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At a late July meeting of United Methodists from our Western Jurisdiction (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and states west) a Statement of Gospel Obedience was adopted. This statement declares our belief that the United Methodist Book of Discipline is in error in its declaration that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This statement was made, “In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons…”

The statement has set off a firestorm of controversy. Some are celebrating this “visionary”, “prophetic” or “courageous” action. Others deplore the breaking of covenant.

This action by our jurisdiction places before each United Methodist in the West a moral question:  Do I comply with the action of my jurisdiction? Or with the action of the General Conference in continuing to make this statement about homosexuality (one that I believe to be both factually and theologically inaccurate)? Or do I comply with the teachings of Jesus as reflected in the Gospels? (I believe that teaching to be that we are to live together in love, and work to restore God’s original vision for creation and humanity — in other words, work together to bring about coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.)

I cannot imagine anyone arguing that a denominational vote trumps the gospel. But at least one blogger insists that clergy who cannot in good conscience comply with the current statement in our Book of Discipline should leave the covenant (in other words leave the United Methodist Church, or at least resign their ordination).

So the question for me is, do I continue to work for change from within the denomination that I love, or do I leave? I believe that I can, with integrity, work for change from within. The covenant that I entered into did not include going along with any vote of General Conference no matter how wrong. I believe that the covenant includes the responsibility of exercising my conscience, and the option of working for change from within. Just as I disagree with those who say Americans who oppose a certain war or act of Congress should leave our country. Part of loving my United Methodist Church means continuing to work toward faithfulness — helping it be the best it can be. Civil disobedience has a long and honorable tradition in our culture. Sometimes the way you change a wrong is to do what is right until the culture catches up — witness the Underground Railroad during slavery.

I long for my Methodist tradition to reclaim its prophetic voice: from helping to end the abuses of the Industrial Revolution in England; to speaking out against slavery. It is my heartfelt prayer that this issue will bring us out of the suffocating blanket of cultural conformity and prompt us to reclaim our courage to speak and act for justice.

Check back soon for part two.

 

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18 Comments

  1. Sam Fletcher

    Thanks so much for your courage and voice, Deb. I feel like, in that complex collection of diverse voices and cultures we call the Bible, there is a lot to support Christian inclusion of homosexuals. I know there is overwhelming archeological evidence that the earliest Christian churches and communities celebrated homosexual marriage rites. I can say the weight of evidence is on our side. It’s discouraging that in the church, it feels like the weight of voices is not on our side. I think that’s really sad and I’m glad for your encouragement to change that.

  2. Thanks, Deb, for sharing your thoughts on this. I honor the work of those who choose to stay within their denominations when it’s tough to tickle apart covenant of the tradition along with living with sacred texts and putting together action and truth as we’re called to do. One of the memory verses during this week’s VBS has been 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech but in truth and action.” To look into the eyes of kids from ages 3 to 12 who understand that we are all God’s children and then have them ask why some adults say some things and act differently than what they say. Thank you for your voice, your courage, your journey to help bring the kin-dom of God to this place!

  3. Deb,

    The blog your linked to said:

    “All clergy were asked at ordination: “Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church? … Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? … Do you approve our Church government and polity? Will you support and maintain them?”

    I assume from your comment in the blog on one of the posts that you must have been ordained before the statement on homosexuality was included. If so, how did you process and proceed forward at that time?

    This is a very interesting subject for me, the issue of denominational obedience is one issue that keeps me jittery in light of my desire to possibly move into a formal relationship with a denomination.

    Your wrestlings are foreseeable to me when it seems that one’s conscience and culture (secular or sacred) are at odds.

    You ask:
    “do I continue to work for change from within the denomination that I love, or do I leave?”

    I ask: “do I join a denomination that I am learning to love but don’t agree with on all points, do I stay out or join?”

    Discerning these matters is truly difficult. I pray God will guide you with peace and courage.

  4. Deb … thanks for your post on part one and looking forward to part two. Hard decisions but when push comes to shove I’m in favor of following the Written Word of God over the written word of men and whatever tradition is currently being promoted by any denomination/church/fellowship.

    Sam, you said: “I feel like, in that complex collection of diverse voices and cultures we call the Bible, there is a lot to support Christian inclusion of homosexuals. I know there is overwhelming archeological evidence that the earliest Christian churches and communities celebrated homosexual marriage rites.” What archeological evidence are you in reference too? I’ve not read that the early church fathers toleration of this was minimal at best.

