The UMC and Same Sex Marriage
I was walking across the campus of Southern Methodist University today. On the sidewalk, I passed a mother pushing her young male child in a stroller. The child looked at me with an expression of absolute joy and said “HI!!” I waved back and said “HI” to him. The happiness on his face at my acknowledgement of his greeting and my response back were priceless. I wished that some of this joy swayed the deliberations of this past week during the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. This young child did not care that I am male, gay, white and in my fifties. He wanted to engage in the world in which he lives.
This week, leaders of the UMC rejected the One Church Plan designed to ease restrictions on gay clergy and same sex marriage. The Traditional Plan passed with delegation votes of 438 in favor and 384 against. The Traditional Plan maintains the UMC’s current ban on ordination of LGBTQ people and prohibits UMC clergy from officiating or hosting marriages of same sex couples. Some supporters of the Traditional Plan point to the declarations in scripture, which condemn same sex acts and relationships. Although scripture condemns divorce as unacceptable and as leading to adultery if the divorced remarry, the UMC will ordain divorced heterosexual persons. The Presbyterian Church of the USA and other denominations have already changed doctrinal positions on the ordination of LGBTQ people and same sex marriage. These changes were painful, and some congregations parted ways with the PCUSA. Inevitably, some UMC conferences and congregations will part ways with the denomination in light of the vote during the UMC General Conference held February 26-29, 2019. Most certainly some congregations would have left the denomination had the One Church proposal passed.
The vote of the UMC to exclude LGBTQIA people from full inclusion in this Christian denomination seems to violate what Jesus Christ, as the head of the church, declared clearly in the Gospel of Mark 12:31. Jesus declares that the two greatest commandments are first, “to love God, and second, to love others as we love ourselves.” Any church polity that violates these commandments, are in contradiction with what Jesus commands Christians to do. I wish every human experienced the unspoiled acceptance I received from the little boy in the stroller I encountered today. He did not care that I am male, middle aged, white and gay. He wanted to be in relationship with the world. LGBTQIA people want the same.
The UMC exists in a state of hypocrisy by singling out the “sins” of LGBTQIA people. The UMC has reinforced the tired, old stance, “Love the sinner, and hate the sin.” This sentiment is not part of Jesus’ vocabulary. Yet if this stance is indeed the majority opinion of the UMC, then it should in fact apply to all sins, including divorce, adultery, stealing, and any other acts undermining human relationships. One opponent of the One Church Plan stated, “The One Church Plan does not agree with the words of our savior. It deceives young persons into believing that same-gender marriage is OK with God – when clearly it is not.” I do not recall that Jesus spoke these words or any other words about same-sex marriage, although Jesus spoke harshly about divorce. Time may indeed change the hearts and minds of those in the UMC who oppose full inclusion of LGBTQIA people. In the interim, affirming denominations exist where full inclusion is already part of polity and practice. It is good that LGBTQIA people have options to lead, worship and marry as equal participants until the UMC abandons the practice of condemning some sins and overlooking others.