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My beloved United Methodist Church: Working for change within the system

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My beloved United Methodist Church (UMC) is in the headlines again. At the same time that one clergy colleague loses his authorization to be a pastor (is defrocked!) another is celebrated for courage — both of these consequences for presiding at a ceremony celebrating the union of a gay couple.

Some have challenged my support for gay marriage by saying I should not be a UMC pastor if I am not willing to follow all the rules. I say, our UMC has the same traditions around civil disobedience as does the United States. An unethical law should not be obeyed. And we are entitled to work for change from within the system. So, rather than leave the system, I join with many of my UM colleagues in being prepared to put pastoral care for my parishioners ahead of ‘laws’ that attempt to limit the range of care that I am ‘permitted’ to offer.

However, the tradition of civil disobedience says that if we choose to break the law even for the best of reasons, we must be willing to suffer the consequences of breaking the law. Living with the consequences is part of the witness. Unfortunately, breaking this church law in Pennsylvania can result in the loss of one’s calling. Breaking the same law in Washington can result in a one day suspension with pay.

Because I believe in John Wesley’s ‘system’ of grace: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying, I continue to work for justice in flawed systems — church, community, state, nation. And I believe that it is incumbent on those of us for whom the consequences are likely to be less costly to lead the way in doing the right thing for all of our parishioners.

Deb Conklin

About Deb Conklin

Rev. Deb Conklin’s wheels are always turning. How can the church make the world a better place? How can it make Spokane better? Her passions are many, including social justice in the mainline tradition, emergence and the post-modern and missional church.

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  1. The law and ethics are side issues. What the bible says is all that matters. I can name two cities that are still embedded in sulfur because they embraced gay marriage.

  2. Mark,
    I’m not sure what two cities you can name. I can assure you that Sodom and Gomorrah have nothing to do with gay marriage. Gay Marriage was completely outside the conceivable universe of people in the Hebrew scripture.

    Although Hellenists try to make the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah about sexual behavior (see Jude 1:7) the Hebrew scriptures repeatedly state that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah had to do with their violation of the rules of hospitality and their refusal to care for widows and orphans. See http://www.bobcornwall.com/2010/08/wickedness-of-sodom-and-gomorrah.html for a concise review of the texts. If you want to talk about what the Bible says, you might want to read it first.

  3. Eric Blauer

    Deb, wouldn’t you agree that we need to read everything scripture says about a city and it’s judgment to have a correct interpretation of the situation? Which in my view would include not exclude the Isaiah passage.

    If Dennis excluded the Isaiah passage and you exclude the Jude passage, are you not both engaged in the same problematic exegetical method?

    • Eric, the difference is that Isaiah and Ezekiel were still the Hebrew culture describing the Hebrew understanding of Hebrew texts. Jude is from a different culture with a different worldview, that thus a less reliable source for interpreting the Hebrew scriptures. Jude is also an unusual book, quoting sources and referring to events not supported elsewhere in the canon. While one should take all of scripture seriously for its message to us about it’s own context, I do not consider Jude a reliable source for interpreting Hebrew tradition.

  4. What, how did I get involved in this one? But I got here since I was interested so I’ll comment. I agree Eric that all that the scripture needs to be examined when seeking the right interpretation. It also needs to be prayed over, since God is the author. I did the e-sword search in order not to miss any, most of the passages I was already familiar with. There’s no question that deviant sexual sin is involved in bringing the judgement, but it is also clear that it was probably a result of starting down the path of disobedience to God’s commands and not giving Him His proper place in their minds and hearts. I don’t find any contradiction, just as I’ve never placed the sin of homosexuality any higher on the list than any other, except that as the Isaiah 3:9 verse says, they want to strut it, and aggressively demand that it be accepted, and taught to our children. The whole bible teaches that God is the same, He never changes. The culture is not that different and the human heart has been the same since Adam sinned. Deb, you’re right that it’s not about gay marriage, but goes further to homosexuality as sin even before the idea of marriage.

  5. Eric Blauer

    Ha sorry Dennis sometimes I think we are the only two on here that respond from a conservative side. My apologies.

    Deb, I think the dividing line that always comes up in these type of conversations is the progressives view of the bible vs an evangelical view. That’s why we always talk pass one another on many issues.

    Since I’ve been a writer here I’ve been told by progressive Christian ministers that the bible is truthful myth, inspiring but not authorative.

    Morality is culturally defined.

    The resurrection didn’t happen.

    The Virgin birth didn’t happen.

    Evolution is truth.

    Capitaitalism should be ended.

    Abortion is ok.

    I’m not sure of the progressive position on the divinity of Christ.

    I’m realizing just how huge theses differences really are.

    I’ve always considered the Christian tent meant the creed accepting churches. My Christian upbringing tent pegs included love, bible teaching and Jesus worshipping, following and obeying people who call Jesus Lord and savior.

    The progressive tent seems to have no definitive pegs beyond love and personal freedom. It’s seems like religious libertarianism.

    It’s easy to see why there’s a continual log jam.

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