The United Methodist Church has been debating the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage for decades. One side of the church believes that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teachings” (as noted in the Book of Discipline) and that gay marriage is forbidden, while the other side takes the opposing position. As can be imagined, arguments are passionate on both sides of the aisle.
Every four years, at General Conference, the larger church takes a vote on changing the language of the Book of Discipline to be more approachable on this subject matter. And yet every four years the language is counted to remain the same though the vote becomes closer and closer to changing the official position of the church. According to the Pew Research Center, sixty-two percent of today’s Protestants are acceptable of gay marriages and the gay community.
With the tide turning on this issue within the American public, more and more United Methodists are beginning to challenge the language of the Book of Discipline. Some clergy are either officiating gay marriages or getting married themselves. Last July, the U.S. Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church elected a gay clergy member to the high office of a bishop. Bishop Karen Oliveto is also in a same-sex marriage. Again, as can be imagined, some of the churches have aggressively protested against this election as a violation of church law. Some conservative congregations have already initiated the process of leaving The United Methodist Church.
This week the official ruling body of the church, the Judicial Council, is meeting to determine the outcome of the Western Jurisdiction and Bishop Oliveto’s action. While the larger church has formulated a committee to discuss this issue and to make a proposal in 2019 about the place of homosexuality, it is uncertain if some churches are going to wait till 2019 to take a position on this issue.
Frankly, this tide of discontent has been bubbling up for years. Now it’s our turn. Other denominations have already addressed this issue. The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of American, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and the United Church of Christ have suffered division within their ranks over this issue. Nevertheless, these churches took the bold step to take a position and move forward. Other denominations are still contemplating on how to understand this subject.
I am uncertain about where this matter will lead for our beloved church. No one wants division but when it comes to religious beliefs and morals, people believe what people believe. Let’s pray that God will lead us in the right direction so that we can go forward in the business of making disciples for Christ for the transformation of the world.