July 21, 2017

UM Action Response to UMC Commission on a Way Forward

As the UMC Council of Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward meets this week, I thought it would be appropriate to share UMAction’s response to its request for input.  This commission was established by a close vote at the 2016 General Conference, for the sake of devising a major plan to address our denomination’s internal conflicts related to sexual morality.  Their plan will be submitted for consideration at a specially called General Conference in 2019, to which I will be a voting delegate. 

 Some time ago, the commission sent an invitation to various unofficial caucus groups within our denomination, including to IRD’s UMAction program, saying the following:

 As you know, the Commission on a Way Forward was established after the 2016 General Conference to find a way forward for the United Methodist Church. Our way forward must move us beyond the continuing impasse over the nature, conditions, and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church. We want to emphasize that we are not dealing with an abstract problem, but with people who are loved by God and are members of our Church.

 The Commission values your voice and would like to receive your input prior to writing and submitting our final report to the Council of Bishops. Because there are so many groups desiring to participate in this discussion, we have developed two ways between which you may choose one.

Submit a three-minute video and send it to us.  A video shot on a cell phone is perfectly acceptable.

Or submit a two-page written document. 

 In your video or document, please respond to the following: Describe your constituency’s preferred future for our denomination regarding the nature, conditions and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church.

 

UMAction’s response is shared below:

 

 

UM Action input to the Commission on a Way Forward

 

UMAction is grateful for this opportunity to share our concerns and perspectives, offered by Director John Lomperis after consultation with my Steering Committee and Advisory Board.

You are right to that this concerns very real people loved by God and us.  It is hard to talk in a theologically rich way about the question as it is framed, in isolation from more foundational matters of the original call about “human sexuality.”  Our tensions and conflicts over the presenting challenge of how be in ministry with people who self-identify as LGBTQ has been exacerbated by how often our talk about “human sexuality” rushes to such an exclusively narrow focus, without much prior discussion of how we as Wesleyan Christians think biblically and theologically about sexuality, marriage, and humanity (including how we are ALL sinners in need of forgiveness and repentance).  Such broader questions are inescapably relevant.  After all, several self-described advocates for “full inclusion” sent petitions to the last General Conference that would have also removed our denomination’s long-standing disapprovals of pre-marital sex and/or adultery.

UMAction’s Steering Committee, Advisory Board, and staff all LOVE our friends, fellow church members, and, yes, family members who self-identify as LGTBTQ, as well as those who experience same-sex attractions and/or dysphoria about their biological sex but who may not embrace that acronym.  We want them to stay in our families and churches.  But our UMC discourse often becomes misleading or even toxic when traditionalists are caricatured as “hating gays” or we do not listen enough to our ex-gay sisters and brothers or to those who remain same-sex attracted while, because of their faith, choosing celibacy.  The way the moral high ground claimed by full-inclusion advocates has become a rationale for marginalizing and mistreating faithful United Methodists in several regions, especially the Western Jurisdiction, has to stop.  In alliance with increasingly powerful secular forces, some within United Methodism even support societal marginalization and denial of basic religious liberty for Christians and others who affirm traditional sexual ethics, seemingly prioritizing sexual liberty over liberty of conscience, and withholding solidarity with fellow Christians per 1 Corinthians 12:26.

The question was never if we should be in loving ministry with LGBTQ people, but how.  UMAction’s constituency believes that, as with all else, our approach must be shaped by Scripture, “the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine” and “the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured” (¶105).  We feel frustrated and hurt whenever support for the UMC’s official values is treated by church leaders as just one opinion among many, let alone as somehow extreme or unloving.  Our basic position is the same affirmed by our denomination for over four decades (longer than I’ve been alive!), the consistent teaching of the church universal (including John Wesley) for 2,000 years, and the overwhelming global ecumenical consensus today.  Even liberal biblical scholars admit the consistently clear negative warnings of Scripture against homosexual practice.  The sexual-morality standards of Leviticus 18, singled out for re-affirmation by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, are in turn affirmed by any clear interpretation of #VI of the Methodist Articles of Religion of which I am aware.  So we are not a special-interest minority but rather are well within the mainstream of United Methodist doctrine and discipline.  This is our church, whose covenant and values we embrace.  In the multiple hats I wear, I have worked for the cohesion and unity of United Methodists, and want to find a way to keep the bulk of United Methodists together in meaningful covenantal unity and commitment to the core doctrinal standards which we already have.

We expect to be involved in continued conversations and ministries related to LGBTQ communities, given the realities of Western culture as well our relationships with loved ones in and beyond the LGBTQ community.  Loving people as we would want to be loved includes standing firm against the violence and name-calling too often directed against those who are same-sex-attracted and/or struggling with gender identity.  It also no less necessitates our insisting that church leaders, by both teaching and personal example, promote the boundaries for sexual self-control that we believe God gave us for our own good (which includes but is much broader than refraining from homosexual practice).  Just as the early Methodists understood that Christian love involves challenging each other’s sins within a loving communal environment, as we pursue Scriptural holiness together, so today we do not believe it is possible to love fellow members of our same church as Christian brothers and sisters without lovingly, firmly, and persistently confronting those who practice homosexuality (or pre-marital sex or pornography) and calling them to repentance.  In light of such teachings as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, perhaps the most damaging thing a church can do is encourage someone to continue in any serious and ultimately self-destructive sin, especially through a public religious rite like a union blessing.

