If Webster is right, then the proposal announced this week by the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church, a group of fifty or so folks charged with shepherding the vision of our denomination, is not really the compromise that they are advertising that it is. For the dictionary definition of that term suggests a “middle state between conflicting opinions that is reached by each side making concessions.” It is difficult to see, however, how the present proposal altering our church’s stance on same-sex issues actually accomplishes that goal at all. For in suggesting what is essentially the same local option put forth by Adam Hamilton in his “Third Way” notion, the Connectional Table has not truly conceded anything to those who hold to evangelical or even simply orthodox convictions.
True, the proposal will not require any individual pastor to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or mandate any annual conference to ordain openly gay or lesbian clergy. But in allowing those decisions to be made on the local level it will cause those who may find themselves morally or theologically opposed to the ideas to have to accept them within the inconsistent broader church of which they are yet a part. And likewise, as even one of the proponents of the revisionist position has suggested, it still leaves our gay and lesbian members in many places subject to a position which they find quite personally hurtful.
To pull a biblical analogy from 1 Kings 3, thus, what the Connectional Table resolution–as well as Hamilton’s “Third Way” idea–both propose is actually to “cut the baby in half” in order to save it, i.e., let one half of the church believe one truth, and the other half another. It should be obvious, however, that such a solution will eventually result in the death of that child, or in our case at least, the ultimate demise of any chance for the United Methodist Church to actually remain “united.”
It is for that reason that I have authored a resolution coming before the Texas Annual Conference and other regional bodies that represents a true compromise indeed. For recognizing that the philosophical basis of our current position rests in the Social Principles statement on human sexuality, the resolution scraps the current language in Paragraph 161F in favor of a new and more gracious rewrite. It begins by acknowledging that human sexuality “by the design of God” is a gift intended to bless all those who are created in the image of God. That gift is one that requires “careful stewardship and exercise,” however. And then it suggests that “in our historic understanding of the scriptures, sexual relations are to be affirmed only when practiced within the legal and spiritual covenant of a loving and monogamous marriage between one man and one woman.”
Admittedly, progressives will want to alter that definition of marriage, though those on the traditional side will counter that we do not have the “legal standing” so to speak (as marriage was God’s idea, not ours) to do so. And pragmatically, it is fairly clear that without that traditional definition affirmed the rewrite will not pass in a General Conference which may be leery of conceding the current language.
But what the proposal does do in return is to eliminate any specific reference to homosexual individuals, removing them as the subject of the church’s disapprobation. Instead, the rewrite acknowledges that God’s gift of human sexuality has been twisted in any number of ways, all of which are equally problematic for those who would follow Christ. To quote the resolution itself at this point:
“We reject all expressions of sexual behavior that do not recognize the sacred worth of each individual, or that seek to exploit, abuse, objectify, or degrade others, particularly any who may be unable to defend themselves. We similarly grieve at the destructive impact of promiscuity, infidelity, bigamy, multiple or serial marriages, pornography, human trafficking, and all attempts to commercialize the gift of human sexuality within our societies.”
The proposal then ends with an affirmation that God’s grace is available to all and a commitment to be in ministry for and with all persons, along with an exhortation to those within our families and churches not to reject or condemn any individuals based upon their gender, sexual identity or orientation.
In short, the resolution is a genuine compromise that has the potential to actually move us out of the conversational cul-de-sac in which we have been circling for decades and into a new and more gracious expression. It recognizes the historic stance of our church while acknowledging that people of faith elsewhere may hold other views. It replaces the current language of “incompatibility” with a call towards holy living by all. And it does not single out one segment of the church while failing to reflect the broader issues around human sexuality that may affect us all.
I would never suggest, of course, that this resolution is truly Solomonic in its wisdom. But on the other hand, its adoption at least gives the baby a chance of survival, something which the other proposals would not seem to do.