A Statement on Ordination Standards From the Renewal and Reform Coalition

Members of the Judicial Council during the Feb. 23 morning of prayer at the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Since the 2019 General Conference and the subsequent ruling from the Judicial Council, there have been questions and some controversy about one of the provisions of the Traditional Plan. Some have taken that provision to mean that the church seeks to exclude all persons who experience same-sex attractions, whether they act on those attractions or not. This confusion is increased by those who insist on advocating for ending discrimination “based on sexual orientation.” The United Methodist Church does not discriminate based on “orientation.” Grounded in the clear teaching of Scripture and the unequivocal witness of Tradition, the church deems certain behaviors to be contrary to God’s will and therefore disqualifying for leadership. The following statement has been issued by the Coalition in an attempt to clear up the confusion.

From the very beginning of the 45-year conflict within United Methodism over marriage and sexual ethics, the issue has never been about temptation or attractions. It has always centered on behavior. With that clear focus, the Traditional Plan continues to create standards for practice, not orientation or attraction, despite what some are declaring.

One of the provisions of the Traditional Plan recently approved by the Judicial Council amended Discipline ¶ 415.6 to prohibit bishops from consecrating a bishop or commissioning or ordaining clergy who are “self-avowed homosexuals.” The omission of the word “practicing” is being taken by some as the Traditional Plan’s intention to change the church’s longstanding policy that it is the practice of homosexuality, not the attraction to persons of the same sex, which is contrary to Christian teaching.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition supported the Traditional Plan and some of our leaders submitted it. In this particular petition (90036), the word “practicing” was inadvertently omitted when the plan was submitted. It was never our intention to change our church’s policy of what behavior is acceptable for clergy. Our attempts to correct the omission in Petition 90036 in St. Louis were thwarted by the delay tactics used by opponents of the Traditional Plan.

In light of the confusion caused by this omission, the Renewal and Reform Coalition advocates the following:

  1. We plan to introduce revisions to the Traditional Plan to the 2020 General Conference, including adding the word “practicing” to ¶ 415.6.
  2. Until that correction is made, we urge that no complaints be filed against any bishop who consecrates, ordains, or commissions a “self-avowed homosexual” who is not engaged (or intending to engage) in the practice.

The Coalition affirms the biblical understanding that sexual relations are reserved exclusively for the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. We acknowledge that all of us experience attractions, desires, or temptations to transgress the boundaries God has established for human behavior in the area of sexuality, as well as in many other dimensions of life. To be tempted or attracted is not a sin, but to embrace that temptation and act upon it leads us into behavior that violates God’s will for us. We have great respect for those who choose by God’s grace to live in celibacy in order to honor the teachings of Scripture and the church, as well as for those who pursue and by God’s grace experience the depth of healing that can lead to healthy opposite-sex marriage and family.

To reiterate, The United Methodist Church’s long-standing policy is that the practice, not the attraction, of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The Renewal and Reform Coalition supports this long-standing policy and urges all United Methodists to act consistently with it.

UPDATE: The Committee on Correlation and Editorial Revision has announced that they are inserting the word “practicing” into the revised Par. 415.6 in order to make the language uniform. The committee brought all the petitions into harmony within the Traditional Plan, using the language “self-avowed practicing.” This work was done with the awareness that all legislation was subject to review by the Judicial Council. There is now no need for any amendments to be offered on this issue at the 2020 General Conference.

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The Renewal and Reform Coalition includes Good News, the Confessing Movement, UMAction, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Lifewatch, Renew, and Transforming Congregations. Although independently governed, these organizations work together to foster scriptural renewal and reform within The United Methodist Church.

Comments

  1. I highly recommend that you follow consistency with regard to your Biblical stance.

    Matthew 19: 8-9

    Divorce and remarriage is inconsistent with Scripture and thus should NOT be acceptable for clergy or bishops. It is inconsistent with clear teaching from Jesus. Divorced persons could (following the same logic as you use regarding practicing homosexuals) likewise commit to celibacy. The UMC should also not support remarriage of divorced persons (except for infidelity).

    I don’t understand the unwillingness to be Biblically consistent here. I recommend you use GC2020 to include such amendments.

  2. David F Miller says

    What are we to do with gay or lesbian individuals who after ordination decide to be a ‘practicing homosexual”? Can they be removed? I am not sure this can work.

  3. How many self-avowed non-practicing homosexuals are out there awaiting ordination? Can’t be that many. Although I am sure there is someone somewhere who will be willing to test the system. So maybe this missing word is not that big a problem. Still needs fixing.