One of the significant casualties of the creation of the Way Forward Commission was the tabling of Petition #60797, which passed in committee and was expected to pass in plenary, and would have promoted “compassion without compromise” resources to guide UMC congregations currently doing little to be in ministry with the LGBTQ community.  I hope that the Commission will include this petition as part of its final report (or at least allow a petition for the plenary of delegates to consider this), to give a fair hearing for this and other important committee-passed petitions from 2016.

Because of our faith and understanding of Christian love, we absolutely do not believe it can be possible to honor God and love others while also accepting any sort of “local option” on sexuality standards.  Such proposals are not at all “compromises,” but are in fact essentially the same changes for which the Reconciling movement has pushed for many years, and which split the Episcopal Church and other denominations.  As one steering committee member put it, we cannot accept anyone being in leadership while practicing any sort of sexual sin and refusing to even admit it is sinful, because if we cannot agree on what is sinful, how can we make disciples together?  Any explicit official allowance within UMC law for what we understand to be sexual sin would for us create an impossible contradiction within our membership vows “To be loyal to Christ — through The United Methodist Church.” Any plan that involves affirming practices within our church that Scripture calls sexual sin, no matter how this was justified in the name of any “greater good,” would be strongly opposed by UMAction along with other United Methodists from all four central-conference continents, would stand almost zero chance of passing at General Conference, and if passed, would likely guarantee a major schism, with bitter conflicts and severed relationships at every level of the church. 

For the sake of honest communication, I must tell you that I am hearing from much of my constituency a view that the Way Forward Commission is just a one-sided liberal “plot” designed all along to push some sort of local option.  Anything you could do to dispel such suspicions will be essential for winning trust.

Nor can we accept a de facto local option of keeping our standards while allowing leaders in some regions to publicly defy them.  Such a system effectively rewards and encourages intentional dishonesty, nullifies our communal covenant, and destroys any basis for trust.  I cannot see a “Way Forward” that would not involve adopting Petitions 60027 and [60028] to reform “just resolutions,” as amended and passed in committee in 2016.  (60027 was a rare one endorsed by both the Renewal and Reform Coalition AND the Love Your Neighbor Coalition![1])  The Coordinator of the Calendar has confirmed on-record to me that while neither mentions sexuality, the Agenda Committee yanked both from the calendar almost right before the plenary was scheduled to vote on them, judging that they were sexuality-related and thus should be addressed by the Way Forward Commission.  The Commission recommending the substance of these amended petitions, or at least permitting others to re-submit such petitions to the 2019 Conference, could go a long way to show publicly that it is operating in good faith.

Trust in the UMC is at an all-time low.  Trust is the essential glue binding any large group, and we cannot survive without it.  While we can respect and work with those liberals who trustworthily keep their word to God and us, that vocal but relatively small minority openly breaking trust must choose: either embrace our covenant with integrity or else find another context to live outside of it.  For dissenters in the latter group, we would support a process for them to be treated graciously and generously, as we ourselves would want to be treated if we were in their shoes, in moving into a new church (perhaps yet to be created).  Most urgent to the Commission’s work is restoring trust in the life of the church you and we love.  Your invitation to send this input is an important and appreciated first step.  I hope that this submission is helpful to your conversations and decisions.

[1] See the top of page 1: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54e62c40e4b05bee39f2e27a/t/573c90b07da24fc158abbc60/1463586996505/LYNC+Voting+Guide+2.pdf


23 Responses to UM Action Response to UMC Commission on a Way Forward

  1. Jim Patrick says:

    Thank you! God bless your ministry.

  2. Mark says:

    Thank you, John. You have said very well some important things that I have not seen in print anywhere else. God bless you.

  3. John Hines says:

    Excellent, on all points. We can continue in fellowship with those whom we can not trust, nor with leaders who will not properly hold people accountable.

    Going forward, if we claim to be Christian, we have to stop being reactive, in this matter, and start being more proactive in our support of LGBTQ persons to live holy lives by the overcoming power of Jesus Christ; in the same way that we do with each other in “Godly” love and fellowship in all matters, as you well noted in your letter.

  4. Andrew Hughes says:

    Thank you for your faithfulness. I believe you have a caring yet biblical stanch on this matter.

  5. Jodie Liess says:

    Thank you for so eloquently saying what I have been feeling. I believe the same as you stated concerning the context of the commission–I have no trust in it. In their video to be shown at annual conferences, not one person mentioned the bible. That is a huge concern for me. Thank you again.

  6. William says:

    Excellent Scriptural grounded input.

