“…seek an honorable exit”

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.

Jack Harnish







41 thoughts on ““…seek an honorable exit”

  1. Timothy Mccollum

    I’ve always tended to see through kindly worded statements to the heart of things quickly. In my view, seek an honorable exit reeks of “get out” which doesn’t seem church like to me. I always envisioned the church drawing more people in, rather than giving them the exit.

  2. Dave Jankowski

    Hold your guns, Jack. There is another choice than an honorable exit – a dishonorable exit – sometimes the better choice – easy for me to say, but you know that I can’t abide a rigid arrogance!

    1. Janice Rushton

      This is so divisive at a time when we really need to be encouraging tolerance and appreciation of differences if humankind. I hope and pray that there’s going to be widespread push back to get the Judicial Council to reconsider its stance on this. They don’t appear to be modeling Christian values that I ascribe to.

  3. Patti Brzezinski

    Thank you, Jack, for your words that I can understand. What a dilemma this makes. As a parent of a gay son…………

  4. ann strecker

    well said, I considerate myself a moderate and I truly do not understand how we can have our church continuing to say open hearts , open minds, oh, except for you….and you, it is sad that our church with so many wonderful qualities cannot show compassion to others who might not think the same way we do….and it has caused such a huge divide.in the church..but wow, seek a honorable exit I must say greatly disturbs me.

  5. philipamerson

    Reblogged this on philipamerson and commented:
    After a life of service as pastor and/or denominational leader, some of our best are being pointed to the exit. Jack Harnish is one of the best among us. Sadly, some “colleagues” want to change the vision of the United Methodist Church from “Open Hears, Open Minds, Open Doors” to “If you don’t agree with me there is the door. Exit politely please.” Here Jack speaks of the wonderment of a call for advocating that folks should seek “an honorable exit.” And the worlds and work of the great spirits of our tradition like E. Stanley Jones, Leontine Kelly, Georgia Harkness, Albert Outler and James Thomas are turned upside down.

  6. Joe Watson

    Thank you for these well written words. They hopefully express the thoughts of many in our churches today.

    1. Donald Haynes

      Jack, I concur completely. As I have written my “email friend,” Rob Renfroe, I don’t understand the sudden use of the word “orthodoxy” in the context of Wesleyan theology. He said it came from William Abraham, but to me it is a Reformed Theology term. Dr. Robert Cushman used the term “consensus fidelium” to describe what bonded us together as a Wesleyan faith community. I do not consider it simplistic to say, “If we do not think alike, can we not love alike?” To me, that is the essential Wesleyan theological paradigm.

      Don Haynes
      North Carollina

  7. James Sutton

    I rather like the idea of a denomination called Reconciling Methodists. I don’t think there is a tent big enough to include me and the Wesley Covenant Association. I don’t even think it is big enough to include me and the Pharisee like Judicial Council.

  8. Larry Kalajainen

    Well said, Jack. But I very much fear that there will be very little that is honorable in what is to come.

  9. Ruppert

    Until they change the rules, we must live by them in order to call ourselves United Methodists…if we choose not to live by the discipline, then why stay? Really, what is in it for those who cannot or will not live by the discipline? This is not about the acceptance of homosexuals in general, but about people who do not remain celibate in singleness (since a homosexual union is not seen as marriage by our rules) and not allowing them to be church elders…if you can’t live by the rules you agreed to, then either change them, create a church division, or leave…don’t keep flouting rebellion…that is not the kind of leadership we need…

    1. Jim Ritchie

      That’s it? That’s all there is to being a United Methodist? We are a denomination that doesn’t tolerate LGBTQIA folk if they dare to hear God’s call to ordained ministry or Love’s call to marriage. That’s all that defines us? We remain in covenant because there is much more to our history and our practice, and we want to swing wide the gates and welcome all into that history and practice.

  10. Becky Lacy

    I left the United Methodist Church many years ago because of the anti-gay policies and flagrant hypocrisy. What I struggle to understand is why there are still so many gays within a non-accepting denomination when there are other choices available. Nowadays, there are fully accepting mainstream denominations who would welcome gays and their talents. I fail to see why gays stay in the UMC and beg for acceptance. To me, this is no different than staying with an abusive spouse and hoping they’ll change. It is way past time for gays to just walk out, taking their talents and tithes with them.

