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In the wake of enactment of costly and controversial health-care legislation that will significantly broaden the federal government’s power over the U.S. health-care system — as well as over states and individuals — United Methodist bishops and other church leaders are attempting to mollify laity and clergy unhappy about the UMC’s role in supporting the bill.

In recent days, bishops, district superintendents and pastors have issued letters attempting to clarify the church’s position and explain the work of the General Board of Church and Society, the denominational agency that played a key role in pushing for a larger federal role in the allocation of health-care resources and for federal mandates on insurance companies and individual Americans.

On Palm Sunday, Speaker Pelosi got a standing ovation at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial UMC

Just before the bill passed the House of Representatives on Sunday, March 21, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi singled out the United Methodist Church as a key supporter of the bill.

“[M]ore than 350 organizations, representing Americans of every age, every background, every part of the country…have endorsed this legislation,” she said on the House floor. “Our coalition ranges from the AARP…to the United Methodist Church.”

The speaker’s comments set off a firestorm of reaction from United Methodists not pleased with the legislation or the sharply partisan process by which it was adopted. (The bill, which according to polls was opposed by a majority of voters, failed to garner a single Republican vote in either the House or Senate; in addition 34 House Democrats voted against the bill, as did three Democratic senators on final passage.)

The morning after Speaker Pelosi’s remarks, church leaders from pastors to bishops began receiving calls and e-mails from concerned United Methodists demanding an explanation. A few laity and clergy posted their concerns in the “blogosphere.”

“I am so disgusted with our denomination,” one commenter wrote on the blog of the North Carolina Conference. “While I love my local church and the people in my community, I will not financially support a denomination that thinks [it] can speak for me [in] a political forum.”

Tim Stevens

A prominent United Methodist pastor noted that the speaker’s remarks about UM advocacy for the controversial bill could further harm the denomination’s attempts reverse decades of membership losses.

“In my opinion, Speaker Pelosi’s comments give [many] Americans another reason not to be Methodist,” wrote Tim Stevens, executive pastor at Indiana’s Granger Community Church, on his Leading Smart blog.

“I do everything I can to help thousands of Methodist pastors and leaders every year…. It saddens me that the United Methodist Church is often known primarily for its political positions that have nothing to do with making disciples of Christ,” he wrote.

A clergy commenter responding to Mr. Stevens post was more circumspect, but echoed Mr. Stevens’ concerns. “I’m a UM pastor who has had to walk a fine line between having my own opinions and expressing them publicly. I fear that if I side with one or the other publicly I may damage possible opportunities to engage someone that doesn’t yet know Jesus,” he wrote. “I will say this though: The handling of this bill was shady at best and to attach the name of a denomination to it does no one any good.”

Strictly speaking, the United Methodist Church did not officially “endorse” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a point made by bishops and others who responded to concerned church members (several such responses are linked below).

However, the UM General Board of Church of Church and Society (GBCS), an official agency of the denomination, did play a lead role among religious organizations in pushing for a stronger federal role in health care. That emphasis was tantamount to lobbying for legislation likely to be embraced by Congressional liberals and opposed by those who preferred a more free-market approach to addressing issues of health care availability and affordability.

As part of its advocacy, in December GBCS orchestrated a letter-writing and telephone campaign aimed at persuading Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — a United Methodist — to vote for the same controversial legislation that passed the House last week. On Christmas Eve, six days after that focused campaign began, the Senate passed the bill. Sen. Nelson — the final senator to make up his mind — voted “yes.”

(After enduring a strong constituent backlash for his Christmas Eve vote, Sen. Nelson voted no when a slightly revised health bill came back before the Senate this week, but this time his vote did not affect the outcome.)

On the House side, GBCS’ Faith in Action newsletter noted earlier this month that “[h]elp is needed in the next few weeks as Congress deliberates over final passage of critical health-care protections.”

GBCS urged United Methodists to “contact your members of Congress” and “support health care reform.” In the context of the legislative process, GBCS — without actually endorsing the bill by name — was essentially endorsing the bill that had already passed the Senate and was about to come before the House.

