On May 3rd, the United Methodist Church affirmed, by majority vote, to maintain their current stance on homosexuality, recorded in their Book of Discipline: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." A vote to amend the passage to reflect disagreement--a motion to "agree to disagree," as it were--was defeated, again by majority vote. Now: I am not Methodist, but I was interested. Reading the many blog and news posts coming out of the conference, a constant theme is that the decision has caused pain to those members who consider themselves homosexual, and that in making this decision, the church has shown itself to be hateful and intolerant, and that such a decision does not reflect the love of Christ. It's powerful rhetoric, to be sure: I mean, Jesus never caused anyone pain, right? That can't be loving!
Here's the problem: This position relies entirely on rhetoric and emotion. This is an emotional debate, and it's really easy to get sucked into feeling instead of thinking. Now, emotions can play a role in this, but they can't be allowed to subvert biblical morality: Yet that is exactly what happens, all too often.
Let's start at the beginning. "Are we not God's children, too?" they ask. "Do we not deserve the love of the church? Why do you treat us as though we're worse than you?" Such questions evoke pity for the oppressed, and outrage towards those ignorant fools who demonstrate hate and contempt for people who are, after all, people, children of God. But is that what these delegates are doing? Was the decision motivated by such beliefs? Do most of the delegates believe that homosexuals are, in fact, subhuman? That they don't merit the love of the church?
Let's go again to their Book of Discipline. Right above the offending passage (quoted at the very beginning of the post), we find the following: "We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self."
Man. Can't you just feel the hate? And immediately below the passage in question, we find even more damning evidence: "We affirm that God's grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."
I recognize that I'm getting a little sarcastic here. To tell the truth, I am a little angry. The dissenting community sets up a hateful straw man in a thoroughly dishonest and inflammatory manner, and it works, because people are hurting, darn it, and Jesus never hurt anyone and whoever is hurting people needs to stop and be like Jesus. /sarcasm.
I'm going to stop for a moment and clarify. Certain reports indicate that there are, in fact, some delegates who seem to portray hateful contempt for the homosexual community. That is wrong, and I will never defend something so inexcusable and blatantly unChristian. Saying homosexuals should be stoned, that they are not people, that they are subhuman, does not reflect the teachings of Christ, nor does it reflect the teachings of the Methodist Church. Individual churches may do this, explicitly or implicitly, just as individual people may do this: They are wrong to do so, and I am sure that the most of the delegates would agree.
The question is then no longer one of stated motivation: The official position of the church is the exact opposite of that claimed by the homosexual community. People who are homosexual do have sacred worth, they are not to be rejected or condemned, and the church, in fact, does wish to minister to all people.
But surely such a decision, saying that the lifestyle/sexual orientation of such a large chunk of their congregation is not compatible with Christian teaching, can't be in accordance with their stated policy, right? Do they not show themselves to be untruthful and full of hate? That is, ultimately, what everything boils down to: "You are causing people pain, and that means you don't love them and think they are less than human." Now, I have no doubt that this decision caused pain for those methodists who consider themselves homosexual. But is it a legitimate argument? Separate this from the issue at hand for a moment: Does "you are causing me pain" instantly mean, "you have hostile motives"? Before you answer, consider this: A parent hurts a child when giving a time-out or a spanking. Does that mean that parents shouldn't do that? Does the parent hate the child? When you break your arm, the doctor has to set it. Does that hurt? Heck yeah it does. Does that mean the doctor shouldn't do it? Does the doctor view the patient as less than human?
And so we come back to an old blog of mine: remember that Jesus caused pain and sorrow to people. Remember that the young man in Mark 10:22 went away sorrowful, because he didn't want to do what Jesus had told him. When Jesus realized that the young man was not going to obey him, did Jesus change the command to make it more pleasing to him? Did he say, "Just kidding, since it's making you sad, you don't have to do it anymore." Of course not. He let him leave. When Jesus saved the women caught in adultery, did he tell her to feel free to continue sinning? Of course not. He said, "Go, and sin no more." Did he say it with kindness? Of course. Did he say it with love? Most definitely. Does that mean the "sin no more" part is to be done away with? No. That is, I think, our model for these situations.
Bottom line: This type of rhetoric is misleading, inaccurate, and paints an extremely hateful picture of the opposition. It refuses to allow the opposition any motive other than hate and, in so doing, is extremely dishonest and unChristian. I'm tired of letting the liberal church have the rhetoric all to themselves. The Church's job isn't to make everyone happy. Right doctrine can be offensive and hurtful to those who aren't prepared to accept it. I believe the Methodist Church, in their Book of Discipline, has struck an exemplary balance between grace and righteousness, and I applaud them for refusing to bend.