    I’m in the minority here but the Word God provides all the instruction we need on what constitutes a biblical marriage. A Christian can be trapped by debating within historical context apart from the Bible, given that historical accounts are often subjective in nature.

  5. The Rev. Deb Conklin

    Eric,
    I apologize for the delay in answering your questions. As you can understand most people’s ‘weekends’ are my working days.

    I took my ordination vows after General Conference adopted language that says homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching”. But we had language (in the same paragraph) that says, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.” And my ordination was before General Conference passed legislation that says that our clergy may not preside at same sex unions or gay marriages.

    So, at the time of my ordination, it was, and continues to be, my opinion that the statement about incompatibility with Christian teaching is factually wrong. But I do not understand our polity to require agreement with every statement in the Book Of Discipline (BOD). The BOD says our Theological Task includes “the discernment of Christian truth in ever-changing contexts. It includes the testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective…” And “every generation must appropriate creatively the wisdom of the past and seek God in their mist in order to think afresh about God, revelation, sin, redemption, worship, the church .freedom, justice, moral responsibility, and other significant theological concerns.” Hence, I believe that working for change, and even refusal to obey unjust ‘rules’ adopted by GC, can be consistent with my vows, and with my covenant with my Elder (ordained clergy) colleagues.

    When I took my vows, I was clear that I would practice “celibacy outside of marriage” in obedience to the rules in place. (Which, by the way, is often not obeyed by heterosexual clergy.) However, forbidding our clergy to preside at same gender celebrations (under whatever name) came as a shock to me, as our tradition has long been that local congregations create traditions and rituals that meet the needs of that congregation. (For example, urban United Methodists in the Western U.S. do not tell UM’s in rural Africa what rituals they may or may not use to minster to their communities.) It also forces me to chose between this new ‘rule’ and values expressed in Paragraph 139 (BOD 2008) which says, “As a diverse people of God who bring special gifts and evidences of God’s grace to the unity of the Church and to society, we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to ALL persons. Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables ALL persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world; therefore, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination.” (emphasis mine)

    Ironically, our BOD did not even mention homosexuality until 1972. So, many of our clergy over the last 40 years have struggled with how to deal with this change in their understanding of our church’s positions. We have a long tradition of choosing to honor the language of inclusiveness in our Theological Task over the exclusive language that was a late adoption in our Social Principles.

    I also invite you to consider this blog from one of our Annual Conference staff members: http://www.pnwumc.org/gc2012/what-does-a-statement-of-gospel-obedience-mean-for-the-church/

  6. The Rev Deb Conklin

    rhossack,

    If I follow “the Written Word of God” over the “written word of men” then I unhesitatingly follow the Gospel call to love my neighbor, especially the oppressed and the outcasts. For me this means loving and ministering to all my neighbors, regardless of their sexual orientation.
    As for your reference to “biblical marriage” I am not in support of following the models of marriage that we find in the Bible. The only explicit models are for polygamy – one man having many wives and concubines. And, of course, we have King David’s model of raping a wife of another man, then having the other man killed so he can have the woman. No, I prefer modern practices of marriage over Biblical ones.

  7. Deb … there are over 400 verses if you throw in the words, husband, wife, marriage. I believe the model was given to us in Gen. 2:18, 21-24. I don’t think it is hard to discern that this was God’s from the beginning for them to become one. Man has always tried to improve upon God’s plans and it always ends in failure. Eph 5 depicts the relationship between the husband and wife and illustrates the relationship of the Church with the Lord.

  8. The Rev Deb Conklin

    Rhossack, The Bible has much to say about divorce. And several passages discuss the ralationship between husband and wife. But none of them say explicitly one wife to each man. And ALL the patriarchs from Abraham to Solomon were polygamists. It is simply incorrect to claim that the Bible gives us the model of one man one woman as Biblical Marriage.

  9. The one-man, one-woman model actually comes from ancient Rome. After the Roman persecutions of Christians, the Roman Christian church with it’s people raised in Roman values came to dominate Western Christianity for many centuries to come. The “Biblical model” we know of is a mixture of polygamy and monogamy + concubinage, as was and still is common in the Middle Eastern world.

  10. (I’ve always said, if you want to know what the people were like who gave us the Bible, look at Middle Eastern culture today. Islamic society has preserved for us many of the same values of ancient Jews and early Christians. It’s quite fascinating.)