Given the General Board of Church and Society’s clear attempt to sway members of Congress to “support health care reform” in the weeks leading up the March 21 House vote, it seems reasonable that Speaker Pelosi (who is not a United Methodist) would construe GBCS’ advocacy as an actual endorsement by the United Methodist Church of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, especially since GBCS is an official agency of the denomination.

In response to church member concerns about role of the UMC in passage of the legislation, Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the UM Council of Bishops, issued a letter that characterized the role of GBCS as simply one of “monitoring Congressional action” and “informing [Congressional leaders] of the church’s stance consistent with General Conference action.”

Likewise, Bishop D. Max Whitfield of the Northwest Texas Conference insisted that GBCS simply promoted principles, not specific legislation.

[T]he General Board of Church and Society has worked diligently to promote key principles of health care reform. Principles like access to health care, for all people, have been promoted by the UMC for many years, and it was behind these principles, not any specific legislation, that the GBCS put their endorsement….

General Conference believed reform was essential, and in 2008, they did pass a Resolution urging reform of the health care system. However, that resolution did not advocate for any particular piece of legislation.

Other bishops issued similar letters, including Bishop Larry Goodpaster (Western North Carolina), Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas East/Kansas West) and Bishop Janice Riggle Huie (Texas).

Meanwhile, the United Methodist News Service released a commentary piece by freelance writer and retired New York Conference clergy member Rich Peck, who downplayed the fact that GBCS may have used money from local churches to fund its efforts on behalf of health-care legislation.

“Very little United Methodist money is involved in advocacy efforts,” he wrote. “Only 3.1 cents of every dollar goes to support all the ministries of the denomination, and only a portion of that amount supports the entire program of the Board of Church and Society.”

It is true that the 2008 General Conference, meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, did pass legislation related to health care, as several bishops noted in their statements on the health bill, but it remains an open question as to whether the Conference “believed reform was essential,” as was argued by Bishop Whitfield.

General Conference ’08 (UMNS photo)

As detailed in “How Did the UMC Come to Define Health Care As a ‘Right’?” (includes audio from GC ’08), there was no floor debate at the 2008 General Conference on any of the heath-care-related resolutions.

Instead, three such resolutions were hurriedly passed — in a single, omnibus vote — on the final night of the Conference as delegates rushed to complete action on nearly 50 legislative items.

Less than four minutes transpired between the time the health-care resolutions were presented and the vote was taken. One of the resolutions consisted of nearly 6,000 words (stricken language and new language), or roughly nine pages of single-spaced type.

That lengthy resolution, “Health Care For All in the United States” (now Resolution #3201 in the 2008 edition of the UM Book of Resolutions), was authored by Jim Winker, head of the General Board of Church and Society — the same agency that used the resolution as a basis for its involvement in advocating what became the controversial and unpopular legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

The lack of adequate time to debate controversial items at the General Conference tends to create confusion on the Conference floor, leaving delegates unsure about what they are voting on. The result is there is little confidence that the outcome of certain votes actually reflects the will of the Conference.

At a November 2009 “dialogue” with the Council of Bishop’s Unity Task Force, held at Lake Junaluska, N.C., a group of United Methodist renewal leaders focused on the time-pressure issue as one of the key “tension points” of the General Conference — as noted in this excerpt from the renewal leaders’ written report (PDF).

[P]aragraphs 15 and 16 of the [United Methodist Book of] Discipline state that the responsibilities of the [General] Conference are primarily legislative. We believe that sufficient time for debate and action on all the legislation that delegates are charged to address should take precedent over other matters….

[Near] the end of the 2008 GC, the numbers of speeches and length of speeches allowed for legislation were shortened due to time constraints, leaving many important pieces of legislation…without proper debate before voting.

The health-care resolutions, presented on the frenetic final night of the 2008 conference, were among the pieces of legislation that did not receive “proper debate.”

The renewal leaders also voiced concerns about controversial items being placed on “consent calendars” to be voted on in omnibus fashion with no debate.

It is worth noting that the United Methodist Church first went on record declaring health care to be a “right” via a consent-calendar vote at the 1996 General Conference in Denver, Colorado.

After approval by committee, the matter was added to Consent Calendar A02 (PDF—see item 107) and was never specifically presented on the Conference floor, much less debated. Via a vote that approved 108 other disparate items at the same time (see PDF linked above), the assertion that health care is a right became official United Methodist policy.

