editorial: It’s Our Time to be Faithful

Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe

By Rob Renfroe –

There is a new reality regarding The United Methodist Church and the practice of homosexuality. And that reality is that our biblically faithful, beautifully balanced position will remain the official position of the UM Church for the foreseeable future. We will continue to affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are incompatible with Christian teaching.

The battle is not over. And those who want to normalize and celebrate homosexual behavior haven’t given up. But even progressives within the church know that the UM position will not soon change. After the denomination’s best known pastor, Adam Hamilton, advocated the adoption of a “compromise” position at last year’s General Conference, the assembly not only rejected his petition, but reaffirmed the church’s position by a larger margin than it had done in the past (61-39 percent).

Progressives had hoped to change our position legislatively, but they have failed. With the percentage of African delegates to General Conference increasing every four years (in 2012 approximately 30 percent of delegates were from Africa) and with their nearly unanimous support of the church’s position, it is highly unlikely that the Book of Discipline will be changed within the next decade.

If you don’t have the votes to evoke change legislatively, you hope that persons on the Judicial Council (often referred to as “The UM Supreme Court”) will rule in an activist manner and liberalize or even declare unconstitutional what General Conference has codified. In 2008 liberals were very successful in electing a council to their liking. But to their credit, members of the Judicial Council were fair and faithful to uphold the Discipline – whatever their personal views may have been. In 2012 some of the most progressive members of the council were replaced by persons who hold to the church’s view. So, the likelihood of overcoming the will of the church by the council’s actions seem even more remote.

So if you can’t change the church legislatively or through legal rulings, what do you do?

First, you continue to demonize those who hold to the church’s position. As outgoing General Secretary of the Board of Church and Society Jim Winkler recently did, you use words like “condemnatory,” “persecuting,” “prejudiced,” and “hateful” when you describe traditionalists and their views. Those of us who affirm that all persons are of sacred worth and that no one should be mistreated because of their sexual attractions are written about as if we are part of some vile hate group. And this by someone who depends on local church apportionments for a salary. And we wonder why the grassroots members in the pews have a distrust and disconnect with the boards and agencies of the church.

But it’s a common tactic. Demonize your opponents. Malign their motives. And paint their hearts as dark as possible. It’s a common tactic in dirty political campaigns. In the church when those you’re writing about are your brothers and sisters in Christ, it should be beneath you. But be prepared for it. It will only get worse.

If you’re not willing to attack the character of traditional Christians, then you can misrepresent what they believe. Those of us who hold the church’s view are characterized as condemning homosexuals and rejecting persons for ordination because of their orientation. Of course, it’s not true. We have members in the church I serve who identify as gay and lesbian. I consider them my friends and my Christian brothers and sisters. Out of their loyalty to Christ, they are choosing not to act on their attractions. They haven’t found a condemning atmosphere here. Just the opposite. They know they are loved and welcomed for who they are

A very effective pastor in our Annual Conference whom I respect immensely and consider a close friend is attracted to persons of the same sex. That pastor has chosen a celibate life. No evangelical United Methodist I know would think such a person should be denied ordination. But if you listen to progressives, you would think that people like you and me are so homophobic that we reject people because of who they are. I’m afraid it seems too much to ask that even if they disagree with us, they at least present our views fairly.

Another approach is simply to wait and hope. Surely, there will come a time when dinosaurs no longer roam the earth. The dinosaurs in this case being traditional Christians who are middle aged or older. People like me. We will retire or die off. And then the next generation will rise to power and change the church. Both Hamilton and Winkler have stated they are certain that this will one day be the case. In fact, Hamilton has written that the texts that condemn homosexual behavior will in the future be viewed as the passages that some in the previous times used to condone slavery – which, of course, means that people like myself and other evangelical leaders will be seen in the same light as apologists for racism and the enslavement of human beings.

And finally, many of those who deny the plain meaning of Scripture and want to change the church will resort to what in the secular world would be called “civil disobedience.” Over 1,000 UM pastors have pledged to perform marriages or “holy unions” for gay couples. Retired Bishop Talbert is openly calling for UM pastors to perform such services. A new movement called “An Altar For All” is recruiting pastors to conduct gay marriages and laypersons to support these pastors. And Annual Conferences from coast to coast are passing resolutions that pastors who perform such unions be given a punishment not to exceed a three-day suspension.

