Why the Methodist position on gays won’t change

June 27, 2011

This article is a bit smart-alecky for my tastes, but I appreciate that unlike every other article I read in the wake of last week’s Amy DeLong trial, this one describes why that trial’s outcome won’t affect the church’s stance on homosexuality. DeLong’s light and symbolic sentence (a 20-day suspension plus she has to write a term paper) isn’t a harbinger. Mark Tooley explains why.

Given the indignant howls on Twitter among DeLong’s supporters [see #loveontrial (ed. note: gag!)], I couldn’t help but enjoy this part:

But during the trial, in a rare instance of real life actually imitating television drama, the church’s prosecutor reportedly ignited “audible gasps” from the audience when he asked DeLong if she had “genital contact” with her partner. Apparently asking an actual question about sex, at a trial about sex, gave the courtroom crowd, mostly DeLong’s supporters, the vapors, though hopefully nobody fainted. DeLong declined to answer.

6 Responses to “Why the Methodist position on gays won’t change”

  1. Rick Says:

    I don’t understand how you can just “decline to answer” questions in a trial and that gets you acquitted.

    At this point “the church’s stance on homosexuality” doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t matter if “General Conference will finally grant the prize”; The prize has been taken.

    After Amy DeLong’s 20 day suspension is over she will go right back to marrying homosexuals, and she openly admits that. That means that gay marriage is at once against the rules and allowed in the Methodist Church.

    That is to say nothing of all the liberal ministers who watched the results of the trial and are now emboldened to following in her footsteps. Hey, there are no consequences, so why not?

    The UMC needs to take bold, decisive action. The very integrity of the denomination is at stake.

    • brentwhite Says:

      You wrote:

      ‘I don’t understand how you can just “decline to answer” questions in a trial and that gets you acquitted.’

      Mark Tooley made the salient point in his article that such an admission isn’t necessary, for example, when you’re on trial for adultery. I’m sure more than a few clergy will remember this strategy when they’re facing those charges!

      I’m more sanguine about it than you, though. This verdict (and sentence) may have been very different had the same facts been tried in a different annual conference. I also think that having it “on the books” as a crime has more symbolic weight than the hypocrisy of lightly or selectively enforcing it.

      There will be a backlash, from across the denomination, for what happened last week. A hundred clergy here or there don’t represent any kind of consensus. And, as the article above points out, the numbers are stacked against the pro-gay side at General Conference. Increasingly so.

      What I don’t want is for people on “our” side to scapegoat homosexuals and make this issue our “hill on which to die.” What I mean is that even if, as seems likely, the Book of Discipline doesn’t change (and maybe we even start enforcing it more consistently), we as a church still have a lot to answer for in the realm of human sexuality.

      Given how the vast majority of nominally Methodist couples I’ve married have lived together—not to mention had sex, often with multiple partners—prior to marriage, it’s clear to me that the church is failing badly to explain why human sexuality should matter to Christians in the first place. Why does marriage matter? Why should we not treat divorce so lightly? Why does it matter what we Christians do with our bodies? Does God care and why? Is Christian singleness a viable way to live, as the New Testament loudly affirms, or it some hopeless ideal?

      The issue is so much larger than homosexuality! But homosexuality matters, too. So I’m glad that this church won’t change its stance any time soon!

      • Rick Says:

        I agree that the numbers are stacked against the pro-gay side at General Conference, but I don’t see how the GC – or even the Book of Discipline – matters anymore. “Having it on the books” does no good whatsoever as far as I can tell.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I just added much more to my previous post, which you probably didn’t read…

        The important point is that this is a verdict and sentence handed down by one annual conference. It doesn’t represent a consensus for the church as a whole. As an ordained elder myself, I would not feel emboldened by what happened in Wisconsin. It has no bearing on me. There is a great deal of pressure for us to tow the line (as there should be).

        Trust me: there is also an equal and opposite reaction to this verdict. Bishops in the UMC wield great authority over the lives of their clergy (especially us itinerant clergy). They have the power to keep us in line.

  2. Jay Says:

    So little interest in loving your neighbor and seeking justice.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Well, whether it’s loving or just depends on your premise. If one accepts the church’s traditional premise that homosexual behavior is harmful to oneself and others (even if we can no longer imagine how)—and, indeed, that it is contrary to God’s intentions for humanity and is sin—then it wouldn’t be loving for the church to encourage, promote, or condone the behavior. Which answers the second part: Love supersedes the interest of justice.

      If that premise doesn’t hold, then you’re right… let’s talk about love and justice. I would love for the pro-gay side of the church discussion (not national politics) to make an argument that takes seriously the foundation from which the church seeks to guide Christian life—scripture first, then tradition and reason. What I hear instead (often from my peers in ministry who disagree with me) is sentimentality and fear: It doesn’t feel right to discriminate, and aren’t you afraid that we’re losing young people who can’t abide the church’s position? Neither is a reason to change the church’s stance.

      I would love to hear actual arguments. We don’t want to argue—we want to engage in ad hominem attacks. I don’t believe that Christians on the pro-gay side simply “don’t believe the Bible” any more than Christians who support the church’s traditional stance are “just a bunch of homophobes.” But I say let’s have it out!

      Unless or until the church does have that argument, how can we be sure that the cultural tail isn’t wagging the ecclesial dog—especially considering that culture has got nearly everything else about sex all wrong. And, by all means, the church doesn’t have much integrity because we’ve already mostly sold out on issues of (heterosexual) marriage, divorce, and sex outside of marriage.

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