The leaders who met with the Unity Task Force in November included, among others, Dr. Billy Abraham of the Perkins School of Theology at SMU; Liza Kittle of RENEW, a women’s ministry network; Tom Lambrecht, coordinator of the Renewal and Reform Coalition at the 2008 General Conference; Patricia Miller, executive director of the United Methodist Confessing Movement; and Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News.

Below is a sampling of comments, from clergy and laity, regarding the UMC’s involvement with the health bill. These comments are excerpted from various blogs and have been edited for length.

 

  • I am really getting frustrated at the Methodist church when they step into political issues. We are going to trash the best health care system in the world and bankrupt this country for a feel good program.

 

  • Why doesn’t the church leadership seek a consensus on this highly political matter?

 

  • I understand and agree that all persons should have access to medical care. But this bill is not about healthcare and I do not support it. I will be prayerfully reconsidering my financial support of the United Methodist church.

 

  • As a UMC elder, I struggle with the perception, if not the reality, that some in the UMC seek to right the world without pointing others to a new life in Christ.

 

  • I want my name to be removed from the membership of the UMC.

 

  • The UMC is moving away from its core and into the political world at its own peril and is leaving me in the process.

 

  • It seems that the UMC wants it both ways — to be active politically and lobby for legislation that the leadership wants, meanwhile being able to tell concerned members that it has no opinion on the legislation.

 

  • I love the people in our church — and I will miss them.

 

  • Thank you UMC for standing up for the least of us! I have never been so proud to be a member of the United Methodist Church.

 

  • I would not be surprised if United Methodism as we know it today ceased to exist in my lifetime. I’d welcome it, because the United Methodist bureaucracy and systems are dysfunctional.

 

  • I have recently joined the United Methodist Church. I am now reconsidering my membership.

 

  • I am very disappointed.

 

  • I think UMC owes it to its membership to clarify its stand. Like others have stated here, I don’t want to leave my church which I love because of a political stand I wasn’t even aware of until this past Sunday.

 

  • Can anyone explain to me why our charitable giving is being used to support a “lobbying arm” of the United Methodist Church? I’m completely disgusted.

 

  • I’ve always been proud of the United Methodist Church, but we’ve got to get a clue. We’re fading into oblivion because some within the church want to push their political agendas on all of us. Let’s get back to focusing on God!

 

  • I’ve been a life-long Methodist and always proud to support my church with our time and resources and prayers, but my husband and I have been deeply shaken to discover the UMC’s stance on this healthcare bill this weekend. It is with deep regret and heaviness of heart that we will be talking with our pastor and begin looking for a different church. We will be praying for all those of you who find yourselves in the same position; you are not alone.

 

  • I am very happy that my church supports this bill. I am one of those people who is hopeful for some benefit from this bill. Should only the wealthy be entitled to health care? Why should Christians stand against a benefit that would help me and other less fortunate people?

 

  • I have been a member of the UMC for my entire life. I will be no longer. This absolutely sickens me.

 

  • I have a meeting with my pastor today. If action is not taken to do something about the political lobbying of the UMC, then I will have to find a new church home. I will deeply miss my church family.

 

  • I am so proud of our church standing up for the poor on this health care bill. Do you think Jesus would turn the poor out without health care?

 

  • For the first time I am thinking of leaving the church. I believe in health care for all and favor common-sense reform, but not a government-run plan for all people. The way the government will cut costs is by the government run health-care panels to deny and ration treatments. Sounds very compassionate doesn’t it?

 

  • I was born a Methodist, baptized a Methodist, and have lived most of my life in and around the Methodist church. I continually struggle with some of the politics that get associated with the UMC. There are so many wonderful things about the UMC, it’s a shame that it also gets associated with many far left views.

