More on those United Methodist “centrists”

November 1, 2014
United Methodist "centrists," like theological progressives, also want to change church doctrine on sexuality. They're just willing to bide their time.

United Methodist “centrists,” like theological progressives, also want to change church doctrine on sexuality. They’re just willing to bide their time.

Please note: Whenever I write on the divisive issue of the UMC’s doctrine on sexuality, I do so as a sinner who stands in solidarity with my fellow sinners, regardless of the sins with which they struggle. As for me, I struggle daily with any number of desires that tempt me to sin. As I become aware of sin in my life, I do my best to confess, repent, and, by the power of the Spirit, change. And when I do, I’m deeply grateful that our Lord is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

My point is, like every other human being, I’m a sinner who needs God’s grace and mercy at every moment. And like all who seek to be faithful to Jesus, I am a work in progress.

Dr. Doug Damron, a fellow United Methodist pastor who helped draft the “centrist” statement that I blogged about earlier this week, disagreed with my characterization in the comments section of my post. Please read his response. He also wrote the following to Victor, one of my blog readers, who believes that the statement was timed to coincide with this week’s Judicial Council decision regarding Frank Schaefer:

Victor, yes I am the one of the original group and one of the first signers. I am one of three pastors from West Ohio who identified a smaller group of clergy who are respected for their leadership and effectiveness in our conference to talk about beginning a movement that would seek to reform and unity our denomination. I have been in all of the conversations and can assure you the Judicial Council decision was not once mentioned as we worked to get our platform out. Our deadline is a December 5th meeting where we hope to further organize and begin talking about candidates for endorsement (lay and clergy) in West Ohio. We wanted enough time for busy people to read it, pray, and consider joining us.

The first line of point #4 reads, “we stand with those who believe the current BOD needs to be upheld.” Meaning we do not support the breaking of covenant by some on the progressive side. Mutual respect is a call for an act of sacrificial love by refraining from breaking the covenant we agreed to uphold as part of our ordination while also instituting a moritorium on church trials. One of the practical reasons for this is how horrific this looks to the world looking in from the outside. This is hindering our witness for Christ.

Where we may be in disagreement is with the notion that we can continue as a church with parties at odds over the issue of same gender relationships. If this question trumps Christ’s call for his body to be unified than yes schism is the only option if the pendelum moves even an inch to the left on same gender couples. However, if this issue is not a deal breaker to remain in covenant with one another, love requires we attempt to find a way forward that both sides can live with. Is this hard, yes but we think worthy of our efforts until 2020. If extremes want all or nothing after a proposal or a choice of proposals is presented then we would regrettably yield. You can lead the horse to water but can’t make it drink.

I do think those who advocating splitting may be seeing this senario with rose colored glasses. On the conservative side of our church, wouldn’t a new Evangelical Methodist Church now have to contend on all sorts of issues where there will be a true lack of consensus? Infant baptism, episcopacy, the quadrilaterial, inerrancy, for some divorced persons in ministry? My first question to those who want to split is how then will you deal with this issue, an issue Jesus explicity spoke too. With the sexuality issue “settled” won’t there be one, two, ten more issues that can further divide the Christ’s Bride? For those who want seperation over one issue, one has to be prepared for a fight on a whole host of other issues that good disciples don’t necessarily agree upon. True Orthodoxy would require ahearance to all matters where the Bible clearly speaks (including divoce and remarriage). I would be interested to see how a new conservative only church deals with this issue with integrity.

We don’t believe a church with space for those who hold differing views is a liability, we atucally see it as a strength and a refreshing counter witness to a polarized world. We also are big fans of grace with all of its implications and possiblities. Thanks again for being in conversation friend.

I wrote the following in response to Dr. Damron:


So you’re saying that although your group “stand[s] with those who believe the current BOD needs to be upheld,” there will be no consequences for clergy who break church law on this issue? That will only encourage more church law-breaking, as everyone knows. You can “stand with” us all you want. If the spectacle of church trials is so harmful to our witness, how about we agree to avoid them by enforcing mandatory sentences for clergy who break the law on this issue?

You write: “Where we may be in disagreement is with the notion that we can continue as a church with parties at odds over the issue of same gender relationships.”

No, we conservatives will happily live with “parties at odds” over this issue, so long as these parties adhere to the Discipline when it comes to ordination and marriage. That’s the one and only presenting issue here: ecclesial disobedience and a failure on the part of church leadership to enforce the Discipline. The way you frame it reminds me of something Schaefer said last week after he was reinstated. He said that this “victory” shows that it’s O.K. for Methodists to continue to “speak out” on the issue.

“Speak out on the issue”? Is he kidding? He knows that “speaking out” isn’t the reason he went to trial and lost his credentials. No conservative wanted him to face discipline for merely speaking out—just as conservatives aren’t arguing that we can’t disagree on this issue.

You write: “If this question trumps Christ’s call for his body to be unified then, yes, schism is the only option if the pendelum moves even an inch to the left on same gender couples.”

