There has been a spate of stories about the difficulties of the United Methodists. This largest of the mainline denominations, like other mainline denominations, is of two minds about homosexuality and gay marriage. Several other mainline churches have given implicit support to ordaining and marrying gays. Activists are just as vocal in the UMC as other denominations (they are involved in the push to disinvest from Israel, for instance). But the homosexual issue is less likely to get decided in favor of the gay rights activists.
This is for two reasons.
First, the Methodist already have a formal policy stating that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian teaching, that practicing homosexuals should not be ordained to ministry, and that Methodist churches and clergy should not celebrate gay marriages or unions.
Second—and this is what a lot of Americans don’t get— is that the United Methodist church is an international church.
My own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), exists as a body that includes churches only in the United States and Canada. We have founded churches overseas. But they are separate churches. Not so with the Methodists. Not only do they have a large part of the denomination consisting of African churches, but those churches are growing as the Methodists in America are losing members. The African churches send delegates who vote on their governing bodies. And the African Methodists have not “evolved” on homosexuality the way Americans have.
A group of conservatives has proposed that there is nothing left to do but to agree on a friendly divorce and split the church. The Methodists did something like that over the issue of slavery once before in history.
Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist mega Church of the Resurrection here in Kansas City, has proposed a compromise to allow congregations and districts to set their own policies. Adam’s move toward congregational government is not really in the Methodist tradition, though.
So I don’t know what will happen. The intriguing thing is that racial and national diversity gets set over against gender orientation diversity. In my own denomination it was ethnic churches—mostly Puerto Rican—who most strenuously objected to liberalizing our attitude toward gays. Our rural churches and small town churches were divided and kept silent for the most part. Our affluent suburban churches were usually the pushers behind the “open and affirming” initiatives. So now some of those to whom we like to point to show that we are diverse, no longer feel included. Ironic.
Many of my friends and valued colleagues in ministry have been Methodists. So I share some of their angst and sadness about this situation.