Editorial: Waiting in Vain

Renfroe

Renfroe

For months the country waited for The Supreme Court to issue one of the most important decisions in its 226 year history. Some hoped the Court would reaffirm the traditional understanding that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Others looked forward to a ruling that would declare gender irrelevant and legalize marriage for persons of the same sex.

On June 26, the long wait came to an end. The Court declared that gay couples had as much legal right to be married as heterosexual couples, providing “equal dignity” for gay persons and removing from their children “the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”

Next, Christians across the country waited for their spiritual leaders to address the Court’s decision. Members of many denominations, from small to large, received thoughtful theological instruction from their shepherds.

“We unequivocally affirm that from the beginning God intended marriage as composed of one man and one woman committing themselves to one another in a lifelong covenant of faithful love,” declared the Free Methodist Church’s Board of Bishops.

“Despite this ruling, the church of Jesus Christ will stand fast,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Liberty Commission. “We will not capitulate on this issue because we cannot. Marriage in the minds of the public may change, but marriage as a reality created by God won’t change at all.”

“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable,” stated Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops. “It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex constitute a marriage.”

In this watershed moment, the spiritual leaders of many Christian communions rose to the challenge of reaffirming the clear message of Scripture and 2000 years of Christian teaching. God knows best. Gender matters. The Bible can be trusted. Children need a father and a mother.

We United Methodists did not have to wait long to hear from many of our bishops. Only, for the most part, what we received were the typical institutional responses we have come to expect – confused and confusing.

There were a few notable exceptions. Bishop Lindsey Davis (Kentucky) expressed his personal disappointment in the Court’s decision and stated his hope that the UM Church would remain committed to marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Bishop Robert Hayes (Oklahoma) issued a gracious statement, recognizing that United Methodists are divided regarding same-sex marriage, but that the United Methodist position is clear and unchanged – marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Bishop James King (South Georgia) charged the members of his conference that rather than being transformed by the world, they should endeavor to transform the world, reminding them that the church can love everyone without being a community “where everything … is treated as acceptable to God’s plan for the world family.”

Although United Methodist bishops reminded clergy that they are not to preside at same sex weddings, the majority of bishops who issued statements about the ruling went on to tell the pastors how to participate in a gay marriage without technically breaking church law. In a United Methodist News Service survey of responses from 15 bishops to the ruling, the majority of the bishops explained to pastors how they can participate in a same-gender wedding by “attending the ceremony,” “reading scripture,” “praying,” and “offering a meditation.” Some suggested that pastors may “lift up newly married same gender couples in worship or church communication as you would a heterosexual couple.”

One bishop even recommended that her pastors participate in a wedding service of a gay couple but recruit licensed laypersons or clergy from another denomination to perform the parts of the service UM pastors cannot.  She also counseled pastors participating in same-gender marriages to “remember that everyone’s cell phone has a camera and Facebook quickly posts pictures that may appear that you are ‘celebrating a same-gender marriage.’” You can’t make this up. One of our bishop’s main concerns is that when one of her pastors is welcoming people to a same-sex wedding, saying the homily and praying for the couple’s happiness together as a married couple, someone with a cell phone may actually think that pastor is celebrating a gay marriage.

Can you imagine any bishop telling his or her pastors “we United Methodists do not officially believe in rebaptism, but if you do and if being baptized a second time is important to one of your members, you can arrange a service at another church, preach on the importance of baptism and pray for the person at the service, and have a Baptist pastor do the actual deed. Oh, and the next day, you can present your member to the congregation as a newly baptized Christian.”

How about a bishop issuing a conference wide statement, “We, as individuals and as congregations, are divided about the importance of paying apportionments.  Most importantly, I want you to know that I respect all of you and your opinions whether they agree with mine or not. In case you don’t want to pay apportionments, let me remind you that you cannot explicitly instruct your administrative board not to pay. But if they are holding a vote to withhold their apportionments, you can attend the meeting, pray in a positive way about this holy thing they are about to do, offer a meditation about being true to ourselves and our convictions, and then in next Sunday’s service joyfully present the decision to the congregation.”

Why would a bishop tell his or her pastor how to legalistically get around our position regarding gay marriage but would never do so regarding baptism or the payment of apportionments? Because (1) they think our UM position regarding homosexuality is wrong or (2) they believe being clear about baptism and apportionments is more important than being clear about the most divisive and emotional moral issue before our church and society.

Our United Methodist position on sexuality is not a “work-around.” It is more than a legalistic standard that our pastors are expected to obey. It is the moral teaching of the church. Our leaders cannot in good faith claim they uphold our teaching on sexuality while at the same time not only allowing but actually instructing pastors how to avoid its unequivocal message that we may not bless what is contrary to the will of God. What the Scriptures clearly teach, what the church universal has held for 2000 years, and what The United Methodist Church has affirmed and reaffirmed for eleven General Conferences is not an inconvenience that may be side-stepped by those who fancy themselves clever enough to represent the church and at the same time evade its clear intent.

We waited for our bishops to speak as the Supreme Court decision neared. Just as we have waited for more than forty years for our bishops to explain, defend, and promote our balanced, biblical position regarding sexuality. Again, we have been disappointed – not by all of our bishops, but by many. Either they have said nothing or they have encouraged our pastors to bless a practice that the church says is contrary to the will of God. We have waited for our leaders to act in such a way that the unity of the church will be protected. Instead, many remain silent or issue statements that dishearten our members, distort our message, and lessen the likelihood that The United Methodist Church will remain united.

We have waited. In vain. How long, O Lord? How long?

Rob Renfroe is president and publisher of Good News.

 

Comments

  1. Carolyn Moore says

    The ultimate irony is that if I am vocal enough about my take on biblical marriage, I may well have my credentials taken based on the ways I practice baptism.