    Their meeting as reported here….
    http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/commission-on-a-way-forward-
    meets-in-chicago
    includes this, “new ways of embodying unity, a report grounded in John 15 recognizing Jesus as the common vine and DIFFERING EXPRESSIONS of United Methodism as potential branches”.

    To me, that sounds highly suspicious, not to mention the possible misuse of Scripture.

  7. Fred says:

    All good thoughts here in my opinion. However, as one has watched for over 40 years how liberals have lied and deceived and promised and recanted over and over and over and over I have learned you cannot trust them. Their word is not their bond. Their word is simply a momentary promise Written In Smoke that will soon be cast aside explicitly or implicitly. I’ve arrived at the point where I do not believe this is a Paul and Barnabas situation in any way. It is more like the snake which fastened itself on the Paul’s hand and it must be shaken Into the Fire and the Venom excised.

  8. Dr. Becki Jones says:

    Thank you. May I copy and paste this to our church’s facebook page?

  9. Jim Boyd says:

    Great attention to detail in this Letter. I pray that the commission does realize that there is only one ” Way Forward” and that is to accept the fact that the UMC is ” divided” on this and a House divided Will Fall! . It is not worth keeping a Denomination together as a fractured Religious entity and yet cause so many to lose their salvation opportunity because we stopped following God’s commandments and directions and decided we knew more than God. Loving someone sometimes means telling them the truth in order to save them from themselves. Loving someone sometimes means letting go and letting God lead you or them to a place where all can serve God and let the future be a place where we all can find peace. God help us all if the Commision doesn’t make the right decision

  10. As an ex-gay man I’m so thankful for your truly loving perspective by calling all to repentance, rather than affirming sinful practice and spreading a false gospel through well-intended but erroneous love.

  11. Parker Wayland says:

    Same-sex attraction is indeed problematic for those who live with it, but God’s help is only available by turning toward Him, not away, and not by revising His Scripture. That should be the basis for any way forward, and I believe this “Reply” document supports that. The issue is so fundamental that no “compromise” is possible. That said, sexuality is a secondary issue. The primary call for the church is to make disciples for Jesus Christ, and we have been seriously distracted from that.

  12. Sue Abbott says:

    What is the moral and biblical rationale for separating human sexuality from its procreative dynamic? Is “who we are” determined by what we intensely desire to experience? Why should the Christian church affirm any sexual activity that does not make it more likely that children will be born or adopted into a home in which they will be raised by committed, loving, responsible, and legally married mothers and fathers ?

  13. Kent Svendsen says:

    The way other denominations have solved this problem without to much destruction is to have a call system by the local church for the pastor and the property owned by the local church. That way anytime a local congregation doesn’t like what the system offers they can leave the system. This on the other hand will be a civil war with many casualties.

  14. MarcoPolo says:

    Your article for consideration is well written and sincerely intended to assist the Way Forward for the larger portion of the United Methodist denomination. It should be well received by those who wish to maintain the status-quo.

    As you might imagine, my position on this matter as a former Methodist and current Pantheist, is to realize that ALL Natural things evolve naturally over time.
    I’m not advocating that the Church change, but rather, like cell mitosis, it split (Schism), and discover and develop it’s new self in it’s new life, where LGBTQ individuals will not feel ostracized by the Old Guard, or the Old Testament.

    Namaste’

  15. james says:

    What is the benefit of these comments? Your statement is good/long/ bloviating. The Methodist Church has long moved in lock-step with the federal government–which is VERY progressive–which ever way the wind blows is the way the church bends. Biblical Christianity is being pushed to house churches. That is a good thing. The way forward commission will succeed only in kicking the can on down the road and those who sit in the pews will either stay with their hands folded in their laps or move to a fellowship that will “feed” them Good News. We have had enough watered down gospel in the UMC for many decades

  16. Lamar Aiazzi says:

    Very well written. Addresses all of the issues we are faced with.

  17. Henning M Poulsen says:

    Spot on. Thank you for your boldness

  18. JUWLE NAGBE, 1 says:

    Thank you for the loving, truth-filled, honest, Scripture-based, sound doctrinal, humble and honest response. If this is not where we want to go with our faith, I do not where else I want to be in my walk with the Lord.
    God bless!

  19. John Rentz says:

    Thanks for this very clear, compassionate and biblically based response to the Commission on a Way Forward. It’s good for all to remember that this position, upheld by General Conference for more than four decades, represents the views of the vast majority of us in the covenantal community of the UMC. I was unaware of Petitions 20027, 60028, and 60797. Thanks for bringing these to our, and the Commission’s, attention. I particularly appreciate your concern for a fair and just option to be made available for any who feel they cannot in good conscience keep their vows to this covenant community. Here in New Zealand, the Methodist Church experienced a schism in 1999 where there were clear ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. The ‘winners’ took all property, but lost most of their evangelical congregations. Though the ‘losers’ lost all their property, they kept their vision for making disciples.

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