Rev. Cliff Wall is an elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as the pastor of Clarksbury UMC in Harmony, NC. He also preaches several revivals at other churches each year. Rev. Wall and his wife, Christi, have been blessed with six children. This article originally appeared on his blog, Wall to Wall Faith, Hope, and Love. Reposted with permission.
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That many of its advocates see the “One Church” Plan (the liberal/progressive plan for moving the UMC forward) as a stepping stone toward full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the United Methodist Church everywhere is not a mystery. In progressive parlance, of course, this means acceptance not only of people who struggle with temptations in these categories. The church already does that. Full inclusion means acceptance of LGBTQI+ people, their self-identity, and their sexual practices—as long as it’s consensual sex—without any negative judgment.
Although the debate in the UMC has mainly centered around the practice of homosexuality specifically, it is becoming more and more evident that the ultimate goal is to allow for sexual behavior outside of marriage, traditionally understood, period. The rhetoric from the left is pretty consistently for full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people, not just LG people. Hence it is no surprise that the progressive crafters of what is called the “Simple Plan” not only propose to remove the prohibition against homosexual practice from the Book of Discipline; they want to strike the restriction against sex outside of marriage.
A Simple Plan – Step #2
Amend ¶161.G as follows:
G) Human Sexuality—We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.
Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
It’s also not surprising that another LGBTQI+ caucus group called “Love Prevails” is making a motion to strike the language of monogamy from the “One Church” Plan, which they see as still too restrictive of “God’s good gift of sexuality,” to use their words (see HERE). While Love Prevails language is a little cryptic, the standard they actually want was expressed much more clearly by the star progressive ELCA (Lutheran) pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber.
WE AFFIRM that God created us as sexual beings in endless variety.
WE DENY that the only type of sexual expression that can be considered holy is between a cis-gendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married. But if you fit in that group, good for you, we have no problem with your lifestyle choices.
I don’t think most progressives and “centrists” will accept the motion to amend monogamy out of the “One Church” Plan at the special General Conference that starts in a few days. But it won’t be because of any serious commitment to strict monogamy. If anything it will be kept in to appease those who may be buying the false assurances being made to those who lean slightly in the conservative direction.
If you want to see where progressives want to move the UMC in the future look at Nadia Bolz-Weber. She has recently made headlines by saying the Church has been wrong to shame people for using pornography and for presenting a sculpture of a vagina made out of purity rings to radical feminist and abortion champion, Gloria Steinem . She shames and mocks the Church for its traditional doctrines regarding sexual morality. She also shames and mocks the Church for teaching that divorce and abortion are wrong. And, as far as I can tell, there is no indication that Bolz-Weber’s denominational leadership have any serious concerns about what she is promoting. Instead she receives an abundance of praise!
Some will try to downplay all of this. They will insist that I am exaggerating our differences. But the truth is Nadia and people like her have been like rock stars among progressives in the mainline church, including the UMC, for a long time. Nadia didn’t just recently start promoting these kinds of outrageous views.
I’ve shared before that after I was commissioned as a provisional elder, a few years ago I was sent with my official mentor group (called RIOM groups), with other like groups of young clergy, to a conference where Nadia Bolz-Weber was the featured speaker. During the trip to the Epworth by the Sea retreat center in St. Simmons Island, GA, I read Nadia’s first New York Times best seller, Pastrix. In it she writes about how there are many legitimate expressions of the Divine, including the Wiccan goddess, whom she refers to as God’s aunt. She says she sometimes needs to hang out with Gods’ aunt! She also brags about using the baptismal liturgy to bless and rename transitioning transgenders. She likens one such blessing to the conversion of the apostle Paul and Martin Luther. During the conference she cussed profusely and even called certain conservatives that she disdains vile names. She also bragged about sacrilegiously using the baptismal font at her church as a chocolate fountain for a party after a worship service. Yet, in spite of all of this, I was the only one among the entire cohort I was with who was appalled! And, of course, I am the one who is seen as a needless trouble-maker and a pariah for exposing and raising objections to such things.
I will not give much credence to progressives or “centrists” who say they do actually have concerns about some of the things that people like Nadia are saying. Their concerns will ring hallow. In one conversation I had with a few people that were there with me, who would call themselves centrists and support the “One Church” Plan, they were obviously less concerned about what Nadia teaches than they were about my objections. This was true even after I raised the objection that her belief regarding the Wiccan goddess is contrary to the First Commandment! They just spun it in a way they could still justify it in their minds as no big deal.
Like the UM elder and seminary professor in Canada, who apparently recently tried to downplay the openly atheist pastor in the United Church of Canada, even though her denominational leadership has allowed her to continue in pastoral ministry, some will try to downplay what I have written above as an exaggeration of our differences. But “One Church” Plan supporters seem to have no serious problems with the theology of people like Nadia Bolz-Weber. I have been personally chastised by some of them for “not being charitable” to her. One of our conference leaders last year, after promoting the “One Church” Plan on social media one day, promoted a Nadia Bolz-Weber conference nearby the next. When Nadia’s “Denver Statement,” with the reference cited above included, came out, I saw many “One Church” Plan supporters laud it, but none who voiced any objections.
The “One Church” plan is a stepping stone to full inclusion in the sense described above. If passed it will give progressives the upper hand of control in the denomination in the U.S. by mitigating the influence of more conservative delegates outside the U.S. There is no reason to believe they will not continue to work toward their greater vision of full inclusion of LGBTQI+ beliefs and behavior in the church in the future. Neither is their any reason to believe they will not continue to work against the expression of conservative views and remove the exemptions of conscience that they are now promising. This is exactly what has played out in the Episcopal Church. We can also expect them to continue to work with secular progressives to suppress the free expression of traditional Christian views on sex, marriage, and gender in the public forum, as they label concerns for religious liberty as “a cloak for bigotry and hate” (see an example of what I mean HERE).
The “One Church” plan is a liberal/progressive plan, even though it is incremental. It will only take the United Methodist Church a few steps farther on the wide path that Jesus said leads to death and destruction. It’s not a path that should be embraced. But there is a narrow and hard way that leads to life that should be embraced; repentance and self-denial are required.
In my ministry over the years, I have sincerely tried to fulfill Ephesians 4:1-3, but not at the expense of Ephesians 5:1-11 and what comes in between. In the process I have lost many friends and much respect. I have become a pariah; I am seen by many as a nuisance, a troublemaker, and a hateful bigot. It seems I have also become someone that even some conservatives would rather not be too closely associated with. At times I may have been too blunt, but I have tried to speak the truth in love! I pray for God’s mercy where I have failed. And I pray for God to be merciful to our wayward denomination for the sake of Jesus.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. ~ Eph 4:1-3 ESV
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. ~ Eph 5:1-11 ESV