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Between a rock and a hard place…

By: 13 May 2012 2 Comments

It’s all over but the protests — the United Methodist Church, at its 2012 General Conference, resisted efforts to strike language from the Book of Discipline proclaiming homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teachings.

With that language firmly in place, what followed was predictable — the Church resisted efforts to allow pastors to marry homosexual couples and consent to ordination of gay clergy. For the record, the Book of Discipline contains the rules and regulations for the United Methodist Church. The denomination has about 8 million members worldwide and is the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States. Every four yeas, the United Methodists hold a General Conference to discuss changing the book of discipline, and the most recent conference wrapped up on May 4 in Tampa, Fla.

The aforementioned language in the Book of Discipline has been debated by Methodists since it was put in place in 1972. Challenges to it are nothing new, but demands from groups against that language were stronger this year than in the past, perhaps because of an increased acceptance of homosexuality around the nation.

Bear in mind that United Methodists are trending more conservative, and that has been blamed on Africa. Yes, it seems that the denomination is declining in the U.S. and growing in Africa — African Methodists have been described as more conservative (some might claim they adhere strictly to Biblical tenets). Those African Methodists, it is argued, are gaining more influence within the denomination and, thus, are voting against embracing homosexuality.

The lines in this battle, then, are clearly drawn and the sad fact is the Church is in a terrible position. There was no decision it could have made at the General Conference that wouldn’t have offended one group or another at a fundamental level.

The fight on this issue centers on both social norms and scripture. The scriptures on this point are clear enough — 1 Corinthians 6:9, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, and Romans 1:24-32, for example, do condemn homosexuality. Reformers, however, point out flaws in translation, the Church’s willingness to accept divorce and adultery and other ways the Church has deviated from a strict interpretation as scripture as proof that the United Methodists should change their stance on homosexuality. Indeed, some have gone so far that using the Bible to condemn homosexuality is akin to the past practice of using scripture to justify slavery and racism.

The problem the Church faces is a potential split regardless of what view it holds on homosexuality. Should it accept homosexuality, will we see conservatives leave for other denominations? Or will conservative Methodist churches break from the denomination and form their own conference? Remember, the Presbyterians voted last year to remove their prohibition against gay clergy, and the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians was put together by conservative Presbyterians as a result. That group has been picking up conservative churches since then, thus splitting the denomination and arguably weakening its impact.

The Episcopalians have been going through the same painful process, and one might argue that the United Methodists are gearing up for a split regardless of how the Church views homosexuality. You’ve got the conservative Confessing Movement out to preserve what it views as traditional Biblical tenets on one side of the aisle while the Reconciling Ministries Network is on the other and openly accepting homosexuals.

It seems there is no such thing as a workable compromise on this issue. Both sides are convinced that they know the Biblical truth about homosexuality and won’t be convinced otherwise. Quite simply, you won’t convince people who are so convinced they are right to back down from their positions one whit.

Methodists will continue to brawl over this issue and the unity of the denomination will suffer for it. That’s a shame.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =

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