  11. Deb said – The Bible has much to say about divorce.

    That it does but I think it is pretty much summed up when it was allowed because of the hardness of mens hearts.

    Deb said – It is simply incorrect to claim that the Bible gives us the model of one man one woman as Biblical Marriage.

    I will have to agree to disagree with you on this. The clear evidence that monogamy is God’s ideal is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matt. 19:3–6. In this passage, He cited the Genesis creation account, in particular Gen. 1:27 and 2:24, saying ‘the two will become one flesh’, does not say, three, four but simply not more than two.

    Another important biblical teaching is the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22–33), which makes sense only with monogamy—Jesus will not have multiple brides, just one.

  12. “I will have to agree to disagree with you on this. The clear evidence that monogamy is God’s ideal is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matt. 19:3–6. In this passage, He cited the Genesis creation account, in particular Gen. 1:27 and 2:24, saying ‘the two will become one flesh’, does not say, three, four but simply not more than two.

    Another important biblical teaching is the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22–33), which makes sense only with monogamy—Jesus will not have multiple brides, just one.”

    That’s not really a proof that the Bible is monogamy-only. There are still many, many examples of saints having more than one wife and that being perfectly fine. There are many laws in the Torah that deal with multiple wives and sexual servants.

    Not that I’d argue for polygamy in today’s society. But let’s not misread our religious texts and therefore justify giving justice and equality to all consenting adults.

  13. Aaron Weidert

    http://www.iheartchaos.com/post/22806986381/the-time-when-same-sex-marriage-was-a-christian-rite

    The idea that marriage has remained a constant, unchanging thing between one man and one woman is completely false and somewhat naive. We can find multiple examples of different kinds of marriage in the Christian tradition throughout history, and our idea of what a marriage is has changed radically over the centuries. Until recently (within the last few hundred years) marriage was effectively a property contract. Women in many cases weren’t allowed to own property, and when a man died his estate went to his oldest son rather than his spouse. The son then bore the responsibility of taking care of his mother. Our definitions of marriage and what it looks like have changed dramatically over the years, and I would certainly hope that no would would suggest we uphold the “traditions” of marriage. Deb is absolutely right to voice her support of modern definitions of marriage.

    Rhossack, as far as your idea on what is clearly God’s ideal, what about Deuteronomy 22:28-29? In case you’ve forgotten, that’s the verse that requires a rape victim and her rapist to get married. For every verse you can quote that makes it “clear” what God wants in a marriage, there are others that show a far different version of what “biblical marriage” looks like.

  14. Sam said: That’s not really a proof that the Bible is monogamy-only. There are still many, many examples of saints having more than one wife and that being perfectly fine. There are many laws in the Torah that deal with multiple wives and sexual servants.

    Sam … you can always find verses that show examples of the above but it is not, nor has it been God’s plan. He laid out the plan in Gen and Jesus put His stamp of approval on it in Matt. Because man decides to ‘improve’ upon the plan does it make it right by having multiple wives? Of course not.

    Sam said: But let’s not misread our religious texts and therefore justify giving justice and equality to all consenting adults.

    Why limit it to consenting adults? Why not just let anyone have their say and way and throw away any and all rules?

    BTW … did you miss the post where I asked for the evidence for “archeological evidence that the earliest Christian churches and communities celebrated homosexual marriage rites”? I’d really be interested in reading that.

  15. Aaron Weidert

    My personal interpretation would be that the rule existed as protection for the woman, as messed up as that might seem to us now. As I said above, in many cases throughout our history, marriage has been effectively a property contract. Virginity was a highly prized thing, particularly the virginity of women. A woman who had engaged in sexual activity, willing or not, would be seen as damaged goods. Her value would be lower, and it would be harder for her and her father to find a husband for her. I imagine the rule existed as protection against that, which is why there is also a fine or “bride price” attached in the verse as well.

  16. I see II Peter 3:16 as describing much of what I read in this blog. It is so clear in so many passages of the Bible, which is very consistent and unified, that homosexuality and therefore marraige between homosexuals is condemned. II Peter 2:4 and following, Jude 6 & 7, along with many others, make that very clear. God has never taken a poll to see what everyone thinks about this idea or that. He stated His position and we mock it at our peril.

  17. I’d also say that the short answer in my opinion is to leave. Your continued presence is your approval of what is sanctioned by your denomination. That is one of the reasons I don’t believe in denominationalism. Every one of them, no matter how pure and noble at the beginning, ends up compromising to keep the money and support rolling in.

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