My next Flatland column, which posted here this morning, focuses on the role the Rev. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in suburban Leawood, Kan., is playing as the UMC denomination faces a likely schism.
Like other Mainline Protestant denominations before it, the United Methodists are in deep disagreement about what scripture says, if anything, about homosexuality and about how the church is called to respond to LGBTQ persons. (For my own essay about what the Bible says on this subject, click here.)
This potential schism in the UMC follows the pattern seen when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA) finally saw the light and agreed that otherwise-qualified LGBTQ people could be ordained as ministers and officers and that pastors were allowed to perform same-sex weddings.
Which is to say that there has been a lot of debate, a lot of hurt feelings. Beyond that, some churches that would describe themselves as more conservative theologically have left those denominations over the issue. And some already are leaving the UMC.
In addition to pointing you to my Flatland column this weekend, I want to give you this link to a passionate, if distressing, piece by a retired female UMC pastor who is so upset by the divisions over this issue in her denomination that she recommends a split now.
In that piece, Christy Thomas says that various responses from UMC members and clergy to a story about a former UMC pastor with a transgender son have been so hurtful and hateful that they may constitute a "breaking point for me." She says the church is "based on a theology of grace (but) operates with no more gracefulness than the nastiness of our current political discourse. We have debased ourselves."
Finally, she writes, "a church that says it is based upon the grace of God but consistently heaps disdain and condemnation on those whose lives do not fit a purity code is a church that has no idea of how radical the message of Jesus actually was and still is."
This is the kind of passion that this debate has stirred up. And the sad thing to me is that the church should have been leading the move to liberate LGBTQ folks, instead of standing in the metaphorical schoolhouse door saying "no" or being terribly slow to do the right thing.
It's possible that some kind of divinely inspired resolution will save the UMC from schism, but at the moment I can't imagine what that could be. What I can imagine is that there are sincere, loving people on all sides of this matter, and it's past time that they learn to speak to one another with respect and love.
(P.S.: Reflecting the divided nature of the UMC, the denomination's top judicial body on Friday night ruled that the consecration of an openly gay bishop was against church law but that, nonetheless, the Rev. Karen Oliveto, the UMC's first openly gay bishop, “remains in good standing.” Which, of course, solves almost nothing.)
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DEEP WORDS FOR DEEP TROUBLES
As Pope Francis spends time in Egypt this weekend, let's hope his ancient words about peace and love can touch the secular and religious leaders of that ancient land and move this heart of the Arab world toward freedom, prosperity and calm.