The Sexuality Dialogue U.S. United Methodist Leaders Dare Not Try

on November 12, 2015

With all the internal disagreements and controversies in the United Methodist Church, particularly over sexual morality, the reflexive response of many denominational leaders is “Let’s have a dialogue!”

The portion of the recent North Central Jurisdictional gathering led by the Connectional Table (CT) of the United Methodist Church, on which I reported earlier, embodies one common type of the sort of dead-end dialogue already tried many times in our United Methodist Church at the denomination-wide and annual-conference level in the United States: Advance the Liberal Agenda under the Pretense of Dialogue.

Here’s the cookie-cutter pattern of how it works:

Organizers insist it is so important for us to dialogue about sexuality and listen to each other. But they take care to prevent key traditionalist concerns and ideas from being allowed into the discussion, and to structure the event to marginalize and/or outnumber traditionalist voices. Organizers of such “dialogues” show little interest in truly listening to more orthodox believers (let alone to Scripture or 2,000 years of consistent church tradition). But all the evidence points to them using the pretense of “dialogue” to seek to badger, pester, and pressure, if not persuade, orthodox believers into allowing the liberal agenda to move forward. More honest organizers of such dialogues rather openly acknowledge this goal.

And even with such blatant bias and pandering, this will never be enough for liberal activists. This was especially seen in May 2014 when an activist from Amy DeLong’s “Love Prevails” group accused the CT of committing “violence” in its liberal-weighted dialogue panel, for allowing a single panelist to very mildly suggest that maybe the Love Prevails agenda is wrong. And so the majority of CT members subsequently fell over themselves to try to atone for this alleged offense.

Obviously, this variety of “dialogue” favored by the CT and others is a major step down from the Fairly and Equally Represent Both Sides model of dialogue.  But church-sponsored events giving equal opportunity to promote the church’s historic, biblical teaching and contrary secular Western teaching are also very problematic.

Imagine a professedly Christian church giving “equal time” in teaching the pros and cons of believing in the Trinity. Or a business spending just as much money running ads promoting its competitors as promoting itself. Or the National Association to End Racism devoting an equal amount of its programming to opposing and promoting racism. Or a school devoting equal resources to education and to promoting illiteracy.  Or the Democratic Party devoting equal effort to supporting Republican and Democratic candidates.

When any church or any other organization acts like this, it has clearly lost sight of its basic mission.

A third kind of dialogue could be called the Can’t We All Just Get Along model, which has also been tried at different times in our denomination. For example, a couple of years ago, the United Methodist Association of Communicators (UMAC), a professional association for annual conference newsletter editors, hosted a sexuality dialogue with the Rev. Tom Lambrecht of the Good News caucus and Matt Berryman of the aforementioned RMN. That dialogue was set up not as a format for scoring points, or for debating which side was wrong, but rather to help the assembled communicators better understand and represent each side. It was moderated by the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).

Both Tom and Matt kept their interactions calm and civil. But then during the Q&A time, a senior GBCS staffer arose to use a rather loud and angry voice to denounce Tom’s criticism of covenant-breaking liberal clergy. Even some liberals in the room were taken aback by the GBCS representative’s injecting such divisive hostility into this GBCS-moderated event.

There are limits to how well such dialogues can go when the GBCS staffers and caucus activists in the room (is there a difference?) cannot be trusted to behave within even the most basic boundaries of respect.

Of course, with all the talk about and failed attempts at dialogue over sexuality, there is one sort of dialogue that our United Methodist Council of Bishops, CT, and denominational agencies apparently dare not try: Teach the Faith.

Here’s how it could work: the Council of Bishops, the CT, and general agencies would assemble a panel of some of our church’s brightest and most articulate theological voices to all explain and defend our church’s historic, biblical teaching on marriage and sex. Recognizing that some people have different opinions, there could be a controlled time to address questions, particularly from those individuals who are humble and open-minded enough to be potentially willing to learn something from our church’s faith. The panelists would respond with grace as well as clarity, maintaining a firm commitment to helping people understand the life-giving value of relevant biblical and historic Christian teachings.

Since this model of dialogue appears to be unknown in much of our denominational hierarchy, our bishops and general agency officials could first take lessons from effective, growing United Methodist congregations that have some better experience and understanding of this model.

Now THAT would truly be “A Way Forward” for our United Methodist Church!

  1. Comment by Dan on November 12, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Unfortunately, you lost the battle decades ago when UM seminaries began teaching all manner of heterodoxy. My last UMC pastor (over ten years ago) complained to me that her greatest regret was not being able to marry her gay friends in the church. Let’s see, she also did not believe in the virgin birth, accused me of making the Bible an idol when I declared my belief in scriptural inerrancy, and was a firm believer in universalism, claiming that a loving God would never send anyone to Hell.

    She sold herself as a “mainstream” UMC pastor. At the time I could not believe it, but now I see that she was more accurate that I knew.