So, it’s not going to be pretty. People like you and me who harbor no malice towards persons who are gay will be misrepresented, demonized, and demeaned. And the church will go through a difficult and ugly time of pastors breaking the covenant they agreed to support when they were ordained. And church trials will follow.

If that’s the future, why stay? Because the Gospel that says our sins can be forgiven and our hearts can be changed is the hope of humanity. And it’s worth fighting for. Because the precious gift that God gave the world through John and Charles Wesley – Wesleyan Orthodoxy – is worth defending and promoting. Because persons who are broken and suffering sexually, need the Church of God to say that there is healing and grace for those who want to become new creatures in Christ.

Because it’s our turn to be faithful. Christians in almost every age have had to “contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” And now it’s our turn. With love in our hearts and with no need to demonize those who disagree with us, it’s our turn to say, “We will not walk away from the trust we have been given. We will not give in to a hedonistic culture. We will not call ‘brokenness’ ‘blessedness.’ And we will be true to what God has revealed in his Word.” It’s our turn. And may God find us faithful.

Comments

  1. Jerry Rectenwald says

    Rob,
    Thank you for this thoughtful editorial. Lately I have been starting to see our current struggles in the context of the 2000-year sweep of church history. With that perspective, I realize that what we face, while unique in certain respects, is essentially not remarkable or unprecedented. It seems that defending the orthodox, apostolic faith has been a constant necessity. I agree that, as a 21st century UM, I shouldn’t be saying, why me, I should be saying, it’s my turn.
    God’s Peace,
    Jerry

  2. If your statement “No evangelical United Methodist I know would think such a person should be denied ordination.” were true, I wouldn’t need to write this comment under a pseudonym…
    There are those on the DCOM and BoOM who would most certainly find any rule, statement, comment, or my work towards welcoming all in the UMC and hold these against me, and then vote against me despite the fact that I am a gay, celibate, candidate who has not violated the BoD in any way: The precedent has just been set that no determination regarding “practicing” need be made to remove someone from the candidacy process.
    I and others regard acceptance of LGBTQ people as a return to biblical obedience (just as a rejection of apartheid, segregation, slavery, the inclusion of women in ordination, and the recognition that the church caused great harm by rejecting HIV-positive members during the AIDS crisis– have all been revealed to us).

    I won’t touch on African colonialism at this point.
    -Pubilius.

  3. Douglas Asbury says

    “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 11.9).

  4. Rick Darst says

    This is a quote from the book “Does Jesus Really love me?” Page 295,”Many churches say that they’re open and affirming, which means, ‘We’re so open-minded, we’ll let you infected people come be a part of our congregation!'” he says. “Instead of honoring and celebrating who you are, they tolerate you.” … “It’s like you’re somehow less-than, thereby requiring their tolerance.”

    Rob Renfroe in his article reminds me of people saying, where I grew up, and “We have nothing against the Blacks as long as they know their place. “

    I believe what churches need more congregations are willing to help people recover from religious abuse. The abuse is ever pervasive and includes the ‘religious speak’ of Renfroe when he claims verbal persecution from what Renfroe calls the ‘hedonistic’ side. Mr. Renfroe might consider “If you have to make a law that hurts a number of people just to prove your morals or faith, then you have no true morals or faith to prove.

    I have heard leaders within our church state we must not rebel or advocate for those rebelling against the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline. We attack those that believe God’s call is higher than the BOD. Really?

    I believe homosexuality is as much a sin as heterosexuality in other words neither is. God’s word written into our DNA for procreation cannot be a sin, nor is sleeping, eating or breathing. Do we condemn those who’s DNA gave them less than perfect bodies?

    I believe we cannot sit on a fence saying, “I mean no harm.”, while evoking the greatest violation to human rights there is, that of trying to raise barriers between humans and God.

  5. Benjie Bernardo says

    God created Man and Woman.
    We who fear God and His Words and teachings accepts the gays and lesbians as persons, as brothers & sisters respectively, but condemns their practice of homosexuality.In the same way, we accept the robbers, rapists, murderers, cultists, oppressors, etc., as persons but their practice and doings. Why reinvent the wheel? Why recreate the design of creation? Why practice to be God to undo what he has already done? We are at the mercy of our Creator and not the other way around. We may not fully understand why this were as they are, but we need to put more our faith and trust to our God who purposely this to happen.
    We don’;t rebuke those who a.re homosexual, but more so, we must love them more and seek to help them realize the TRUE intention and purpose of God. Is our love for God much less than our love for our selves or our lives.. We should deny ourselves and follow Him. Although we can’t fathom the mind and senses of our Lord Jesus, but he is faithful and just to help us discern what He intends for us. It is not a matter of what we want but what God’s will and plan for us.
    We can discuss and argue on this subject matter but let us be reminded that God’s purpose is the ultimate answer whether it may seem to be discriminating or unfair to others, He will reveal to us His purpose if we only continue to put Him first in our lives.
    God bless you all!