 

Related posts
House Speaker thanks UMC for help in passing health bill
UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’
How did the UMC come to define health care as a ‘right’?
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
‘Church and Society’ urges repeal of ‘conscience’ rule for healthcare workers
Update on the ‘Church and Society’ court case
Former member of Board of Church and Society speaks out
‘Church and Society’ withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles and information
Debate raises questions about church’s voice | Rich Peck, United Methodist News Service (March 26, 2010)
Speaker Pelosi praises United Methodist support for Obamacare | Institute on Religion and Democracy (March 24, 2010)
Good News statement on the health care bill | Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton, Good News (March 24, 2010)
A message from Bishop Gregory V. Palmer (March 22, 2010)
Pelosi hails church agency on health reform | United Methodist News Service (March 22, 2010)
U.S. House passes health-care reform: Statement by Jim Winkler | UM General Board of Church and Society (March 22, 2010)
‘A Call for Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith’ (PDF) | Letter to President Barack Obama and Members of Congress, Faithful Reform Coalition (Feb. 24, 2010)
Health-care reform candlelight vigil | Wayne Rhodes, General Board of Church and Society (December 2009)
Methodists work Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Set aside personal agenda and think about the common good’ | Ben Smith, Politico (Dec. 18, 2009)
Four-minute video of 10 Nebraska United Methodists lobbying at Sen. Ben Nelson’s Omaha office | Nebraska Conference (Nov. 2, 2009)
GBCS applauds passage of Affordable Health Care for America Act (PDF) | United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (Nov. 11, 2009)
Health care is not a human right | Donald Sensing (UM pastor), Sense of Events blog (Sept. 3, 2009)
The 2008 Book of Resolutions: The voice of the United Methodist Church? (PDF) | Liza Kittle, RENEW

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Moments before Sunday night’s passage of a mammoth health-care bill that the New York Times described at the “most sweeping social legislation enacted in decades,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi specifically thanked the United Methodist Church for “endorsing” the controversial bill.

[W]e are proud and also humbled today to act with the support of millions of Americans who recognize the urgency of passing health care reform — and more than 350 organizations, representing Americans of every age, every background, every part of the country, who have endorsed this legislation.

Audio of Speaker Pelosi thanking the UMC (1:10)

Our coalition ranges from the AARP…to the American Medical Association, the Catholic Health Association, the United Medical — the United Methodist Church, and Voices of America’s Children.

The 2,685-page bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212 (50.8%-49.2%). Every Republican and 34 Democrats voted no.

The role of the United Methodist Church in securing passage is difficult to gauge.

In addition to participating in rallies and creating a web site focused on pushing a health-care overhaul, the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) was closely involved with Faithful Reform, a coalition of “faith groups” advocating greater government involvement in health care.

The coalition sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Members of Congress last month urging them “to complete the task at hand on behalf of the millions who are left out and left behind in our current health care system.” The letter (PDF) was signed by Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and endorsed by GBCS.

Graphic from a GBCS web site

The General Board of Church and Society’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were premised on language approved by the 1996 and 2008 General Conferences.

 

The language — written and submitted by GBCS — asserted that “heath care is a basic human right.” (The logical problems with this assertion are detailed here by UM pastor and blogger Donald Sensing.)

The GBCS-authored language was not debated on the Conference floor in either 1996 or 2008. In both cases, the “health-care-is-a-right” legislation was passed hurriedly in omnibus fashion along with other legislation.

(For details, see “How Did the UMC Come to Define Health Care As a ‘Right’?” Also, see this 2008 report (PDF) from the RENEW Women’s Network, which concludes that the UM Book of Resolutions — a document also widely quoted by GBCS in support of its lobbying efforts — “has become a mouthpiece for a few of the boards and agencies within the church and several caucus groups and [is] not representative of the United Methodist Church as a whole.”)

In a written statement issued March 22, Jim Winkler, chief executive of GBCS, referred to the health-care language authored by his agency and passed by the General Conference.

“The United Methodist Social Principles declares health care [to be] ‘a basic human right,'” he wrote. “The United States took a huge step toward affirming this right [Sunday] night when the House of Representatives passed health insurance reform legislation.”

Critics of the bill, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board, have argued the legislation is likely to be destructive to the U.S. health care system and therefore harmful to individuals.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates [that the bill] will cost taxpayers $200 billion per year when fully implemented and grow annually at 8%, even under low-ball assumptions. Soon the public will reach its taxing limit, and then something will have to give on the care side. In short, medicine will be rationed by politics….

