We live in a rapidly changing culture.
Previous to our modern day, serious moral change took long periods of time, sometimes a century or more.
In the last decade—in a period of no more than seven years—a majority of American people went from believing that same-sex (homosexual) marriage should not be legalized, to a majority believing that same-sex marriage must be legalized. Along with a rising tide of moral lawlessness, I credit social media as a big factor in the accelerating velocity of hyper cultural change.
But, what is far more concerning is the pace of theological change among Christian churches on these very same issues. In this case, it is not just concern about the velocity of change, but horror over spiritual compromise.
Consider the United Methodist Church. In January, Methodist University Presidents called on its denomination to amend LGBTQ policies. In its founding, the Methodist movement was abundantly clear on biblical morality, arising as a holiness movement within—and eventually separating from—the Anglican Church. They were clear on biblical morality. That is now changing.
The question of biblical morality has essentially dogged the Methodist Church for decades—since their 1956 decision to ordain women with full clergy rights. Now they are hearing a strong call for the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals as both members and clergy. Presidents of 93-United Methodist colleges and universities (including one right down the road in Dayton Ohio) urge the denomination to amend its policies and practices regarding LGBTQ inclusion. Here, we have a unanimous statement made by UMC college representatives demanding the United Methodist Church capitulate on this issue during their Saint Louis General Conference Session this Sunday.
At the church’s upcoming General Conference in St. Louis, 864 invited delegates are expected to consider three plans for the church’s future. Several Methodist leaders said they expect a wave of departures from the church regardless of the decision.
The church technically forbids same-sex marriage and gays serving in the ministry, but enforcement has been inconsistent. Clergy who support LGBT rights have been increasingly defiant, conducting same-sex marriages or coming out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit. In some cases, the church has filed charges against clergy who violated the bans, yet the UMC’s Judicial Council has ruled against the imposition of mandatory penalties.
At the heart of the ideological conflict is an official UMC policy, dating from 1972, asserting that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
One of the three plans, endorsed by the UMC’s Council of Bishops, would remove that language from the church’s law book and leave decisions about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies. This proposal, called the One Church Plan, would open up many options for those who support the LGBT-inclusive practices, but it would not compel individual churches or clergy to engage in those practices. This is similar to requests made by the North American Division in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In contrast, the proposed Traditional Plan would affirm the bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” The plan would strengthen enforcement of those bans, and set up procedures for churches and regional bodies to leave the UMC if they could not abide by those rules.
The third option would create three branches of the church reflecting the different approaches to LGBT issues. One branch would maintain the current bans, another would expect all its clergy and regional groups to support full LGBT inclusion, and the third would neither forbid nor require the inclusive practices. This plan would take several years longer to implement than the others.
The three plans were developed over 17 months of deliberations by a Methodist committee that was formed after conflict over LGBT policies boiled over at a General Conference in 2016. In accordance with Methodists’ long tradition of democratic policy-making, delegates in St. Louis will be free to revise any of the plans, or even consider some sort of hybrid. As a positive, the delegates are split evenly between lay people and clergy.
Similar to the Adventist church, the UMC is a global denomination, with its greatest recent growth overseas. About 30 percent of the delegates in St. Louis will be from Africa — a bloc with relatively conservative views on sexuality. In the past they have supported the LGBT ban.
If the Traditional Plan does prevail, conservative Methodist Mark Tooley says some liberal segments of the church — perhaps its Western U.S. district — might withdraw to form a new denomination.
A localized example of the church’s internal divisions has surfaced in San Francisco, home of the liberal Glide Memorial United Methodist Church (which has 12,000 members).
The UMC’s California-Nevada conference removed two of Glide’s pastors last summer, then filed a lawsuit in December seeking to assert control over the local church property. A Glide spokesman, Sam Singer, said the regional authorities were displeased with Glide’s “open door policy” — which includes a variety of social justice programs and extensive outreach to the local LGBT community.
One of Glide’s former senior pastors is Karen Oliveto, who — after eight years at Glide — was elected by the Rocky Mountain regional body in 2016 as the UMC’s first openly lesbian bishop. Ordained as a pastor in 1983, she is now based in Colorado. The UMC’s judicial council upheld the election result, while ruling that Oliveto’s 2014 marriage to a woman violated UMC policies for its clergy.
Wise Adventists would do well to take note of what is happening in the Methodist denomination, and consider the train of events—since their 1956 decision to ordain women—that brought them to this point.
This ordained female (and lesbian) ‘bishop’ said she will be praying that the delegates in St. Louis will vote to end the LGBT ban.
I’m sure she will.
“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (Isaiah 3:12).