    • You certainly have good reason to come to that conclusion, Kevin. But I disagree. In the past, those laymen in the church who have been “same sex attracted” yet held to a traditional sexual ethic have long been in the closet for a multitude of reasons. However, the younger generation of gay Christians do not react the same way. And many of these young people still believe in the traditional reading of Scripture. It may be eye opening to many of us (particularly after viewing the UMC battles of the last 20-30 years) but there are significant numbers of rainbow flag-bearing gay young people who are non-affirming, who are pro-life, and live Christ-centered lives. (Want evidence? Look at sessions of REVOICE on YouTube.) I know for a fact that many in this category find it hard to locate traditional congregations that accept them as they are–their belief system is like ours, but they are in a circumstance where they do not fit in with most of the congregants who are in traditional nuclear families. I hope we can evolve as a denomination to give hospitality in our congregations to these Christians, now that we have (almost) settled the theology of the matter.

  4. Gary Bebop says

    The point of these fixes (as I see it) is not to build a perfect mousetrap by which to micromanage the church from Houston (or wherever) but to clearly set forth the church’s expectations of its clergy (even as the Apostle Paul does) in faithful continuity with the church’s historic witness.

  5. For all of my lifetime as a Methodist, from my childhood small country Methodist Church upbringing, where experiencing conversion, to my current suburban, rather large UMC, plus all the stops in between, I was always moved with the Methodist itinerant system that helped keep the worship experience focused on God instead of the pastor who was but the messenger. The pastor was sent by the greater church on trust, not selected locally. Of course there were always more impressive ministers who stood out from the others. Revealing — those who preached the Good News Gospel of Jesus Christ as first and primary are those most warmly remembered. I relish those days that I genuinely looked up to and trusted, even if on reflection it was in in blissful naivety, those leading our church and supplying us pastors. Boom! What happened to the trust in our denomination? It has been snatched from us! Wow, all this 40+ years of conflict has revealed the ugly side of our system of clergy appointments. I still don’t want to believe that many of the decisions of our bishops, district superintendents, staff parish relations committees, et al are way too political and void of spiritual.

    My prayer in my later years is that the Methodist Church is finally turning the corner and is beginning a path of REFORM — most certainly foremost being the training, commissioning, licensing, ordaining, and expected exemplary Christian behavior of our ministers who are sent forth to first and foremost preach the Good News Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  6. Tom,

    Somewhere there’s a news article reporting that the word “practicing” was assumed to be the meaning of the legislation at GC2019, therefore, the word is being inserted back into that (or those) places in the BOD where it refers to someone who is actively homosexual/lesbian. If this is the case (and I didn’t just dream it), this will save having to deal with further legislation in 2020.

    Sorry I can’t find the link; you or someone on Good News’ staff probably can locate it – might be helpful to update this article with that correction

  7. Here is the article about revising/correcting the language that will go into the Book of Discipline. The Committee on Correlation and Editorial Revision updated the sentences where needed before sending the Judicial Council for review:

    https://www.umph.org/Current-News/ArtMID/471/ArticleID/36/Committee-on-Correlation-and-Editorial-Revision-Completes-Work-on-General-Conference-2019-Legislation?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpjMk1HVXpPR1V3WVRjeiIsInQiOiJiQ1c0VkVuditOS3RmKzVhOGtjM2ZNUk1cL0srUEVGbU1yR0NMeUkwT2d2NDMrbGpVUWh0SUMrOG90cWxudjE2OXpUbVdHQVR3N0FJd2lHY0ZZd0VUSldYc0h5ZWpWQjN1QU02WGhEcTRDSW1tMjZBemJ1T1h4XC9jMDlkYkI3c21zIn0%3D

    Here’s some of the relevant article:

    In its review of all approved legislation, on Wednesday, February 27, 2019, in St. Louis, the committee found four petitions that used differing language from The Book of Discipline wording “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” Elsewhere in other petitions submitted within the Traditional Plan, the petition language was in alignment with and also referenced the footnote to ¶ 304.3 where “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is defined.

    In four petitions passed by the General Conference, the wording was inconsistent, sometimes omitting the wording “self-avowed” and sometimes omitting the word “practicing.” In its correlation work during the editorial process, the committee brought all the petitions into harmony within the Traditional Plan, using the language “self-avowed practicing.” This work was done with the awareness that all legislation was subject to review by the Judicial Council.

  8. In my opinion, it seems if a written statement needs to be repeatedly explained, it is poorly written.

    It may be best to rewrite the statment or add information that clarifies its meaning or intent. It may be helpful if there is added definition and distinction made between someone who has a same sex attraction but does NOT act on nor affirm such an attraction is in line with being a disciple of Jesus Christ – or the Bible – and a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” who affirms that living such a life is OK with God and the Bible.

    Dr. Michael Brown says: “It depends on what you mean by ‘gay’ and ‘christian'”.

    See short video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvZ_3uyR_Ms&t=50s

    For a longer video with more information on the subject:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haK471jirCU

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