As in the Western European and Canadian welfare states, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies will over time become public utilities. Government will set the cost-minded priorities and determine what kinds of treatment options patients are allowed to receive. Medicare’s price controls will be exported to the remnants of the private sector.

All bureaucratized systems also restrict access to specialists and surgeries, leading to shortages and delays of months or years. This will be especially the case for the elderly and grievously ill, and for innovation in procedures, technologies and pharmaceuticals.

Eventually, quality and choice — the best attributes of American medicine in spite of its dysfunctions — will severely decline.

Other critics took issue with the bill because the legislation could result in federal subsidies for private insurance plans that cover abortion. Just before Sunday’s vote, National Right-to-Life characterized the bill (PDF) as “the most abortion-expansive legislation ever to reach the House floor.”

Winkler speaks at health-care 'vigil' in Dec. '09

In contrast, Jim Winkler of GBCS described the sweeping health-care legislation as being an extension of the work of Christ.

“Jesus’ ministry serves as an example and a call to serve the least and the last among us,” Mr. Winkler said in a written statement.

“He asked us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves — setting forth a faith grounded in God’s abundance, generosity and a capacity for love that knows no bounds,” he wrote.

In a March 24 statement, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and author of the 2008 book, Taking Back the United Methodist Church, said GBCS is among many “Religious Left” organizations that equate the love of Christ with larger and more intrusive government.

The Religious Left version of Jesus’ love is an unceasingly expanding federal welfare state that coercively seizes assets from one segment of society for redistribution to other segments, according to coarse political calculations, and with all the efficiency and compassion for which mammoth state bureaucracies are renowned.

Good News, the flagship United Methodist renewal ministry founded in 1967, issued a statement registering “deep disappointment” with GBCS.

Rather than engage the issue of health care reform in a manner representing the hopes and concerns of all United Methodists, [the General Board of Church and Society] has once again embraced and advocated for the most liberal and polemical position. Unfortunately, the board chose to feverishly work for a particular plan that divided United Methodists….

By so publicly making common cause with a partisan plan, many church members will view GBCS more as an agent of a particular political party, and less as an agent of the kingdom of God….

Throughout the debate, GBCS failed to seriously acknowledge or fairly represent other proposals for meeting the health care needs of Americans.

Once again, GBCS alienated thousands of United Methodists, and caused many to wonder whether the board can ever fairly represent them in the public square, even going so far as to advocate for the most extreme iterations of the bill that included federal funding for abortion.

Of the 44 United Methodist members of the House of Representatives, 18 voted in favor the health bill while 26 voted against it, according to the United Methodist News Service.

In December, when the Senate passed the health bill, four United Methodist senators voted in favor, five were opposed.

Thus far, more than one-fourth of state attorneys general have joined in a federal lawsuit (PDF) against the new health-care law, arguing that it imposes an unconstitutional direct tax, violates the 10th Amendment, and exceeds Congress’s defined powers to regulate interstate commerce. The new law requires all Americans to have health insurance or faces fines.


Related posts
UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’
How did the UMC come to define health care as a ‘right’?
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
‘Church and Society’ urges repeal of ‘conscience’ rule for healthcare workers
Update on the ‘Church and Society’ court case
Former member of Board of Church and Society speaks out
‘Church and Society’ withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles and information
Pelosi hails church agency on health reform | United Methodist News Service (March 22, 2010)
U.S. House passes health-care reform: Statement by Jim Winkler | UM General Board of Church and Society (March 22, 2010)
Speaker Pelosi praises United Methodist support for Obamacare | Institute on Religion and Democracy (March 24, 2010)
Good News statement on the health care bill | Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton, Good News (March 24, 2010)
‘A Call for Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith’ (PDF) | Letter to President Barack Obama and Members of Congress, Faithful Reform Coalition (Feb. 24, 2010)
Health-care reform candlelight vigil | Wayne Rhodes, General Board of Church and Society (December 2009)
Methodists work Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Set aside personal agenda and think about the common good’ | Ben Smith, Politico (Dec. 18, 2009)
Four-minute video of 10 Nebraska United Methodists lobbying at Sen. Ben Nelson’s Omaha office | Nebraska Conference (Nov. 2, 2009)
GBCS applauds passage of Affordable Health Care for America Act (PDF) | United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (Nov. 11, 2009)
The 2008 Book of Resolutions: The voice of the United Methodist Church? (PDF) | Liza Kittle, RENEW
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker, Florida Conference (Feb. 9, 2009)

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“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008)

A recent MethodistThinker post (“Defying denomination, UM church in D.C. offers to perform same-sex weddings”) elicited responses from several readers who argued that the United Methodist Church should embrace, affirm, and celebrate homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage.

