It is difficult to be a United Methodist and not know that the issue of homosexuality is controversial for our Church. I’m even aware that there is continued and sustained talk about a denominational split, as some of our sister denominations have done already. But I am convinced that the one thing we cannot do is abandon the conversation to extremists on either side, because they are happy to take aim and shot their opponents using us as their cover and then turn around and express their regret to us, their collateral damage.
What is at stake? The unity of the UMC, but more important what our unity means ̶ effective Christian witness and mission throughout the world. There is no doubt, that together as one Church, we are more effective. Many of you are fond of C.S. Lewis. He says that after he became a Christian he was amazed how much time Christians spent arguing about their differences. He was much more interested with what we have in common. I invite you to be of like mind.
What do we risk? Aside from the obvious practicalities of who gets the Pension Board and who gets the Publishing House, for example, we risk losing the talent and commitment of some of our most gifted and Spirit-led members. Because there are gifted and Spirit-led people on both sides.
How can this be? How can it be that there are Spirit-led people on both sides? Because that is the way it always happens. The Church has always been fond of labeling people it disagrees with as heretics. Sometimes the Church officials excommunicated, sometimes it elected to burn people at the stake. Perhaps we would all benefit from re-reading Church history. Who were some of those who left their Church? Martin Luther, John Calvin, and, oh yes, John Wesley. These left a Church that was too enamored of its doctrine and polity—their church law, their tradition.
But what about Scripture? Didn't these reformers take up the banner and follow Scripture? Yes, but more important, they followed the living Christ into their world. Didn't they care about order and adherence to discipline? Yes, of course, but they also saw that legalism spelled death.
So what do we do? What should we do as a denomination? The way forward is difficult, but Christians throughout history have not hesitated to walk through fire if their faith and trust in God was strong enough. Should we quit or shake hands and turn our backs on our friends and colleagues who disagree on this one thing alone? Are we so arrogant to think that we know enough to divide Christ’s Church over sexuality? We are not talking about grand debates about the nature of the Trinity or the divinity of Christ. We are not even talking about the Real Presence in Communion. People shed blood and died over these issues. We are talking about something that is quintessentially human. So will we divide Christ’s Church because of our own limitations?
I invite you to think through these issues and become more informed as we seek to embody the love and grace of God for each other as we move forward. The world is watching.