By Rob Renfroe
For the first time, the United Methodist Council of Bishops has issued a collective statement that all of its members “will uphold the Book of Discipline as established by General Conference,” regarding the various issues related to homosexuality.
The statement was the direct result of a letter sent by 59 leading pastors to all active bishops, asking the Council to address the then 900 pastors who had pledged to perform gay marriages, contrary to the Discipline. (You can read the entire statement from the Council of Bishops at www.GoodNewsMag.org.)
Since the letter was sent, more than 2,500 pastors have added their names to the letter and more than 12,000 laypersons have signed an even more pointed statement at the website www.faithfulumc.com. As reticent as the Council has been in the past to address the topic of homosexuality in any sort of unified way—even as it was tearing the church apart—it is obvious that the letter and the 14,500 signatures were effective in motivating the Bishops to do what they should have done long ago.
We are grateful to the Council for issuing a statement and to the thousands of United Methodists who asked them to do so.
So we have a statement. That’s the good news. The statement itself—well, that’s another story. In a 21-sentence document, two sentences deal with upholding the Discipline. Out of 526 total words, only 41 state the Bishops’ commitment to defend the covenant that holds us together. In fact the UM position regarding gay marriage is never stated. Nor does the statement promote our beautifully balanced, biblically faithful, and compassionate position regarding human sexuality. (See page 30.)
Instead, much greater attention, verbiage, and passion is given to the same issues we regularly hear touted by the Bishops: the importance of “being in ministry…for all persons,” a warning “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends,” and a commitment to offer “grace upon grace to all.”
There is a place for such statements. But those issues are not the ones that are threatening the unity and the future of the UM Church. I believe what evidently many of our Bishops are not convinced of: United Methodists, in general, and UM pastors, in particular, are among the most compassionate, grace-filled and grace-giving persons on the planet.
When 1,000 rogue pastors have promised to break our covenant, what we need is something more pointed and more theological than a document that devotes the majority of its content to telling us to be kind to one another. We get that already. United Methodists have always gotten that. And it’s not a lack of kindness that is threatening to destroy the unity of the UM Church.
We needed a statement that addressed firmly and specifically the proposed actions of those who have rejected holy conferencing, who have pledged to throw the church into chaos, and who believe they can represent the UM Church while rejecting the clear teaching of the Scriptures and 2,000 years of Christian tradition.
What we wish the Council of Bishops would have said.
Grace and peace to you in the Name of Jesus Christ.
We live in a time of great social change. In particular, our culture, and even some in the church, are confused about sexual wholeness. In such times, it is imperative for the church to be clear about its teachings. As Bishops of The United Methodist Church, it is our responsibility to make certain that the church and the world know exactly where we stand.
A statement is especially necessary at this time because 1,000 UM pastors have pledged to perform marriages for homosexual couples, contrary to the Book of Discipline which states that no UM pastor may do so and no such service may be held on UM property.
Our UM position concerning homosexuality is one that has received careful consideration, much prayer, and constant reaffirmation for over 40 years. We believe that it is biblically faithful—all persons possess sacred worth, but the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
As shepherds of the church we are committed to upholding, defending and promoting our position which offers sacred worth, sexual wholeness, and the beauty of holiness to all.
To those who possess a same-sex attraction and to those who love them, we want you to know that the UM Church is a safe place for you. You are welcome in our churches, and we are deeply sorry for any actions or words which purposefully or inadvertently have been hurtful to you.
To those pastors who have pledged to perform gay marriages, we admonish you not to do so. If for conscience sake you feel that you must, know that we will not allow you to fracture the unity of the church or break our policies without severe penalties. We pledge that we will not wait for others to file charges against you if you perform same-sex marriages. We will do so. In addition, you will immediately be suspended and not reappointed until your case has been resolved. You have the right to disagree with our UM positions. We have the responsibility to enforce them. And we will faithfully do so.
We have a time-honored, Wesleyan tradition of resolving our disagreements. It’s holy conferencing. Not only are we troubled by your pledge to perform services not allowed by the Discipline, we are also grieved that you have decided no longer to follow our Wesleyan way of resolving conflicts together. Your pledged actions make future conversations difficult if not impossible. And that is most regrettable.
We implore you to live by the Discipline and recommit yourselves to holy conferencing. It is our hope and prayer that you will. If you are not able to do so, integrity may require you to find another denomination. Integrity will require us to enforce the Discipline, offer both grace and truth to the world, and not allow the actions of those who disagree with our positions to divert our energies from making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
—The Council of Bishops
Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.