For nearly 40 years, the denomination has specifically, consistently, and overwhelming rejected this view.

Acting through legislation debated and adopted by the General Conference, the United Methodist Church has characterized male-male and female-female sexual relations as being “incompatible with Christian teaching,” i.e., at odds with the historic teaching of the Christian church rooted in revelation from God, articulated by the apostles and church fathers, and handed down through the ages.

This precept of abiding by “received teaching” on homosexual practice is prominent in several essays in Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (Abingdon Press, 2003).

Following are brief excerpts from three of the book’s 17 essays.

From “The Church’s Teaching on Sexuality” by William J. Abraham (Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies, Perkins School of Theology, SMU):

On the matter [of homosexuality], conservatives are both tenacious and urgent. This is not accidental.

Dr. Billy Abraham

They are tenacious because the position they hold is not just a matter of human judgment or opinion. It is construed as the teaching of our Lord in divine revelation.

They are urgent because they believe that the rejection of divine revelation involves the unraveling of the fabric of faith and the radical undermining of the canonical commitments of The United Methodist Church. For better or worse, they foresee chaos and division if the position of the Book of Discipline were [to be] revised….

[W]hat is at stake are the foundations of the Church in the Word of God and the place of The United Methodist Church within the church catholic and apostolic.

From “Contentious Conversations” by Joy Moore (now associate dean of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School):

At issue is…what standards of morality exist for the community called to biblical holiness. Neither polls nor political votes [determine] categories or sin. The identification [of a certain percentage] of the population [with a particular sexual expression] is no reason to change moral standards.

Dr. Joy Moore

Alternative expressions, against which Christian behavior will appear countercultural, will always exist. Even if the culture at large is changing, Christianity is not mandated to alter its identity such that it can no longer be distinguished from the larger society….

Traditionally, “sin” referred to a rebellious spirit, intentional insubordination resulting in separation from God the Creator; [from] humanity; and, for all intended purposes, [from] creation itself. In contrast, pro-homosexual advocates view the church’s greatest sin as its refusal to accept those who are different….

This view holds that homosexual practice merely represents an alternative lifestyle, not a biblical transgression. The Church is asked to do more than allow for alternative practice: Pro-homosexual activists desire affirmation, not just understanding and leniency.

From “The Real Disagreement” by Elizabeth Moreau (an elder in the Texas Annual Conference and author of I Believe… Something! The Ancient Faith Speaks to Today’s Church — Xulon Press, 2009):

The biblical witness is uniform in its rejection of homosexuality…. Therefore, the entire debate surrounding homosexuality focuses on whether that biblical teaching can be normative for this generation of Christians….

Elizabeth Moreau

The counterclaim [to official UM doctrine] that homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching challenges the truth of divine revelation…. [It is] to receive the Scripture in a manner at odds with the interpretation of every other branch of the church of Jesus Christ….

[This novel] approach to biblical interpretation… implies a sort of modern-day gnosticism, in which secret or special knowledge is required to understand the Scriptures and, therefore, to encounter and know God.

If we take seriously the notion of human sin, then we finally cannot allow human knowledge and experience to judge divine revelation; rather, divine revelation judges human knowledge and experience. The role of Scripture is to take human experiences of sin, darkness, and death, and through the light of revelation, bring human beings to the fullness of life in Jesus Christ….

If it is necessary to abandon the authoritative teaching of the Bible, then we have little to offer the homosexual community, and everyone else for that matter. When we dismiss the Bible’s portrayal of sin, we must also discard the promises of new life and transformation found in the Bible….

