I don’t think I have ever been invited to “seek an honorable exit” before, but it doesn’t feel very good.
Last week the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled against the consecration of a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” as a Bishop. In it’s full context, it is a complex and somewhat convoluted decision, but the bottom line is that the Judicial Council did what they are supposed to do–they ruled on the constitutionality of such an election based on their understanding of the Discipline of the Church. There is plenty of room for debate about their decision and there will be much conversation over the coming weeks about the implications. Right now, I am not ready to step into that debate. What struck me was the reaction of the “Wesleyan Covenant Association”, a conservative group for whom this issue is the bottom line, the red line, the litmus test for orthodoxy and fidelity in the church. In their strongly worded statement, they said, “We further call upon those who feel they cannot in good conscience abide by the doctrines and discipline of the church to seek an honorable exit from our denomination.”
Whew! Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part, but I thought we could find room at the table for a broad range of points of view. I have always appreciated being part of a church where we could wrestle and pray, debate and reason together and hopefully learn from each other in the process. I prefer a large tent church which makes room for persons who have different understandings of the Bible than mine. Of course, there are central convictions about what it means to be a United Methodist–the basic creeds of the church, our historic Wesleyan theological traditions about grace and salvation available to all, our commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the shared mission to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”, but isn’t there room for persons from both the right and the left to have a place in the community? Isn’t there room for differing opinions on any number of social issues?
In the churches I served, when it came to this conflicted matter of the church’s stance on homosexuality, my position was always the same: I am not asking everyone to agree with me. I am only asking you to accept the fact that the person sitting beside you in the pew might see it differently than you do, and that you still accept that person as your brother or sister in Christ. And yes, there have been persons in my churches who could not accept that kind of stance and decided to go to churches which were either more conservative or more liberal than we were. But never did I ask someone to “seek an honorable exit” over their convictions about this issue.
I much prefer the poem of Edwin Markham:
He drew a circle that shut me out–heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that took him in.
Now I am not naive. I understand this is not just another social issue since it has to do with ordination of clergy and same-sex marriages. I understand the weight of these decisions and given the polarized status of the church, I’m not sure a stance like mine will hold much longer. But I will continue to advocate for the broad, sensible middle where we can find common ground….and I think that is where most United Methodists are.