Bishop: Beware of Costs of Sexuality Debate

By Heather Hahn –

The United Methodist Church’s intensifying debate around human sexuality has substantial financial implications in the global church, a bishop warned the denomination’s finance agency. Those costs could include a drop in church giving and the division of property.

“The question is: Is there a middle ground that will allow most of the traditionalists to stay and yet satisfy most of the progressives?” said Great Plains Area Bishop Scott Jones.

BISHOPS AND ACCOUNTABILITY

“I am not accountable to the Council of Bishops in any way whatsoever,” Jones told those gathered. “Let that sink in. I am accountable to my jurisdictional conference because that’s who elected me and that’s who can do something to me.

Jones noted that many United Methodists look to the Council of Bishops to discipline its own members. But as a matter of church law, he said, the council does not “have the right to impose significant penalties on its own members.”

In the case of Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, for example, the Council of Bishops at its November meeting recommended a complaint be filed against the retired bishop. But in a statement, the council indicated it could take no further action.

“I think one of the key problems in this whole debate is: Where is genuine leadership that can or will act?” Jones said.

Since spring, Jones has collected some of the proposals on the matter that could be heading to the 2016 General Conference.

Bishop Scott Jones leads a discussion on the implications of the church’s sexuality debate at the board meeting of the General  Council on Finance and Administration held in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Bishop Scott Jones leads a discussion on the implications of the church’s sexuality debate at the board meeting of the General
Council on Finance and Administration held in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

On Aug. 21, he shared an overview of these proposals and their potential impact on church unity with a group that included the board and top staff of the General Council on Finance and Administration as well as top executives from other general agencies. He also shared his paper on the topic, “Finding a Way Through: Options for the UMC and Homosexuality.”

The Book of Discipline, the church’s book of polity and doctrine, since 1972 has stated that all people are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

General Conference, the church’s top lawmaking body that meets every four years, has consistently voted to keep the language and over the years has expanded on restrictions against “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and same-gender unions.

For just as long, United Methodists have debated this stance and how best to minister with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Most United Methodists have chosen to stay in the conversation rather than split the denomination.

But Jones, who is also a church historian, told those gathered that he thinks two developments are unsettling the equilibrium in the denomination’s debate.

• He said it is only a matter of time before same-sex civil marriage becomes legal in all 50 U.S. states.

• Another factor, he said, is the “disobedience of bishops.” Specifically, retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert is now facing a complaint after officiating last year at the same-sex union of two men. While not going as far as Talbert, other bishops publicly have expressed their disagreement with the church’s stance and some have called for an end to church trials related to this issue.

Because of the bishops’ involvement, Jones said, “No longer can we live and ignore this issue or keep it at the periphery of our church life in the way that we have before.”

Possible General Conference petitions

For now, a number of United Methodists are preparing legislation to be considered by the next General Conference aiming to settle the dispute in some way.

Among the options on the table are plans to:

• Enhance the ability of congregations and clergy that support same-sex unions to leave the denomination with their assets and benefits, while increasing consequences for violating the Book of Discipline’s stance.

• Let local churches decide — after a discernment process and super-majority vote — whether to host same-sex unions and welcome gay clergy.

• Empower annual conferences to make decisions on all matters not restricted by the denomination’s constitution.

• Replace the current five, regionally defined U.S. jurisdictions with two ideologically-defined jurisdictions and letting annual conferences vote on which jurisdiction to join.

• Amend the Book of Discipline to allow full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.

• Enable amicable separation into one or more denominations.

These proposals all come from United Methodists in the United States, Jones said. About 30 percent of delegates to the 2016 General Conference will come from Africa, 5.8 percent from Europe and 4.6 percent from the Philippines.

Possible fallout

Jones also noted that so far, the proposal for amicable separation has not gone into details about what an amicable division of general church assets might look like. The Methodist Church’s split over slavery in 1844 was not amicable from a legal standpoint, ending up with a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Rev. Steve Wood, a GCFA board member and pastor of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Johns Creek, Ga., agreed with Jones that the finance agency should think of the financial and legal ramifications of each of the proposals.

“Just because you get to a vote …doesn’t mean you are at the end,” Wood said. “There are lawsuits, there’s collateral work, there’s all kinds of implementation issues that have very real costs.”

Jones urged those gathered to talk to counterparts in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church (USA). Those denominations all have faced the departure of congregations and in some cases, whole regional bodies, after changing denominational policies on ordination and same-gender marriage.

