At what point should The United Methodist Church admit its failures and simply split over the issues of human sexuality raised by LGBTQI people and those in the church unwilling or unable to accept them? For me, the answer is simple — at the point that we admit that we do not believe God has the power to unite, reconcile and heal. To stay together is an act of faith. To separate is to reject God, renounce Jesus, and revoke our baptism. Those calling for separation are choosing personal desire over the will of God.
Sadly, so much of this is based in ignorance rather than willful disobedience. Our divisions are grounded on poor biblical interpretation, flawed historical and theological understanding, and a pure lack of comprehension of our sacraments. The Bible offers a cultural community/purity code that has absolutely nothing to do with the post-enlightenment morality codes of Western civilization. What we want the Bible to say about homosexuality it simply doesn’t say. Sure, it is named as “a sin”, but not as some would like to define it today. In context, it was a disobedience to God and a violation of community because it did not fulfill the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” Those who wish to make it about the sanctity of marriage must be careful, because it cannot be separated from issues of divorce, bloodline, polygamy and a much broader (less-sex-based) definition of adultery. Using the disagreement about who may love whom in what ways to call for a division of God’s church and Christ’s body is more than just a lack of faith; it is a renunciation.
Quick show of hands: who here has been baptized? What does this baptism — especially that of infant baptism — actually mean? At the most basic, fundamental, mythic/magic/symbolic/ritualistic level, it defines who is in and who is out. Each of us, then, has the privilege and responsibility to decide to “stay inside,” or not. There is also a right and privilege of THE COMMUNITY to include or ostracize those who threaten the safety and security of the common good, but this “power” should be exercised with the utmost discretion and caution. Rejecting one whom God loves is perhaps the worst transgression we as the church can commit. The UMC does not “rebaptize” because baptism is not something we do for God, but is an acknowledgement of what God has done for us, and continues to do in and through us. There are no “take-backsies” with baptism.
Which means, quite figuratively and literally, we are stuck with each other, whether we like it or not. Baptism is thicker than water. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our behaviors and/or beliefs. Just as family has to figure out how to live together in the midst of all its differences, the church must do likewise. Self-righteously separating ourselves from those who disappoint us by their defective apprehension of “truth” doesn’t solve a thing — we are still guilty by association. I can reject my siblings, but that doesn’t make us any less related. And hiding from an inability to relate is not a solution, but an abdication of responsibility and plain evidence of a lack of maturity.
So we really only have one option as Christians — figure out how to live together through our disagreements and provide a witness to the world that through God’s power we commit to a better way to disagree than to resort to worldly “solutions” of violence, exile, hate, invective, insult, and separation. Instead of focusing our attention and energy on what we disagree about, the body of Christ needs to start in a different place: at the fundamental unity of our baptism, and the essential covenantal commitment to engage at the level of our common agreements and sacramental identity.
Excellent post, Dan. Interesting how most of the commenters insist upon their individual competency to judge sin and faithfulness, even to quoting Father Wesley, when in a different context most whose names I recognize insist upon the authority of the community to determine sinful behaviors. Picking up this post for UM Insight.
“I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a minister of the Church of England. And I have no desire nor design to separate from it till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet, and right, and my bounden duty to separate from it without delay. To be more particular, I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel. Yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” If then I could not remain in the church without omitting this, without desisting from the gospel, I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue to unite with any smaller society, church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to other doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply with.” – John Wesley, On Schism II par 7.
I find your emphasis on unity quite interesting, even ironic. Only now, when there is talk of schism, is there such a hue and cry for unity. Where was the call for unity when voices were crying that the church must change its stand on homosexuality or die? I for one am not concerned about a UMC schism. It’s happened several times in the past and the diversity provided by these splits have enhanced the Body of Christ. As a Protestant, I am very happy for the Catholic/Protestant split. In the end, Jesus is the ones who unites us, not our church affiliation.
Following this logic we need to renounce our United Methodism and our Protestantism and go back to Rome. Since 2016 is the year before the 500-year anniversary of the 95 theses, we could perhaps vote at General Conference to disband and repent. After all, blood is thicker than water.
Well, you finally lost me. For years I have appreciated your writing and ideas.But for you to say that splitting the church is to reject and renounce God and Jesus and our baptism is going too far in my opinion. Churches have split over many issues for centuries, and I don’t believe any were rejecting God.Church is church (a human construct), and God is God. They are not the same.I wish you well, Rev Watkins
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You write: “We are brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our behaviors and/or beliefs.” Even if that were true, we have Paul’s emphatic words advocating literal separation in 1 Corinthians 5 regarding the man committing incest.
In other words, Paul commands the church at Corinth to separate from the man engaged in unrepentant sexual sin, not because he doesn’t care about the man or have compassion on him, but literally in order to save his soul.
How are Paul’s words and example not pertinent to the UMC’s debate about sexuality? I appreciate that you don’t believe homosexual sex is a sin, per se, but can you at least appreciate that Methodists on the other side do?
I pray for truth. Many in the Methodist church are deceived concerning homosexuality. It is a sexual sin and clearly stated in scripture. If the Book of Discipline is not upheld then I will no longer be a member of the United Methodist Church. I have been a member for 50 years but I can not support a church that does not believe that sin needs to be repented of. We are all sinners and God calls us to strive for holiness .
Thanks for again reminding us what we are about and where our responsibilities lie. I often feel some separation from others when I disagree with them. I find that I often forget how they are reacting to my thoughts and actions at the very same time. Loving one another doesn’t mean endorsing everything that they say and do. I am forever grateful for those who love me enough that they don’t walk away when I fall short or do some boneheaded thing. Thank God, they are still around when I finally ask myself, “What was I thinking?” I struggle with this and other issues during my Christian walk. I’m glad I have the opportunity to grow.