For my non-United Methodist readers, please bear with me for one more post about our current debate within the UMC. Last week I raised the question about the training of clergy under the “Traditionalist” proposals for the future of the denomination. One correction: I assumed the restrictions and penalties included in the legislation applied to institutions as well as bishops and annual conferences. That is not the case at this time. However, it is not hard to imagine those same requirements ultimately making it into the review of schools by the University Senate and the purge would be on. Short of that, I still believe many of our institutions would not be comfortable being identified with a denomination which moved in such a punitive direction, so my essential question still remains–where will you train your clergy? The only answer I received was that this is a “follow-on question” to be discussed after the General Conference, which I take to mean no one has really thought about it yet.
Now here is a second question for my “traditionalist” friends: What about polygamy?
The argument against same sex marriage is based on the belief that the Biblical standard for marriage is one man/one woman. The traditionalist position affirms the current language of the Book of Discipline which says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and the famous seven last words–“celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage”. They bolster their position by appealing for sensitivity to the African context where the taboo against homosexuality is widespread and strong.
So based on the same logic, will the traditionalists make the same argument against polygamy which is still widespread in parts of Africa?
From the detailed legislation which has been proposed, it looks like the answer is, “No”. All the requirements, restrictions and penalties relate to same sex marriage and the ordination of homosexual persons. It appears the traditionalists are eager to gain the support of the African delegates for their stance against the acceptance of homosexuality, but are blind to the fact that the practice of polygamy is just as “incompatible” with their understanding of Scripture as same sex marriage.
I suppose you could ask the same question about divorce and remarriage, given that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery, but evidently the traditionalists are not prepared to be that traditional. And what about sex before marriage? Are we going to add a question to the review of candidates for ordination about whether or not they are virgins? There is nothing in the legislation about these issues at this point, but I suppose…who knows?
Let me be quick to say I am not arguing in favor of polygamy or premarital sex. I am simply asking a question about consistency in one’s ethical standard. If same sex marriage and the “practice of homosexuality” (to use the words of the Book of Discipline) are incompatible with the Biblical standard of one man/one woman, isn’t polygamy just as incompatible? And when the supporters of the traditionalist plan want to argue the importance of the global church in these matters, why the silence on one issue when you are so out-spoken on the other? Or in the end, is this whole debate just about homosexuality…and perhaps getting the African votes at General Conference?