by Matthew Hamilton
(Photo credit cnn.com)
Controversial retired United Methodist minister Donald Fado complained about growing international, especially African, influence on the church in his June 21 sermon What Happened to My Denomination at the United Methodist California-Nevada Annual Conference in Sacramento, California. Fado had for years been the pastor of St. Marks UMC in Sacramento and had gained his controversial reputation primarily by performing same-sex civil unions despite the church’s official disapproval of same-sex relationships and prohibition on same-sex ceremonies.
The sermon was a lamentation for the United Methodist General Conference in May which upheld the biblical position on sexuality and voted that homosexual practice is “incompatible” with Christian teaching. The vote was 61% in favor of upholding sexual standards. But U.S. liberal clergy tried to dilute the church’s teaching with a proposal that would have declared the church in disagreement over sexuality. Supporters of this proposal tried to argue that disapproval of homosexual practice by implication denies God’s grace is for everyone. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 53% in favor and 47% opposed. Reverend Fado laments that “47% of the people say God’s grace is NOT for everyone!”
Reverend Fado then lamented the demographic evolution of the UMC, which is experiencing immense growth outside of the United States in overwhelmingly conservative Africa while most of the more liberal U.S. regions are fast shrinking. Almost 40% of delegates at the General Conference came from outside the U.S. And the evolving demographics mean that it will be virtually impossible for same-sex marriage to ever be officially approved of by the church. Fado laments this reality:
“In the early days, we are told that the missionaries took not only the gospel, but took the American culture and superimposed it on the people in Africa and Asia and around the world. And now it has come around the other way, and now they are coming to the United States and superimposing their cultural values on us.”
Apparently, for Reverend Fado, the debate of homosexuality in Christianity is an issue of “cultural values” rather than Biblical doctrine.
Still speaking of sexuality, Fado quoted Bishop Melvin Talbert, who on the last day of the General Conference proclaimed:
“The derogatory rules and restrictions in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust, and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience. The time has come to join in an act of Biblical obedience. The time has come to act in defiance of unjust words of immoral and derogatory discrimination and laws that are doing harm to our GLBT sisters and brothers.”
“Amen!” Fado added.
Fado then made his case that the Book of Discipline and the authority of the church could be disregarded on this issue. He told the story of how John Wesley needed a priest to send to America but the Bishop of London refused to grant his request. So Wesley went over the bishop’s head, consecrated his own man, and sent him to America. Fado finished the tale saying: “That broke all the rules and laws of the church… That’s our heritage, that’s who we are; we’re Methodists.”
Of course the analogy between Wesley’s appointment of a bishop and condoning homosexuality stops at defying church authority. Church authority is one thing, but defying God’s commandments is completely different. Wesley did not defy God with his insubordination. But the same cannot be said of United Methodist clergy like Fado who want to rewrite God’s laws to condone homosexuality as a practice.
One of Fado’s more absurd arguments that the United Methodist Church should condone homosexuality was that the church needs to counter stereotypes of Christians. Fado says that the stereotype exists that says: “We are low on joy, that we are tired, that we are afraid of things new and strange. It’s a stereotype that’s hard to break through in order to communicate the good news.”
If approving of homosexuality made it easier to communicate the gospel, the U.S. United Methodist Church wouldn’t be shrinking by 100,000 members annually and the conservative African United Methodist Churches who don’t approve of homosexuality wouldn’t be growing by about 200,000 members annually.
It’s shocking that Reverend Fado bemoans the growth of the United Methodist Church outside of the United States because churches in Africa and Asia are almost exclusively conservative and their delegates to the General Conferences will continue to block any liberal attempts to rewrite the UMCs official position of sexuality. One would think growth of the church around the world would be a cause for joy and celebration in the body of Christ. Apparently however, for people like Donald Fado, growth in the body of Christ is only good news if the converts share the liberal vision of social justice and permissive sexuality.