Thinking about possible exit strategies that General Conference might approve is key, Jones said. He used the example of a departing Episcopal congregation in his area that offered to give up its building to the diocese and thus saddle the diocese with the property’s $2 million debt. Ultimately, the diocese and congregation came to an agreement, but Jones said he could imagine a similar scenario involving a United Methodist conference.

“As these proposals come through, GCFA has data and …a legal department,” Jones said. “There are things you can do to serve to raise the conversation, not to choose among the proposals (that’s where neutrality comes in), but to serve so conversations don’t take place in a vacuum.”

Delmar Robinson, a GCFA board member from Mississippi, said he found Jones’ overview “enlightening.”

“I was not aware that the issue existed to the extent that it did,” he said. “What he laid out, I think we should continue to discern. I don’t think we should do anything rash.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Comments

  1. “Enhance the ability of congregations and clergy that support same-sex unions to leave the denomination with their assets and benefits, while increasing consequences for violating the Book of Discipline’s stance.”

    That is the path that should be taken, but I don’t think those that support same-sex unions will go for it. They seem to determined to force change on the rest of us, and I don’t know if the rest of us have it in us to be bold and courageous enough not to be forced. We seem to be too concerned about unity at any price, or not making waves or being “unloving”.

    We cannot compromise on the authority of God and His word. If we will not practice Biblical church discipline (Mt 18:15-18), separation is inevitable. And given the tone of our “holy conversations” and the bullying in recent GC and connectional table meetings, I find it hard to believe it will be amicable. Though we can and should hope and pray.

  2. Edith Parker says

    I agree with the comments from Mr. Galipi. The Progressives are not interested in holy conferencing…in my experience(Fort Worth) they were only interested in their positions and getting their way. The same is so of the churches who take their positions. There is no room on any committees for traditionalists. They are bullies totally though they do it sweetly with a smile.

    In Christ,
    E. Louise Parker

    • I couldn’t of said that better myself. They could care less about Jesus all I want is there way I’m sick to death of it. Once we split it’s just a matter of time till they come to the traditionalists I wanted to split again

  3. It’s interesting how our language and word choices can be manipulated in a manner which represents the speaker in the most positive of terms, while suggesting that those holding a differing viewpoint are imprudent or radical. In an effort to appear flexible, open-minded and conciliatory, some UM’s have suggested that we need to pursue some “middle way” around the sexuality schism. After all, isn’t the whole of society embracing homosexuality and gay marriage and doesn’t the UM church need to fit into rather than stand apart from society?
    Over the past decade, most of the growth experienced in evangelical ranks has been among those churches and denominations who have stood behind the inerrancy of scripture and those who still call sin by its’ correct name: SIN! The monetary costs incurred by this schism within the UM ranks are irrelevant; after all, even Shakespeare observed that “who steals my purse steals something; nothing.” If we, as UM’s, are only capable of seeing this issue in terms of treasuries and buildings and pensions and assets, we have already lost more than can be counted.
    On the other hand, if and when we truly begin to understand this issue as the Church standing true to the teachings of God’s word, resisting pressures from society and even other UM’s to conform to the things of the world and to unashamedly proclaim the love of Christ, as found in his selfless example, we will then possess the resolve to face whatever it may cost us to stay true to the Gospel. Dollars and bank accounts and buildings can be replaced; the joy and peace of dwelling in the very center of God’s truth and perfect will has no price tag and is above earthly value.

    • The comment above speaks volumes. Meeting half way will be like not having an exact position in what we believe in. Halfway is the lukewarm position or attitude. It is rather the Church stands cold or hot.

      • Larry Hicks says

        Most express it better than me with words. When the Lord saved me I decided to go along with His Word, (The Bible) not mine. HIS Word is true. I have resigned my position as UMC pastor of two churches in Kentucky due to the position (no decision) the UMC has taken concerning homosexual marriage. My congregation’s agree with me, and understand why I am leaving the denomination. With love I leave. Larry Hicks

  4. The bible is very clear on Gods word about homosexuals and same sex marriage. I believe we should follow Gods word.

    • You need to dig a little deeper!

    • Regardless of what translation of our book you read; homosexuals are NEVER mentioned.
      Reread very carefully and try to accept this belief as mistaken. You and those like you are very clearly WRONG and yet are hurting the UMC. I still love you in Christ despite this mistake and hope to witness to the Ninevites in the UMC after delivered to witness by a whale

      Please realize that homosexuality is NOT ALWAYS A SIN! it is not known scientifically to be a choice. Men and women in the days of our book and even today use homosexual rape as a psychological weapon during war or when access to the opposite gender is unavailable like in prison.