If we now abandon the gospel of the Scriptures to accommodate cultural preferences, then we do not have the gospel of Jesus Christ, at least not a gospel recognizable to the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

In short, changing The United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality is like pulling a thread, which then unravels the whole fabric….

What is at stake in the debate over homosexuality is what one believes Jesus Christ has to offer homosexual individuals, indeed all individuals…. That is why the debate is so ferocious and the conflict so relentless.

The issue is not merely homosexuality; homosexuality is the starting point for a debate over the content of the Christian faith.

Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality also features essays by, among others, Leicester Longden, Richard B. Hays, Thomas C. Oden, and Maxie Dunnam. The table of contents is here.

The book is available from Cokesbury and Barnes and Noble.


Related posts
Defying denomination, UM church in D.C. offers to perform same-sex weddings
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
Transforming Congregations to merge with Exodus International
Sexuality resolution not at variance with Discipline, bishop rules
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’
Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement

Related information
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | United Methodist News Service; Good News Information Service, Good News magazine (May/June 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, General Board of Higher Education & Ministry Consultation on Decision 1032 (February 2007)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Debate at the 2004 General Conference on various legislation related to homosexuality (includes audio) | 2004 General Conference Archive
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)

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Hours after a new law permitting homosexual marriage took effect in Washington, D.C., the oldest United Methodist church in the District issued a news release stating its intent to “celebrate same-sex weddings,” defying General Conference actions and Judicial Council rulings that expressly prohibit such ceremonies.

Dumbarton UMC in Washington, D.C.

The offer to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples came from Dumbarton UMC, a Georgetown congregation described in the 1998 book, Many Witnesses: A History of Dumbarton United Methodist Church, as having a “well-earned reputation for radicalism.”

The church has identified itself as a homosexuality-approving “Reconciling Congregation” since 1987. In 1990, UM Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, then bishop of the Washington Area, intervened to stop a homosexual wedding scheduled at Dumbarton.

According to United Methodist Book of Discipline (¶341.6), “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” That language, approved by the 1996 General Conference, was retained by 2008 General Conference by an almost two-thirds vote (65%-35%). In 2004, the General Conference made clear that conducting such ceremonies is a chargeable offense.

Just last year, the UM Judicial Council ruled that United Methodist clergy, even if retired, may not perform wedding ceremonies uniting two people of the same sex, even in states or jurisdictions where such unions have been declared legal.

Dumbarton’s public pledge to violate United Methodist rules barring same-sex unions followed a unanimous vote last month by the congregation’s church council. As the likely date for legalization of homosexual marriage in D.C. drew near, the Dumbarton council voted 28-0 “to honor and celebrate the wedding of any couple, licensed in the District of Columbia, who seek to commit their lives to one another in marriage.”

Mary Kay Totty

The Rev. Mary Kay Totty, pastor of Dumbarton UMC, and “12 other ordained clergy who attend Dumbarton” will make themselves available to conduct same-sex weddings, according the news release issued by the church. The 12 other clergy were not named.

“We celebrate love and loyalty wherever it is found,” Totty said in the release.

A convener for the Baltimore-Washington Chapter of the liberal Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), Mary Kay Totty was appointed to Dumbarton last year after serving several UM churches in Maryland.

MFSA, an unofficial network of clergy and laity founded in 1907, urges its members to “be  involved in the transformation of the social order.”

According to the Baltimore-Washington Conference web site, Dumbarton UMC has an average worship attendance of about 90.

In a post on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog, Anne Thompson Cook, a Dumbarton member and a founding board member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, echoed the church’s commitment to act counter to denominational policy.

As DC’s law granting marriage equality goes into effect…Dumbarton UMC is ready…. Our new [Marriage Equality Statement] (PDF) updates a statement we created nearly 20 years ago on holy unions. Then, as now, we deplored legal and church condemnations of same-sex committed relationships and declared that we would treat all couples equally.

At that time, when [Bishop Yeakel] read of our intentions in a Washington Post article, he was furious and called the entire church council into his office. Of all the things that were said that day, I will never forget him saying this: Same-sex marriage isn’t recognized in civil law! You can’t participate in something that’s not recognized in civil law!

Well, today — in the District of Columbia — same-sex marriage is recognized in civil law, and we celebrate this new step on the long road to full justice and equality for all.