I take issue with your pitting Jesus against those of us who believe, alongside nearly 2,000 years of Christian reflection on the subject, that homosexual practice is a sin, and one condemned in the strongest terms possible in both Testaments.

From our perspective, Jesus himself affirms the sexual complementarity of man and woman as a prerequisite for marriage in Matthew 19:5-6. And Paul wasn’t so concerned about “Christ’s call for his body to be unified” when he told the Corinthians to excommunicate the man committing incest in 1 Corinthians 5 for the sake of the man’s soul.

Incest here is relevant for two reasons: First, it’s a sin condemned in the exact same context as homosexual practice in Leviticus 18 and 20. We all still agree that incest is sexually immoral, and none of us argues that because we eat shellfish today, we ought to disregard what Leviticus says about incest. Right?

Incest is also relevant because Jesus never mentions it in the gospels. Yet none of us says that because Jesus was silent on the subject of incest, Paul must have been wrong to condemn it as sexually immoral.

You see my point, I’m sure.

Given our high regard for God’s Word, I can safely say that we conservatives are indeed unwilling to move an inch to the left on this issue. It is a deal-breaker.

I responded to your words about seeing schism “through rose-colored glasses” in my previous comment. Again, what happens to the centrists who stay in the rump UMC when progressive UMC leadership advocates for theological or religious pluralism, or Christian universalism, or denies hell or annihilation, or the exclusivity of God’s revelation in Christ, or the Second Coming or final judgment. Maybe this won’t happen. It’s a slippery slope argument, I know. But it’s at least as likely as the new “Evangelical Methodist” church becoming Bible-thumping fundamentalists, or whatever.

As I remind you in the previous comment, we conservatives are the ones who want to keep the UMC the way it is today. You’re the ones who want to change things. And as for financial or itinerancy reform, I’m sure we’re all happy to have that conversation. That has nothing to do with the questions that are dividing us now.

But, Doug, I began my post calling the “centrist” side disingenuous and by saying that the “centrists” really support changing church law on the question of homosexual practice, and that they’re biding their time. Am I wrong?

Please tell me: What is your conviction on the subject of homosexual practice? Do you agree with what our Discipline says? Do you believe, in other words, that homosexual practice per se is a sin? Do you believe that we should ordain otherwise qualified non-celibate homosexuals? Do you believe that marriage is only for man and woman?

4 Responses to “More on those United Methodist “centrists””

  1. Name Withheld Says:

    I think of myself as a centrist with a careful sense of defining each issue as it arises. Let me say at the outset that I have sensitivity to gay issues because of my own proclivity in that direction. However, I also realize that there are instances in our Christian lives when scripture and church tradition (and John Wesley) teaches us that our Lord is saying “no” to some of the ways in which we might characterize our desires as natural. I am no Bible thumper; however, in a society wherein almost all relationships are sexualized to some degree, I have grown skeptical of the notion that homosexual orientation includes an automatic spiritual right to expression. I came to this understanding after spending some time in two church-related groups that believed in almost no restraints on sexual expression within the gay community. I asked, at one point, if we as Christians should not uphold at least the same moral behavioral standards to which heterosexual individuals were held, and the response was a resounding “No!” with the addendum that that would put us in a judgmental position within the gay community! Imagine that! And I haven’t made any comment about the extent to which these groups avoided the subject of developing affectionate relationships. It was the freedom to experience church-approved sexual activity that was the clear goal. I left both groups knowing that I was wasting my time. I welcome all people into the church, whatever their values, but I also value the idea of both personal and corporate relationships with our Lord that lovingly guide us to a sense of those values which, although we see through that glass darkly, nudge us in the direction of a holy life.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thank you. I was arguing this issue once with a fellow pastor who said that he was “on the conservative side” of the gay-affirming side of our denomination. I asked him what he meant by that. He said that, unlike him, there are plenty of gay-affirming Christians who want to loosen the church’s prohibition against sex outside of marriage, either pre- or extra-marital. Given the number of sexual partners that gay men typically have before they tie the knot (in a marriage or civil union) and how rarely monogamy is practiced within a gay marriage (according to recent peer-reviewed research, fewer than ten percent), I’m sure that’s true.

      I asked my colleague if monogamy would now be up for grabs after his side wins on gay marriage. He didn’t like the question, as you might imagine. But it’s still a good question.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, you are totally in the right. The “Centrists” try to change the longstanding biblical and denominational position and then accuse the traditionalists of causing unseemly disputes when they simply attempt to stay the course. Also “Centrists” say they are all about love and “getting along,” failing to recognize that the first word out of Jesus’ mouth when he began is public ministry was “repent.” Love means attempting to draw people closer to God, and the way to do that is show people that they are not living up to biblical principles and need to change, not “act chummy” with them.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Well said. Thanks for the helpful reminder that Jesus’ first word of his public ministry was “repent.” That’s a contentious but necessary word.

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