      Sex is powerful drive that must be considered for how it affects UMC. Sex in our book is to be limited to life-long unions. Those of the UMC who ask homosexuals to deny life-long unions are discussed in our book in 1 Timothy 4. Most UMC traditionalist do not realize they are leaving the faith and are listed almost by name in 1 Timothy 4. There is no biblical definition of the usage of the colloquial word marriage. The word marry when used by Christ meant those who were married according to the definition used by the Pharisees questioning Jesus.

      The bible and government until recently had never specified genders in marriage when using this term. No common law definition can ever be inviolate. Still, the UMC can honorably argue that too many people were raised with only the heterosexual common-law definition being valid to disturb this now. Inalienable rights (rights granted by God) to free speech forbids no speech but does forbid mandating specific speech. Redefining marriage such that gender is now irrelevant may be the future for the language of humanity but this future usage of the term can NEVER be defined honorably by humans.

      The fact that our book did not address same-sex unions, nuclear technology or wire communication by computers leaves these the responsibility of the UMC to address in light of the expressed desires of Christ.

  5. Kathy Butterfield says

    Ironically, the LGBT community uses the word “bullying” liberally when it refers to those of us who remain loyal to the Word…the Bible, and do not support their lifestyle.

    I have been a UM for 66 years and have never known a church to turn away any sinner (me included) from worshiping our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, when we truly accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we must turn from sin, in any form, and follow Jesus’ teachings. I am no Biblical scholar, however, I have yet to find scripture supporting same-sex relationships and have found several that denounce it in both the old and new testaments.

    Separation is inevitable. “Unity” for the sake of the almighty dollar ie assets, pensions etc., is unacceptable from a biblical standpoint. The UMC leadership must take a stand and let the consequences fall on their shoulders…in this world and the next.

  6. You study the Bible with prejudice……

  7. William Kaster says

    The whole conversation about schism is misplaced. The vast majority of United Methodists reflect the entire range of opinion on human sexuality. Only a very small number of “traditionalists” are not interestedin continuing the conversation and who are proposing to split the church. They fondly hope that a large number of the larger majority who lean “traditional” will go with them if the church splits. There is no reason to believe that this large majority has any desire to split the church. The idea that an organized group of “progressives” exists who are not interested in continuing the conversation and who want to splitthe church is unfounded. This is not a black and white issue. This is merely a minority/majority issue. A minority of traditionalists trying to frame the difficult conversation about human sexuality in polarized terms.

    • It is a black and white issue – wrong vs. right, Biblical vs. unbiblical, Christ vs.anti-Christ. Our opinions mean nothing – God’s Word is the final authority. Where God has spoken, let man be silent. Human sexuality and its perimeters have been set forth in sacred Scripture. Those who it oppose God Himself.

  8. I don’t see where the Bible leaves much gray area in the matter of marriage. In the OT, God started out making a female to be a help-mate for the male, because we need it! Then there seemed to be some allowance for multiple wives, but that wasn’t God’s original plan either. Jesus came back and said marriage was between a man and a woman, not more than one woman. He reaffirmed the original design and limited marriage more than ever before, to the point he says we have committed adultery in our hearts by looking on a woman with lust. We ALL fall short and are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. Just because we may fail and need forgiveness and repentance, does not mean God’s word has changed one bit. There is no question that the Book of Discipline is correct that homosexuality is unbiblical and that we should share Christ and lead them to repentance and salvation, just like the rest of us that have been in a state of sin in other areas. It isn’t okay for the Bishop to have 3 wives and it isn’t okay for the Bishop to have or marry into homosexuality. If the Bishops can’t uphold the church’s teaching and the Bible, then it is up to the General Conference to make changes. If the Church is too deeply split, then it would be in the best interests to have an amicable separation, or allow conservative churches to leave by paying a small percentage value of their property net worth to the UMC and go their own way. It will not serve anyone’s interests to see a great number of churches just walk away from their property and watch the financial disintegration that will hurt otherwise innocent people.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Recently Good News magazine published and article from and interview with Bishop Scott Jones.  I thought it was very informative about the sexuality debate.  You can see it by clicking on https://goodnewsmag.org/2014/11/bishop-beware-of-costs-of-sexuality-debate/. […]

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