For several years now United Methodists have been living in expectation that in 2019 we will finally resolve our long struggle over the issue of human sexuality. A special General Conference has been set for February, 2019 to resolve the issue. The Commission on a Way Forward has worked diligently since 2016 to provide various options, though the Council of Bishops has endorsed the “one church” option, which is a renaming of the previously rejected “local option.” This “solution” would remove any references to sexuality or gender identity norms in our Discipline and allow local churches to make their own decisions regarding membership and pastoral appointments of LGBTQ persons, and annual conferences would make decisions regarding ordination. It is highly unlikely that this option will pass for the following reasons:
First, the “One Church” option creates a moral equivalency between Christian marriage and same sex marriage which has been consistently rejected by the entire church through all time. Even the United Methodist General Conference has rejected it multiple times. Why the Bishops would endorse a plan which has been rejected over and over is mystifying to many of us. Western culture is, quite evidently, in a state of moral collapse, and it has been exceedingly difficult for mainline churches to accept a new role as a cultural outsider, rather than their long-standing position as a cultural insider. It is long past the time to realize that many of the values of contemporary western culture are no longer consistent with historic Christian faith.
Second, by creating a moral equivalency between Christian marriage and same sex marriage, we violate the clear teaching of the New Testament which teaches that while all sinners are objects of God’s love, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian faith. The General Church has no authority to regard as holy and sacramental a behavior which is repeatedly condemned in the New Testament. (For more on this, see my earlier piece, “Is homosexual practiced condemned in the New Testament?”)
Third, the “One Church” option creates an even wider latitude and moral equivalency than we were originally led to believe. It is now no longer about normalizing “gay” and “lesbian” behavior, but a whole range of new sexual identities, including “bi-sexual” “a-sexual” “intersex” and “queer.” As I have said in previous articles, we have spent 45 years arguing about homosexuality, but we have not spent 5 minutes discussing any of these other sexual identities.
Fourth, the “One Church” option promotes a completely false idea of church unity. It confuses our structural, organizational unity with the unity which can only be found in Christ and the gospel. Our problems are spiritual and theological, not pragmatic and structural. This is our agreed upon definition of church unity: “Church unity is founded on the theological understanding that through faith in Jesus Christ we are made members-in-common of the one Body of Christ” (par. 105, Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task). Church unity is not fundamentally about whether or not the bureaucratic and administrative structures of the United Methodist Church remain in-tact. It is ultimately about our unity in the gospel itself.
Fifth, the “One Church” option is a major concession to a Gnostic view of the body which the church has opposed since the first century. The proposal not only affirms gay and lesbian marriage and ordination, but it also blesses a whole new view of the body, represented by transgenderism. The church has never accepted the idea that our gender identity is socially, rather than biologically, determined. The theological implications for this are enormous and, once again, we have not discussed this for five minutes as a church, it has just been rolled into the “one church” plan under the “catch all” LGBTQ. However, these letters refer to much more than sexual practice. They also refer to gender identity, attitudes about the human body, and so forth. (For more on this, see, my earlier piece on the “new gnosticism”)
Sixth, by endorsing the “one church” option, the Council on Bishops have, tragically, and with the most far reaching implications, unwittingly endorsed a post-modern view of truth. The council is offering us two completely different “orthodoxies” – one which says that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian faith” and one which says it is “compatible with Christian faith.” One Methodist church in town would be teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin; the other Methodist church down the street would teach that it is a sacrament. One church would teach that it is a sin for which Christ died; the other church, a sign of wholeness. The fact that the document actually proposes this without blinking just might be an indicator that we have now embraced a post-modern view of truth. Indeed, this just might be one of the clearest examples of a truly post-modern document in the United Methodist Church. We are now being asked to read the Discipline the way post-moderns have been reading the Bible itself. The Discipline would become, in their view, a document with no objective vision of truth, or standard of morality. Instead, it invites us to formally legislate permission for each church to live in their own personal narratives and construct their own edifice of meaning and “private interpretation,” not because we do not agree on the objective truth of the Bible, but because we have abandoned any sure knowledge that such objective truth can even be known.
Finally, let us not be lulled into thinking that this is merely a cultural debate, reflecting the regional tensions present in the country as a whole. I have had the privilege of pastoring large churches in New England, most right in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country. Yet these churches are all solid stalwarts of orthodoxy. Likewise, there are many churches in the southern jurisdiction who are committed to heterodox views of human sexuality and the nature of the human body. Brothers and sisters, this is not merely a cultural problem, but a deeply theological challenge.
All those who remain committed to historic faith, biblical orthodoxy, and a view of truth which is based on biblical revelation, must unite and vote “no” to the “One Church” option.