At their fall 2014 board meeting, held last week, the board of directors of the United Methodist Church’s D.C. lobby office, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) directors decided to petition the next General Conference to approve several (technically non-binding) resolutions related to homosexuality, following the recommendations of its Human Welfare Work Area.
In sharp contrast to General Conference debates over such statements, directors in the plenary session seemed to take care to avoid any direct, substantive discussion of the basic questions of whether or not the church should support biblical standards for sexual self-control, or more fundamentally if the church has any dramatically transformative new life to offer to people, including members of the LGBTQIA community, that is far superior to any sort of shallow, secular “I’m okay, you’re okay” gospel of personal affirmation. It seems that directors on both sides of such questions understand that theologically secularized American directors have such a strong majority that no one wants to get into potentially heated debates when the ultimate outcome is a foregone conclusion.
One of these GBCS-proposed petitions is entitled “Opposition to Sexual Prejudice, Homophobia and Heterosexism.” It would extensively re-write and re-adopt a lamentable, technically eight-year old resolution that was mercifully scheduled for expiration. One could narrowly construe the term “homophobia” to mean unloving fear and hatred of same-sex-attracted persons, which all Christians should indeed oppose. But by additionally denouncing “heterosexism,” the resolution is clearly going much further. Any definition of “heterosexism” would certainly include the UMC’s own official stance that sexual relations are only for the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and that homosexual practice is intrinsically sinful. The GBCS would have this resolution continue its earlier call for the GBCS to produce materials to re-educate United Methodists away from “heterosexism.”
Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic and Baltic area in Northern Europe asked if the Human Welfare Work Area had dialogued with United Methodists from Africa and Eastern Europe (where homosexuality is culturally taboo) before recommending this resolution. This was followed by some extended and increasingly awkward attempts to avoid a direct answer to the bishop’s question. Finally, Kurt Karandy, a layman from the Upper New York Conference in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, admitted that the Human Welfare Work Area, which he chairs, includes no members from those regions, and indicated that they had not sought to hear what such overseas United Methodists thought about this specific resolution.
Bishop Alsted said that as a Westerner, he understood the resolution’s concerns, but “I am worried that we in the West will impose on the world something without first hearing them. We may wish to still say what this resolution is saying, but we need to respect and hear [non-Western members of our denomination] first.”
He tried to refer to resolution back to its work area with the instructions to seek dialogue with non-Western United Methodists before finalizing their revision and recommendation on the resolution. But the bishop’s motion was overwhelmingly rejected, by a board of directors that purports to represent a global denomination while systematically marginalizing non-Americans into a tiny minority of token slots.
Lonnie Chafin, a lay director from the Northern Illinois Conference in the North Central Jurisdiction, sought to amend the resolution so that the GBCS’s re-education efforts would have “particular emphasis on developing materials relevant to the members of central conferences contexts” in which our denomination is organized overseas. He said that he did not intend to insult anyone, but “[t]here is a continent where people are put in jail for life and even killed” and so he urged fellow directors to “not pretend that that’s not a reality.” Ultimately, the Chafin amendment lost the day to a European director’s protesting the negative implications of non-American United Methodists being insufficiently educated.
The handful of directors who ultimately voted against the anti-heterosexism resolution, in a quick hand vote, appeared to come largely or entirely from the Southern United States and overseas central conferences.
The GBCS directors also decided to petition the next General Conference to adopt their extensively revised version of an already-expired gay-rights resolution misleadingly entitled, “Rights of All Persons.” The broadly worded resolution, especially as the GBCS wants to re-write it, appears at times to conflate simple disapproval of homosexual practice with harsh, targeted persecution of same-sex-attracted individuals. The resolution says that “[i]t is particularly disturbing when religious values are used to justify persecution” of GLBT people and calls upon United Methodists “to refrain from signing petitions and to vote against measures that advocate the denial of basic human and civil rights to anyone,” “to stand against any political or physical acts that deny human and civil rights and the sacred worth of all persons,” “to advocate for initiatives which would prohibit job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the world,” and “to advocate for initiatives which provide for extra penalties for crimes which are expressly committed for the purpose of harming someone based solely on their age race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, or disability.”
Obviously committing crimes to harm any person, or hatred against any individual or particular category of people, must be forcefully opposed by Christians. But it is striking that the GBCS believes (without any thoughtful reflection that I observed) that even when someone has already been sentenced for a crime committed, governments should set a precedent of going down the road of subjecting the perpetrator to an “extra penalty” for the sole crime of his/her internal thoughts related to “heterosexism.” On what comprehensive, morally consistent basis does the GBCS determine that some internal motivations for already-punished crimes are worthy of additional punishment (like “heterosexism”) while others (like pride, greed, lust, vengeance, or old-fashioned interpersonal hatred) are not? Furthermore, while the GBCS and progressive United Methodists are generally very knee-jerk in decrying any sort of “punishment” or “penalties,” it seems revealing how quickly they abandon their professed commitment to alternative “restorative justice” in their zeal for retribution against “heterosexism.”
