Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 29th, 2015 by Joel Watts

161f, #UMC Book of Discipline (#GC2016)

keep calmRecently, I posted my answers to a questionnaire I had received as a nominee to be a delegate to the General Conference. The conversation is continuing. The question today involves 161f from the Book of Discipline.

This is 161f, titled “Human Sexuality”

We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to  responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. 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 question was generally something along the lines of “why do you want it removed.” since the bible says marriage is between one man and one woman and homosexuality is a sin. This is my answer.

…..And yes, Annual Conference and General Conference are of a great concern to me. I have found Christ in the United Methodist Church and I do not wish to seen it torn asunder by selfish people doing wicked things.

There is a real condition of homophobia, but like racism and sexism, that word is used to shut people up and should not be applied to everyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin. I believe greed is a sin, but that doesn’t mean I fear it. I do not believe everyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is homophobic or bigoted. I suggest to you that those who use that word too easily are themselves what they would accuse you of.

I would not want the whole of 161f removed. Human sexuality is very much God’s gift to us and I am concerned about what I see from many of our fellow United Methodists who support everything but monogamy. Yet, we know monogamy is a sign of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5). However, I do not believe homosexuality is a sin EXACTLY because of Scripture. This would have to be better explained in person, I suspect.

Let me give you some personal background. I was raised in a oneness (almost) pentecostal/holiness sect. We were King James Only, anti-trinitarian, and convinced that we alone knew what the bible said and oddly enough, it always said the same thing we did! Mainly, it said everyone but us were going to hell. Our group/organization was alone the only people on earth who were Christian. We believed that everyone — Baptist, Catholic, Methodist — was going to hell because they read the bible differently (i.e., wrongly). For 32 years I was raised to believe this and then preached it myself as a minister. But something happened. I discovered that the Church and Scripture had existed for nearly 2000 years before me. I also discovered that sometimes, many times, we have read it wrong. Further, there are things I thought had existed since Christ Himself that are relatively new. It humbled me to realize this. It is difficult for me to ever say “the bible says.”

I believe Scripture is our primary source of authority. Because of that, I have to read Scripture how Scripture was written. Many argue with me about it and I with them. We simply disagree but we do agree that Scripture requires faithfulness in monogamous marriage/commitment and celibacy in singleness. However, likewise, I am humbled by Church Tradition that has for centuries taught that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. So, I am torn, to be honest, between what I believe Scripture to say and the Tradition of the Church. But, so too was John Wesley who broke with the Anglican Tradition to allow women to preach. Further, he led the call against slavery — all based on his reading of Scripture. All in a time when it was thought Scripture prevented women from being ministers and slavery was a divine institution. All of this he did while challenging the role of the Bishop, Calvinism, and other errors he saw in the Church of England, one he loved so dear. Only when he was forced to, because of the American Revolution, did he “break” his vow and ordained people in the States to administer the sacraments. So, again, I am torn.

However, I am not torn on the Book of Discipline. If a person agrees to uphold it, then they should uphold all of it, not just the parts that help them get paid. I would, even if they were dear friends of mine, bring charges against ministers I found violating the Book of Discipline, even on parts I disagree.

Let me give you some comfort. There are a great many gay United Methodists who want to obey the Book of Discipline and care little to see it changed. Many of those fighting to force change are, I believe, often doing it out of self-serving reasons without regard to the whole of the United Methodist Church. It is not likely to change this time or the next. Yet, we have to learn to work together and give God that place to work to convict our hearts. If I am wrong, then I want to be with people who will help me see the light. If my friends are wrong, I want to be able to be led by God to show them.

 

…..

Yes, perhaps I am spending too much time on this. But, I suspect most of us simply do not have the discussion. I believe such things are very important to talk about. We need to be honest with our feelings of doubt, of resilience, of timidity, and of perseverance.

The United Methodist Church is very much intertwined with American culture. Therefore, it would be wrong to think that most United Methodists simply have no opinion about this one way or another. They may not realize how big of an issue this is in The United Methodist Church, but if you take a look over the landscape of the United States — especially since the Supreme Court is hearing the case for/against the constitutionality of gay marriage on 28 April — you will see just how divisive this issue is. They may not be talking about it in church, but they are talking about it.

I think it behooves us, especially those involved in the issues, to speak with others — even those we find are different than us on the issue –  openly and honestly about how we feel. I have nothing to hide.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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