It’s now been two weeks since the General Conference and the twitterverse is still atwitter. Moving beyond some of the hype and hyperbole, however, here’s what the Methodists actually did and did not say:
Methodists did not say that LGBTQI persons and their allies are not welcome in our churches, for they always have been and will continue to be. Across our global church, we count as treasured sisters and brothers those who are both gay and straight, as well as those from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities, proclaiming that we are all equals at the foot of the Cross, in need of God’s redeeming love.
Methodists likewise did not say that LGBTQI persons are not dearly cherished children of God, for we wholeheartedly believe that all persons are made in the image of God and of sacred worth, deserving of respect and the protection of their civil rights.
Methodists did not try to tell anyone who they can love, or suggest that somehow their love may be less than that of others. For the truth is, there is a shortage of love in this world and folks should be happy whenever and wherever it is found.
And Methodists did not suggest that LGBTQI members and their allies should simply leave the church if they can’t agree with the doctrines and policies of it. The “gracious exit” provisions were intended not to throw anyone out, but to throw a lifeline to those from either side of the question whose conscience may not allow them to stay within the denomination.
They did not even proclaim that having a same-sex attraction is a barrier to ordination, for there have long been celibate gay pastors who chose to value ordination over self-expression.
What Methodists did say, however, was that after careful consideration of the biblical witness that they cannot affirm that the practice of homosexuality represents God’s ultimate will for His children, all the celebrations of it notwithstanding.
They did say that they will remain in continuity with the teachings of both the church through the ages and the vast majority of the church world-wide today, rejecting the accommodation to culture that has been made in many quarters of the American church over the past few decades.
They did proclaim that Methodism, once the most American of all churches, is now a truly global movement and that the voices from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and other places are equally valid to those of Americans. They accordingly rejected the colonialist attitudes of some progressives that we in the West know best and that those elsewhere need to simply “grow up,” as one prominent liberal leader has said.
They did affirm that marriage is an institution designed by God and that despite instances to the contrary in parts of the Bible, that the overall tenor of the whole scriptural witness is that it was intended to be a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. Again, that is not to say that civil unions and domestic partnerships should not be allowed; it is simply to say that in the Methodist understanding, the word marriage itself has a particular meaning that cannot be changed. So Methodist clergy are not allowed by church law to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies even in nations such as our own where they may be otherwise legal.
Likewise, they suggested that sexuality is a gift of God that is to be exercised only in such a heterosexual marriage. For long ago the Ten Commandments reminded us that adultery–no matter what expression it may take, straight or gay– is not what God has intended for his children to practice.
And the General Conference agreed that ordination is not a civil right, but a holy rite, a bestowal of the church granted to those who are willing to meet all of the educational, personal, and social requirements that the church believes should be found in any woman or man before they stand before others to proclaim God’s Word.
In short, what the Methodists said in St. Louis was that they will continue to try to be the positive force for God in this world that for three centuries they have been, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, digging water wells in some places, building Habitat homes in others, visiting those in prison, working for social justice, teaching both young and old, and offering God’s grace and redeeming love to all. They said that they will continue to struggle with how to be both faithful to God’s Witness and open to God’s Spirit. No matter how difficult that task may be.
Just in case you’ve heard someone say that we said something else instead.