The heat is rising in United Methodism since General Conference. Retired Bishop Mel Talbert poured fuel on what have been dying embers only hours after the adjournment of the conference. He urged ministers to disregard the church’s position on human sexuality and perform same sex weddings if the laws of their state allowed it. A number of bishops, some retired but others who are active, stood with him as he made his passionate appeal to what he believes is a justice issue being violated by the church.
Within a month, Arizona Bishop Minerva Carcaño appealed to our African brothers and sisters to “grow up”…not a very polite, much less Christian, way to talk about the segment of our movement that is growing and impacting a continent for Christ. Carcaño’s thoughtlessness obviously flowed from the fact that the Africans have found their voice and are expressing an understanding and commitment to the Gospel that differs from hers.
The latest as of this writing is the New England Conference General Conference delegation’s claim that we must recognize and affirm our differences and that all the structures of the church (including bishops and the General Conference) must be ordered in a way to support but not control the local expression of the faithful.
That sounds a bit like having your cake and eating it too! No accountability defined by the “whole community.” On the contrary, they suggest that the majority bodies of the church might need to be guided by the minority, though funding would still come from the majority.
The New England Annual Conference is not large nor is it growing. Numbers are not the ultimate measure but it may be worth something to ask if there are reasons growth is taking place in some areas and not in others.
Significantly, I did agree with one position of the New Englanders. They contended that strength and vitality will not be found in structures but in our identity as a spiritual movement, grounded in the grace of God and linked by common practices of personal and social holiness.
I agree; but I would invite them to consider that Jesus not only incarnated grace, he incarnated and called for truth. His followers have truth/authority, which is not relative. In the church, truth is posited in what we designate as “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” That truth can’t casually be altered by cultural norm.
Human sexuality is the issue that is tearing our church apart. Scripture, the church through the ages, and our present UM Church believes the practice of homosexuality violates the call both to personal and social holiness. It is impossible for me to imagine that we can grant the desire of a small segment of the church that they have support and freedom to deal with this issue as they please.