  2. Comment by Edwin Woodruff Tait on November 13, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Actually, Asbury has been turning out far more Methodist pastors than any other seminary for decades now (I think I’ve even heard that it trains more pastors than all the official UM seminaries combined). UM pastors are actually, on average, far more conservative now than they were 50 or probably 20 years ago. The conservatives are winning. (But they still want schism–go figure.)

  3. Comment by Dan on November 14, 2015 at 7:41 am

    I don’t know in what annual conferences conservative (I like the term orthodox better) pastors are winning, but it certainly is not the one I was in, Virginia. Virginia used to be solidly conservative to middle of the road, and then rapidly changed over to mostly liberal with no reversal in site. As a recent example, the bishop of Virginia visited a 30 day suspension on a minister who married a gay couple and RMN picked up her pay for that month. As far as I remember the other UMC pastor who also married a gay couple faced no consequences because he is retired. At least in Virginia I see absolutely no evidence that the pastorate is more conservative than even 10 years ago.

  4. Comment by Edwin Woodruff Tait on November 14, 2015 at 8:34 am

    I prefer “conservative” because it is more neutral. That’s interesting about Virginia. I’m not sure about individual annual conferences, so much as that the conservative annual conferences are growing relative to the liberal ones. I’m also not just talking about the homosexuality issue. As my father-in-law (a retired UM minister and conference treasurer) has put it to me several times, the conservative trend in the UMC is running counter (on this issue) to the broader social trends, so at some point it might start reversing, due to the greater liberalism of young people on this specific issue. But if I’m not mistaken, each General Conference has defeated proposals to change doctrine on homosexuality by larger and larger margins. That’s why the liberal side has resorted to “civil disobedience” methods to close down debate. They can’t win, numerically, and their chances of doing so are getting smaller. But I may be wrong–I am not UM myself (though I attend a UM church fairly regularly and am considering joining it formally–hence my interest in the subject) and am basing this on what many UM clergy and scholars of my acquaintance (on both sides) have told me over the past 20 years.

  5. Comment by Pudentiana on November 12, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    For anyone who has been unhappy enough to participate in these heavily weighted dialogues, s/he would know how boring, repetitive and ignorant the liberal side is. There is absolutely no room for true dialogue or debate and bullying takes place through all manner of manipulative expressions and under handed remarks. Most clergy who have been required to take part in these get a sickened look on their faces just if another go at it is suggested. When these gatherings are described as holy conferencing it is an insult to the intellect. Lord deliver us from “dialogues” and their ultimate goal of silencing, rebuking or driving off the traditionalists.

  6. Comment by eric pone on November 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    I think the dialogues are useless. People have their opinions and will keep them no amount of “dialogue” is going to change anything. We should just move onto the core message that we saved through Christ and lets do the work we all can agree on. You know minor things like feeding, or housing or being their for the hurting. Lets give up on the theological fights that WILL NEVER BE SOLVED EVER and move on with the mission.

  7. Comment by Creed Pogue on November 20, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Just out of curiosity, who was the GBCS staffer who modeled “holy conferencing” so well?

  8. Comment by Richard S. Bell on November 20, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    I am a conservative. I pray that you will discuss with me the will of God for same-sex marriage by the Church. I have written an essay proving (with none of the usual revisionist sophistry) that God’s will, revealed in Scripture, is marriage for homosexuals on the same terms as marriage for heterosexuals. The essay has been read by several learned and mature Christian intellectuals intellectuals. It has been improved by their criticism, but none of them has shown that its thesis is wrong or even that any of its arguments is unsound. My email address is I will send the latest draft of my essay, if you will give it your severest critique.

  9. Comment by Skipper on November 25, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Richard, will you please stop fooling yourself! Homosexual behavior is very very evil! This is found in so many places in the bible that I won’t even list them.
    Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death”.
    You must choose, my friend, God’s way or your way. With homosexual behavior being so evil, homosexual marriage is out of the question for Christians.
    Rev. John Stott said it best: We need to be in harmony with God’s Plan of Created Order: “There can be no ‘liberation’ from God’s norms; True liberation is found only in accepting them.” Take your time and when you choose, consider choosing life. Be sure to carefully study the bible and pray as you consider. With God’s help, you can do this!

  10. Comment by MarcoPolo on December 3, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks John Lomperis, for a very good comparison of the powers at play on this topic.

    I think you made a very good comparison of two opposing ‘forces’ by suggesting that “Equal Time” be made by a company spending equal time and money promoting a company other than its own!
    That point drives logic to conclude that a company (or in this case a Church) should only promote itself. While that makes sense, it may not be the most comprehensive approach to understanding the ‘Bigger Picture’.

    I make no apology for being a Liberal Secularist, but I do understand the current conundrum that many religions find themselves in, when trying to be IN the world, but not OF the world.

    May we all find loving ways to live harmoniously, while abiding by our diverse commitments to Truth and nobility of character.

    Keep up the good work!

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