Legalization of homosexual marriage in the District of Columbia was approved by the D.C. City Council late last year after the council rebuffed citizen demands for a referendum on the issue. Local courts also turned back calls for a voter referendum.

A Washington Post poll conducted in late January found that 59 percent of D.C. voters, including 70 percent of black voters, wanted the same-sex marriage issue put to a city-wide vote, rather than being decided by the City Council.

In 2009, Dumbarton UMC was one of seven churches that sponsored a resolution on human sexuality that was approved by the Baltimore-Washington Conference but was later overturned by the United Methodist Judicial Council.

The Council ruled that the resolution, which said United Methodists are “divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality,” effectively “negated the church’s clearly stated position.”

bwarmAll seven congregations that sponsored the resolution are affiliated with Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling United Methodists, a group that “seek[s] to affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and ensure the full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the ministry and life of the United Methodist Church, particularly in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.”

In 2008, one of the seven churches, D.C.’s Foundry UMC, began “recogniz[ing] same-sex unions in special ceremonies that fall just short of an official wedding,” according to a United Methodist News Service report.

Timeline: The UMC and homosexual unions

  • 1972— The General Conference amends the Social Principles in the UM Book of Discipline to include the following: “We do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
  • 1976 — The General Conference strengthens its opposition to homosexual marriage, again in the Social Principles, with this language: “We do not recognize a relationship between two persons of the same sex as constituting marriage.”
  • 1980 — The General Conference alters the Social Principles statement to read: “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant, which is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”
  • 1996 — The General Conference adopts a statement prohibiting UM clergy participation in homosexual-union ceremonies: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
  • 1998 — The UM Judicial Council rules that clergy who conduct homosexual-union ceremonies can be brought to church trial.
  • 2000 — In the California-Nevada Conference, a conference Committee on Investigation for Clergy Members decides that a group of 67 clergy members will not be brought to trial for their role in celebrating a same-sex union service.
  • 2000 — Delegates to the General Conference vote overwhelmingly (69%-31%) to move the sentence prohibiting UM clergy from conducting homosexual unions from the Social Principles section of the Discipline to a section on the Ministry of the Ordained (¶341).
  • 2004 — The General Conference amends ¶2702 in the Book of Discipline to clarify language related to chargeable clergy offenses, adding that “conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” and “performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” are both chargeable offenses.
  • 2008 — The General Conference votes to retain the ¶2702 language adopted in 2004.
  • 2009 — The UM Judicial Council rules that United Methodist clergy, even if retired, may not perform wedding ceremonies uniting two people of the same sex, even in states or jurisdictions where such unions have been declared legal.

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Related information
United Methodist congregation to celebrate same-sex weddings | PR Newswire (March 3, 2010)
Declaration of Religious Support for Marriage Equality | District of Columbia Clergy United for Marriage Equality (June 2009)
Pastors defy United Methodist officials to conduct gay weddings | Los Angeles Times (July 17, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | United Methodist News Service; Good News Information Service, Good News magazine (May/June 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
D.C.’s Foundry Church will honor same-sex unions | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (March 11, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Debate at the 2004 General Conference on various legislation related to homosexuality (includes audio) | 2004 General Conference Archive
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
United Methodist pastor suspended indefinitely for performing ‘holy union’ ceremony for two homosexuals | Christianity Today (April 26, 1999)
Letter to The Washington Blade: ‘We are ashamed of our denomination, our bishops and our Judicial Council’ | Dumbarton United Methodist Church (Aug. 26, 1998)
United Methodist Judicial Council acts against homosexual unions | Gustav Niebuhr, The New York Times (Aug. 12, 1998)
General Conference says ‘no’ to marriage-like ceremonies for same-sex couples | Garlinda Burton, United Methodist News Service (April 26, 1996)
In United Methodist Church and elsewhere, same-sex unions done in private | George Cornell, The Associated Press (Aug. 10, 1990)
Rift over a rite: UM bishop stops same-sex union ceremony scheduled at Dumbarton UMC in D.C. | The New York Times (June 2, 1990)
United Methodist church in D.C. to wed two lesbians | L.A. Times/Washington Post News Service (May 13, 1990)

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