Fateful meeting in St. Louis

Book of Discipline

My heart has been heavy for a long time out of fear for the future of the United Methodist Church, which has always been an important part of my life. The Methodist Book of Discipline was first published in 1784, and is updated every four years after the church’s General Conference. In 1972, the church added this language:

“The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

This demeans those who wish to serve but are not “good enough” to represent the United Methodist Church. In my opinion, this is a divisive and hurtful passage and needs to be taken out of the Discipline. Fundamentalist clergy oppose that idea, citing Biblical scriptures which they take literally.

At the last General Conference in 2016, delegates deferred any decision on the question, and appointed a special commission to explore alternative approaches. The commission is due to report back later this month at a special session of the Conference in St. Louis. Striking the language is one of five options the conference will consider, reports say, with the commissioners themselves recommending a sort of local option for individual congregations and regional conferences.

To me, the scriptures cited by the fundamentalist clergy run counter to other scriptures. I personally place much more faith in Jesus’ teachings about loving one another. How many problems would be solved if we showed unconditional love to everyone?

Several weeks ago after church in San Anselmo, near where I now live, I was introduced to the guest speaker. It was six years after he completed seminary before the Presbyterian Church accepted gays and he could be ordained. I had no idea he was gay until he told me that story. His sermon was outstanding, and his personal circumstances in no way undermine the power of his or any other church leader’s message. What a loss it would be if, with his faith and dedication, this individual were denied the privilege of preaching.

If you have questions in your mind and heart, I suggest that you read Stranger at the Gate by Mel White. It could be a life changer. White was for many years a pastor who served as a communications consultant and ghost writer for Evangelical leaders. His book provides moving insight and perspective about the place of the church in the lives of faithful and dedicated gay clergy and the pain and loss of exclusion.

My hope is that the vote at Conference will be favorable to removing the devastating language in the Discipline, and permitting the ordination of many individuals who would serve faithfully as ministers and in other positions of leadership. I pray that the church will not split.