  6. Daniel Lanquedoc says

    I appreciate your comments but a brief browse through the websites of conservative groups will show that they also angage in name calling, demonising and mudslinging. Is it not time that we recogise that there are people on both sides of the homosexuality debate who are acting from deep Christian convictions. There are those who believe that the Bible clearely rejects homosexual behaviour and they argue for this position out of their deep commitment to Christ and who sincerely believe that engaging iin homosexual behaviour is detrimental to the spiiritual and even eternal well being of people. There position does not arise out of homophobia but out of commitment to Christ.. (That is of course not to say that there are some who are homophobic) At the same time there are people who are deeply committed to the gospel and who believe that the example of Jesus acceptance of those rejected by the religious leaders of his day as unclean and sinners provides a model for contemporary acceptance and affirmation of LGBT people. That the at the center of the gospel is the meaage of justification by faith and that a requirement that lesbian and gay people must remain celebate or change their orientation is in effect adding celebacy of heterosexuality to faith as a condition of justification. There position like that of the former group arises out of their loyalty to Christ and their understanding of the gospel and not because they have compromised with a liberal culture. (Though of course there are those who have). While both positions cannot be ultimately correct is it not possible for us to recognise the genuiness of tht motives and faith of those we disagree with. John Wesley’s response to Roman Catholics is perhaps helpful – remembering that in Wesley’s opinion Catholics were not just another Christian denomination. They were idolitors who deliberately violated the the second of the ten commandments. Yet he could affirm the genuiness and depth of the fath of many Catholics despite their disagreement on a fundemental theological and ethical issue. It is worth reading his sermon “A caution against bigotry” in this regard.

  7. Rev. Tom Teate says

    Thank you, Rob, for the encouraging article. I hope you are right concerning the direction the UMC is moving on this issue.
    I stopped trying to determine what is and isn’t sin based on my own experience, tradition and reason a long time ago. What I think is of little consequence if God in His Word has made it clear what sin is and isn’t. For me, it becomes a matter faith in God’s Word and with that being the case, it becomes a matter of placing a stumbling block between God and the sinner when we tell the sinner that what they are doing isn’t sin when God’s Word states it is sin. If homosexuality isn’t a sin, then we don’t need forgiveness for it and the homosexual’s eternal home will not be impacted by my saying it is sin if it isn’t. But what if I am wrong in my opinion? The cost of a soul is too great to weigh in the balance of my own opinions that are filter through the lenses of reason, tradition and experience. I can only trust God’s Word and in so doing, I have found that it is quite clear on what is and isn’t sin. The punishment may have changed over the years (We no longer stone adulterers) but sin remains the same for every age and society. And I have found that God’s commandments aren’t burdensome but are for my good.
    If we condemn the sinner, we condemn ourselves in the process. If we tell the sinner, it is not sin, we condemn ourselves and the sinner remains in a state of un-forgiveness! But if we speak the truth of God’s Word in love, caring more for the soul than for the feelings of the sinner, we will end up loving the sinner more that our critics will admit. It may just be that we can love them into the kingdom of God by allowing them to come to the cross with their every sin, as we all must do. Those of us who have come to the cross seeking God’s forgiveness and confessing our sin have found there a loving God who is faithful to forgive, if we confess our sin to Him. I think that is a key part that is being left out of the equation. I don’t think we are talking about civil rights here or about discriminating against one part of society in favor of another. What is at stake isn’t a civil right but whether or not we enter into God’s kingdom or not for all eternity and we do not get to make up the criteria for entrance. The cost of a soul is too great to condone sin when God’s Word clearly states that sin will be judged. Wasn’t it Wesley who welcomed all who sought to flee from the coming wrath of God? And as we repent and turn toward Christ, we will find the enabling grace to keep in step with Him as our sin and guilt fall under the cleansing power of His precious blood. Who would separate a sinner from her/his only hope? I fear we are doing that when we condone sin in ourselves and in others. May God have mercy upon us all!

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