Finally, the GBCS is now further petitioning the 2016 General Conference to re-adopt a petition entitled, “Church to Be in Ministry to Persons of All Sexual Orientations.” Among other things, this resolution, as revised by the GBCS, commendably condemns violence against same-sex-attracted people and expresses concern over teenagers “dealing with questions about sexual orientation” being “at a greater risk for suicide and violence perpetrated against them.” However, this resolution, like the other two, says nothing affirming of biblical standards for sexual self-control, and if seen in isolation, could easily be interpreted as indicating that the UMC is unconcerned about teaching such standards.
From the statements and pronouncements of the very Washington office charged with promoting the UMC’s Social Principles, one would never know that “support [for] laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman” has been written into these Social Principles since 2004 by now-IRD President Mark Tooley.
Furthermore, the GBCS now proposes revising this third resolution to rather broadly and vaguely call on the UMC to “advocate for policies that protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.” If past behavior is any indication, the GBCS staff would treat this unlimited clause, along with the aforementioned resolutions, as a sweeping mandate to lobby governments in favor of just about any and every gay-rights cause imaginable. There is little reason to expect the current GBCS to even oppose statutes which result in Christians who do not wish to be compelled to supportively participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies facing threats to their livelihoods, possible jail time, and even being told by a state supreme court justice that “the price of citizenship” is being “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.”
At their spring meeting earlier this year, directors approved a statement that claimed that “[l]egislation that denies the human rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender is being deliberated and enacted in states of the United States and countries around the world,” and, under the banner of opposing sexual-orientation-based “discrimination,” rather broadly denounced “all legislation that promotes discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.” That statement also commended Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Desert-Southwest Conference in the Western Jurisdiction, who is also president of the GBCS board of directors, for strongly denouncing a relevant, carefully written, widely misrepresented Arizona bill, and claimed that the elite church’s leader’s adding his un-nuanced “me too” to the agenda of some of the most powerful secular political forces and wealthiest corporations in America was somehow “prophetic.”
Both that earlier statement and what I was able to observe of the discussion preceding its adoption seemed to deliberately conflate harsh laws subjecting same-sex attracted persons to imprisonment or worse penalties in some Global South countries with recently proposed bills in some U.S. states intended to simply protect Christians and other supporters of traditional moral values from the sort of legal harassment noted above.
But under the leadership of Karandy, as chair of the Human Welfare Work Area, and Chris Pierson (a clergy GBCS director from the Northern Illinois Conference) as chair of the work area handling international affairs, the meeting at which that statement was initially developed and most extensively discussed was illegally closed to outside observers other than staff. A GBCS staffer later confirmed that this decision of theirs violated our denomination’s “open meetings” policy. Yet Karandy and Pierson remained unapologetic. They both declined to answer on-the-record questions about what they intended, with this statement, to signify about such cases as those noted above or about whether or not they saw the UMC’s own moral standards as among sexual-orientation-based “discrimination” they were so broadly denouncing. (In any case, Karandy has already made his own perspective rather clear, and it is highly doubtful that Pierson would have such a prominent position as Bishop Sally Dyck’s Director of Connectional Ministries if he was insufficiently enthusiastic for her militantly liberal agenda.) Last week, Karandy even cited the allegedly broad nature of that closed February meeting to rebut Bishop Alsted’s request that his work area should intentionally dialogue with non-Western United Methodists before endorsing another homosexuality-related resolution.
Insofar as they embrace secular American sexual values, progressive United Methodists are claiming to know better thanthe clear teachings of Scripture, 2,000 years of consistent church tradition, and the UMC’s own foundational Doctrinal Standards. In the way some have sought to use the whole denomination’s apportionment-funded GBCS to serve as a pet vehicle for their personal, partisan political agendas, without regard for how needlessly divisive this is and how much this violates the GBCS’s own agreed-upon Disciplinary boundaries, they have demonstrated little concern for going about church life in a way that honors and extends basic Golden-Rule treatment to fellow United Methodists outside of their own narrow political faction. When they cannot even bring themselves to publicly defend orthodox believers against fines, imprisonment, or loss of livelihood simply for “the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” it is not clear how such progressive United Methodists see more orthodox believers, even in their same churches, as their brothers and sisters in Christ, in any meaningful way.