  11. Pastor Randy

    Very good principles, however, the progressives have drawn the line in the sand (and have been doing so for decades). I hear far more hate from progressives who tells anyone who holds another view, “You’re full of hate.” Now, does that sound “inclusive”? What troubles me the most is that this view of “God created us gay” lacks both well thought out theological reflection (meaning, “Let’s look at the Bible from the whole, not bits and pieces”) and it lacks scientific backing. We can have open hearts, minds and doors without compromising God’s intentional design and His efforts to restore us from the Fall. This is the “big umbrella” that any church should be, where we come with our brokenness, admit our brokenness and seek God’s power to transform and restore us to His intended design.

  12. Bill Burnett

    Thanks for a wonderful summary of the Judicial Council’s decision. I haven’t previously responded to your positive blogs, but, on this matter, I must say “thank you” for expressing your position, which Miranda and I and other Birmingham Methodists, but not all, strongly support.

  13. Skipper Anding

    When people live or support lifestyles that conflict with what the church teaches, it causes a loss of cohesion and togetherness for the group. I believe the constant conflict and tension are getting old to the majority of Methodists. Also they feel like those who live or support lifestyles that conflict with what the church teaches are not showing much interest in being part of our group. And that what they teach is not valid and putting people at eternal risk. That alone is very distressing for the majority.

  14. clcquilts

    I believe there is room at the table for all. ELCA Lutherans made a change in 2009 that rocked our churches. My home church lost families over the decision to be more “inclusive”. I stayed ELCA and continue to cling to the belief that there is only one judge and it is not me. I continue to love everybody like Jesus taught me.

  15. msjosom

    Hi Jack: As always, right on the money! You will always be traveling as you are so good at it.
    Sorry to miss seeing you today after the kids service. Having a problem with jet lag after a very
    interesting trip. Will hope to see you soon. Your friend, jo

  16. Jim bonsall

    Jack. Seems the group that wrote the unfortunate letter to you is a ultra right wing group with little standing and does not compromise or see other points of view. I would not, if I have this correctly, let them bother you in the slightest. It is hardly their church.

    1. Jack Harnish Post author

      Just to be clear…it wasn’t a personal letter to me, it was a public statement. The WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association) is a well organized and evidently heavily funded group which had 1500 at their first gathering and about 800 at their second gathering. You can google them to see their agenda, but bottomline is their opposition to the scceptance of LGBT people.

      1. Jim bonsall

        Jack. Do they expect to have a Wesleyan based church at the end. Maybe far fewer would elect to stay or support a church such as they seen to desire. Even the southern baptists show more sense than this.

      2. John Harnish

        If you go to their website or follow their posts you will see a lot of theological and historical statements, most of which I agree with–desire for a renewed sense of Wesleyan theology, growth for church, missional world view, etc. etc. But…the cause that brought them together is the fight over same sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. The bottom line is “promises should be kept”, and in truth, the only promise they are really concerned about is this one. Some of the folks who are leading this are people I consider to be long-time friends, but when I ask the question “What if I agree with everything you say, except for one thing–that I would prefer changing the Book of Discipline to a more inclusive and open stance on homosexuality?’, I never get an answer. But I know what the answer is.

      3. Jim bonsall

        Thanks got all that. I as you can imagine, I agree with foundation and adherence to life principals that they see it, albeit it little exists in bible on this. But what are they proposing to do? Bar people from worship based on sexual orientation. How do they propose to find out if someone,particularly someone that is transgender, fits their definition a questionaire? They are gonna lose a great deal of straight people and pastors if they persist. And it seems persist they will. They are to right of southern baptists on this if you can believe it.

      4. John Harnish

        One of the things that complicates it for United Methodists–the UMC is comprised of the US, Central and Northern Europe, the Philippines and 6 countries of Africa. The church in Africa is rapidly growing and now has a large number of votes in the General Conference. They will tend to be extremely conservative on this issue and probably vote with the WCA. I prefer what is being referred to as “local option”. Let the individual church decide if they will allow same-sex weddings in their buildings and let individual clergy decide if they will perform same sex marriages. Allow for both sides, both voices within the UMC.

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