As the special session of General Conference prepares to convene in St. Louis, people within the Baltimore-Washington Conference and The United Methodist Church have a number of viewpoints about finding a way forward on the church’s response to homosexuality. Members of the board of the BWC’s Wesleyan Covenant Association offer these thoughts:
In just a few days The United Methodist Church may make a significant shift in her theological and ethical position on marriage and human sexuality. The position being promoted by the Council of Bishops is not to clarify our theological stance, but to basically invite the denomination to move to a “we don’t know” position. What is most painful about this process, is that a group of people whom God loves
Make no mistake, the problem facing the UMC today is not about human sexuality or homosexuality. The issue we face as a denomination is more properly between Progressive Christianity and Orthodox Christianity. Consider the following excerpt from a United Methodist Elder who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado, Boulder:
What has come to pass as “conventional/popular Christianity” — isn’t what Christianity is actually about. It’s time for progressive Christianity.
Friends, Jesus isn’t God. Jesus didn’t die for our sins. Jesus wasn’t killed instead of us. God isn’t wrathful or vindictive. There isn’t
Instead, Jesus and his message are about living in love, loving-kindness, compassion, and grace.*
This is the division that exists within the UMC. Human sexuality is a symptom of our deep theological divide. It is unfair, and even dishonest, to make human sexuality and homosexuality the focus of our problem.
The UMC has tolerated a wide theological spectrum for her entire existence. Progressive theology in the UMC has coexisted with orthodoxy mostly because it created only small differences in practice. However, what one believes influences what one does.
In other words, theological latitude on the virgin birth, the atonement, the divinity of Christ, Christ's resurrection, etc. have continued in the UMC because they haven’t usually resulted in behaviors inconsistent with Christian teaching. We are now at a point where latitude on the role and authority of Scripture has resulted in
The Rev. Tom Berlin, a member of the Commission on a Way Forward, developed a video describing the UMC’s current situation around the topic of homosexuality. Likening positions on homosexual practice to sugar packets, Tom describes 4 categories that he believes are represented within the UMC:
Traditional Incompatibilists: Those who see the practice of homosexuality as not in line with God’s Word and who are unwilling to be in covenant relationships with those who advocate for these relationships out of a sense of biblical integrity.
Progressive Combatibilists: Those who see the practice of homosexuality as a right expression of sexuality in God’ eyes, but who are willing to be in covenant relationships with those who advocate against these relationships.
Again, the problem here is that this illustration confuses the symptom with the problem. The Baltimore-Washington Wesleyan Covenant Association believes a more honest representation of the difficulty in the UMC would be to use the “sugar packet” analogy this way:
Orthodox Incompatibilists: Those who hold to our current theological positions as detailed in our Book of Discipline as representing a Wesleyan expression of biblical faith and see progressive theology (as represented above) as heresy.
Progressive Combatibilists: Those who agree with all or most of the theological positions described in the article above but who don’t view orthodox theology as oppressive or harmful but as outdated and lacking sophistication.
The UMC is deeply divided theologically. This theological
The General Conference and Council of Bishops would do a great service to the UMC family by bringing these deep theological divisions to the fore and acknowledging the division and brokenness that has us stuck. This acknowledgment, if done gracefully, could honor all UMC people and congregations. The General Conference would then serve the denomination well by affirming the Modified Traditional Plan which continues our grace-filled, biblical and time-tested orthodox theological positions while allowing those leaders and congregations who share a different, progressive theological position, a gracious way forward.
From the Board of the Baltimore Washington chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.