BALTIMORE — The United Methodist Judicial Council is set to decide on whether resolutions passed at regional conferences regarding the homosexual lifestyle are permissible according to church doctrine or are a violation of the denomination’s rules.
Specifically, the council will decide whether churches within the denomination may support homosexual causes, whether ministers can officiate same-sex ceremonies, and whether regional conferences can urge members to avoid church law regarding homosexuality.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline outlines that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” may not be ordained as ministers in the denomination. It also forbids ministers from hosting or participating in “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
However, during a number of regional conferences, resolutions have been passed that challenge the doctrine in the Book of Discipline. Last year, a number of conference attendees expressed support for a declaration entitled the “Statement of Gospel Obedience,” which asserts that the United Methodist Book of Discipline is wrong to denounce homosexual behavior.
“In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church states our belief that the United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of ‘homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching,'” the document reads.
“We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement … does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome,” it continues. “The secretary of the Western Jurisdictional Conference will submit this statement of Gospel Obedience to the Jurisdictional College of Bishops, each Annual Conference, and chairpersons of Boards of Ordained Ministry for discussion and implementation.”
Reporter Katherine Burgess notes that over 1,500 ministers in the United Methodist denomination and at least four members of the clergy are on “trial” for officiating at same-sex weddings contrary to Biblical doctrine.
“What is concerning to us at this point is that so many people are attempting to essentially disregard our church’s position,” Thomas Lambrecht of the United Methodist group Good News told Burgess. “If people are putting themselves forward as United Methodist clergy and bishops and are not willing to abide by United Methodist policies, that seems to us to be somewhat dishonest and reflects moral confusion.”
But Matt Berryman of Reconciling Ministries Network, who supports homosexuals in the church, said the Bible is ambiguous as to how to handle the issue.
“We have to look at the tension between what’s in the Discipline and the reality of what’s going on,” he stated. “We have to decide what it means to love God and love our neighbor. And that’s not always clear, given the deep ambiguities in the Scripture.”
However, in an article entitled Why Many Methodists Still Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, John Lemperis, the Director of the UM Action program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said that the Bible is crystal clear on the matter.
“Even liberal Biblical scholars now agree that the Old and New Testaments are very clear in their moral disapproval of homosexual practice,” he wrote. “More fundamentally, Scripture paints a beautiful picture of marriage as a holy covenant of intensely intimate, self-giving community between man and woman, uniting the two most basic, equal categories of humanity.”
“We submit to Jesus as Lord,” Lemperis stated. “If He is truly Lord, then no area of our lives can be off-limits to Him. Jesus spoke strongly about the centrality of self-denial in following Him, which often means dramatic personal sacrifices, including not acting on powerful desires for things outside of God’s best for us. … Jesus and new life in Him are more than worth it.”
The United Methodist Judicial Council will meet on October 23-26 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Photo: Thomas Machnitzki