The second largest Protestant denomination in the US, the United Methodist Church, with about 7 million members in the US and a total of about 12 million worldwide, has been battling for decades over a very thorny issue.
They last week voted during their General Conference of Worldwide United Methodists to hold firm, to their interpretation of the Bible, which is the basis of their belief that do not allow United Methodist Churches to marry folks of the same sex, or for LGBTQ folks to be ordained as a United Methodist minister.
The document that spells out the beliefs of the United Methodist Church, based on the Bible, is called The Book of Discipline.
On these two issues it says, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
The United Methodist Church is the only “mainline” church that has said no to same sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination of ministers. The other mainline churches are: Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians and these do allow same sex marriage and allow for ordination of LGBTQ folks. So, there isn’t any confusion, some of these denominations have both a liberal and a conservative version.
Interestingly, the liberal version is the one that is considered to be a mainline church. The reason is, they were the original version in the US, even if they were far more conservative back in the 1700s, then they are now. The various spinoffs that came later were due to the liberalism that occurred in the original. So, in this one way, the United Methodist Church is different from its fellow “mainline” members, as they were also very conservative back in the 1700s, and did become far more liberal starting in the 1960s, but in spite of that, still hasn’t changed their stand on LGBTQ issues in terms of marriage or ordination.
This is due to the large voting bloc of the United Methodist churches in Africa. They steadfastly vote no to these LGBTQ issues. As the United Methodist Church in the US continues to lose members, the United Methodist Church in Africa continues to grow by large numbers.
This brings up a couple of questions for those United Methodists who support same sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination. As this issue has consistently been voted down every four years at your Worldwide General Conference for many years, why haven’t you left and started your own Methodist Church?
Consider, that in the Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian Churches they all have a conservative church that is separate from the liberal version of their church. So, why not create a more liberal LGBTQ affirming version of the Methodist Church?
Why continue to be in a never-ending battle? The US branch has fewer and fewer members and the African branch continues to grow, so the odds of you getting the vote to go your way is slim to none. By having your own version of Methodism your church would be filled with those folks who interpret the Scriptures, especially on these issues, the same as you.
You’d have a church where there’d be gay / lesbian marriages, and LGBTQ ordinations. Instead, there is a tension that puts a cloud over your denomination, especially in the US. Having a very divided church isn’t a healthy thing for either side of the issue.
It deflects away from what the actual mission of the church is to be, as commanded by Jesus himself in Matthew 28:18-20 where he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
It seems to me, that you folks are trying to force your beliefs on your fellow Methodists and that is not something Jesus would do. Jesus never forces his will on any of us, he gives us the free will to choose. He said come follow me and you either followed or you didn’t.
So, your approach is not productive and hurts the UMC. It seems to me that you folks need to either accept the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, on these thorny issues, or go to another denomination that interprets those parts of Scripture the same as you, or start your own Methodist Church. Then you will be able to worship and serve Christ in a far more effective manner than you are today. That’s not an easy thing to do, granted, but it is the correct thing to do.
Mike Cannatelli’s column appears every other week in the print edition of the Avon Grove Sun and Kennett News.