  2. Pastor Rob,
    What is the UM Church provision for the removal of a Bishop? I do not ask this question in a enraged or light manner. However, if we have a president who is judged as not upholding the constitution of the United States, there are provisions for impeachment. Is there a viable procedure available to UM members whereby a Bishop can be removed from his/her position? What are the standards that apply to proving this dereliction of duty? Do the other Bishops serve as the “judges” in these types of proceedings or are they administrated by lay people? It becomes difficult to tolerate church leadership that continually defers to societal pressures, rather than standing on the word of God and the discipline of the church. We need a holy and righteous “house cleaning.” Can I get an Amen?

    • Thank you for your question, Jim.

      Bishops are held accountable through the same complaint process that pastors go through. Only in the case of bishops, other bishops are heavily involved in handling the complaint. A bishop can decide to dismiss a complaint against a fellow bishop (which is usually what happens). Good News and others are trying to get passed at General Conference a better way of dealing with complaints against bishops that would put laity and ordinary pastors in charge of handling those complaints. Right now, bishops are basically unaccountable, unless they do something egregiously illegal or immoral.

      Tom Lambrecht

    • ken lovelace says

      Amen for you Tom Lambrecht. It is not up to us to judge others; we are to love them as God loves us with our faults and sins. God gave us the ability to distinguish right from wrong through the teachings and His Word in the Bible; and with that ability comes the responsibility to defend His Word. It is time to stand up and proudly be counted. God bless you all !

  3. Robert Webster says

    I believe the Bible to be quite uncompromising on this issue. It’s instruction in to the love the sinner, but hate the sin. May men and women of wisdom not compromise the teachings of the Church and yield to social pressures. God is not mocked!

  4. What does it say about me and the organization that employs me when I instruct my subordinates to circumvent the policies of said organization with impunity?

  5. Is there a group of Methodists taking action, or are we all just waiting around to see what happens? If there was to be a split, it would have happened by now, wouldn’t it?

    It looks to me like the homosexual activists have won and the denomination will wither on the vine.

  6. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m concerned about your tone in your responses on this blog. It appears that persons who respond on this blog are worshiping the Bible instead of Jesus. I encourage us all (including me to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE) The sentiment on this website concerning sexuality sounds “hateful” and the sentiments contain, “bullying tactics”. No matter what side of the issue, we must speak in love, never in hate. Let our love in Christ win out over those we disagree with. May God help us to remove the word “hate” from our vocabulary and may we be a people who loves one another and carefully “listens” to one another so that together we can find clarification of each other. May God help us all!

    • It would be so much better if you would quit classifying beliefs that do not coincide with your own as “hateful’ and “bullying”. The underlying divide is not over same gender relationships but over our understandings of who God is, who we are in relation and what the triune God of holy loves expects of each of us. We both claim to be following Jesus, but the problem is we are both honestly hearing him say different things. It would be much easier for me to respect your views on this matter if you would respect mine.

    • Yes! Thank you, Jay, for speaking up and voicing this opinion. You reminded me of this: “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”

    • I hate to say it but you’ve never been to a LGBT gathering have you?

  7. Your article “Responding to the Supreme Court Decision” in the Compass direct mail piece was written so well!. Your example of what Bishop Brown could have responded with was eloquent, thoughtful and factually honest. One of the best descriptions of what I feel that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to read. I hope you don’t mind if I plagiarize that paragraph, with the appropriate credits, in the future.

    Please keep up God’s work.

  8. Where is the prayerful discernment, speaking with each other, listening to each other, concern for each other? If I disagree with someone it does not automatically make me an enemy. If I believe something or interpret something differently from another, is there nothing by disdain for the views of the other? There are many sides to all issues, As said in 1 Corinthians 13:13, And now dwelleth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the most of these is charity. Lettuce Pray that we Untied Methodists attempt to remember these three, and that “Charity” is supreme to the other two. .

  9. Rev. Thomas Luther Teate says

    The issue isn’t simply concerning same sex marriage. It concerns sin. God’s Word is clear as to what is and isn’t sin. I don’t believe God ever asked us to take a vote on any issue of sin. God alone teaches us in His Word what is sin. God’s Word teaches us that we are all sinners and God’s Word teaches us that apart from confession and repentance, there will be no forgiveness and no reconciliation. Until all of us humble ourselves before God’s Word, which is quite clear on the issue of homosexuality and other sins, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. By teaching that God’s interpretation of sin is wrong we are separating men and women from the only Way of reconciliation with God. If Homosexuality isn’t sin, then there is no need to repent! But God’s Word clearly says that it is sin! And now we have a denomination that no longer believes God’s Word is preeminent. Rather we look to reason and experience to guide us. I believe we are dishonoring the Name of Christ as we continue to teach that God’s word is not clear on what is and isn’t sin. I believe when we teach that which is opposed to God’s Word, we speak on behalf of darkness rather than Light. And it doesn’t take a degree at a prestigious seminary to reveal this. A child knows this. Maybe that is the key. Maybe it would be good for us all to become children of God and obey His Word. Maybe if we all humbled ourselves under the guidance of God’s Word we could be led by Him and no longer led away from Him by false teaching. And False teaching is what we have in abundance today within the United Methodist Church. Confession and Repentance is the answer and Jesus is the Way! I won’t be a part of teaching darkness which separates the sinner from God forever by removing the need for repentance…even if the darkness being taught is disguised in garments of love. It isn’t love to tell the sinner he/she has no need to repent. That would be the greatest distortion of what God’s love really is and it is a very cleaver tactic of the Adversary of God. Unfortunately, many of our leaders speak more in representing darkness than Light and the sad part is they don’t even know it. They are blind guides. May God open all our eyes to His Way, Truth and Life!

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.