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.