Delegates to the 2000 General Conference will have the critical responsibility of providing United Methodism with continued biblical standards on a number of human sexuality issues.
The most challenging threat to the church's unity in the last three decades has come from those advocating the acceptance of homosexual practice. While affirming intentional, compassionate ministry to all persons, the church must retain its present standards.
It is very clear that there are two opposing and mutually exclusive views toward homosexuality espoused in the UM Church today. A vocal and militant minority claims that sexual relationships between those of the same gender can be an expression of God's grace. They believe that the church's Social Principles' phrase that homosexual practice "is incompatible with Christian teaching" is too harsh, unloving, and exclusive. They have repeatedly asked for the phrase to be removed from the Social Principles.
Unfortunately, this is the position of many bishops within the UM Church, as well as the view held by various official boards and agencies throughout the denomination.
The vast majority of United Methodists, however, still hold to a more biblical and traditional view of sexual relations. This particular perspective has served the UM Church well.
The Rev. David Seamands has helped the denomination think clearly about the "consistent thread" of the Bible's teaching on this subject. "There is no ethical complexity regarding sexual norms in Scripture," he says. "The biblical norm is heterosexual, monogamous marriage. Anything else is outside the will of God."
The biblical view has always been the overwhelming consensus throughout the denomination, despite attempts to make it appear that we are a house divided down the center. We are not. Despite name-calling and intense lobbying efforts from homosexual activists, delegates of the last seven General Conferences have agreed that homosexual practice is indeed "incompatible" with Christian teaching.
More recent claims that the Christian view leads to violence and hate crimes against those practicing homosexuality should be dismissed as unsubstantiated and irresponsible propaganda.
Four years ago in Denver, delegates to the General Conference sent another very important message. This time, they voted to add a new text to the Social Principles. It states: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
As our readers are aware, this statement has been challenged by various clergy members in California, Nebraska, and Illinois. In the name of "ecclesiastical disobedience," these clergy members have violated their ministerial covenant with their colleagues, their congregations, and with their denomination.
The pro-homosexual forces have attempted to change the rules year after year. Having failed, now they pledge to break them.
Despite the protest of those who want to see the practice of homosexuality normalized and blessed within the denomination, let there be no misunderstanding: The United Methodist Church has made it clear that it does not believe in blessing the sexual relationship between persons of the same gender.
General Conference delegates in Cleveland will once again face efforts to change the UM Church's biblical position on this volatile issue. The following passages in the Book of Discipline will be the focus of attention:
· Social Principles statement on Human Sexuality. This contains the important "incompatible with Christian teaching" phrase. We recommend it be retained as is.
· Ordained ministry. [The Book of Discipline] affirms that UM clergy are to maintain the highest standards "represented by the practice of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." We recommend this statement be retained. It also says, in part, "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
· Fiscal responsibilities of the General Council on Finance and Administration. "The council shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any 'gay' caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures." This statement has served the church well, and we recommend it be retained.
While homosexuality may indeed be the issue of public debate, the real issue is whether or not our denomination believes in the authority of Scripture. Good News believes that the Scripture is exceedingly clear regarding the issue of homosexuality.
The UM Church must remain a denomination that believes in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of all those who struggle with sexual sin--homosexual or heterosexual. Through a biblical ministry of mercy and grace, we must be a church that welcomes the sexually broken and encourages them to find healing, wholeness, and holiness in their sexuality.