Becky Goodwin: The ‘Untied’ Methodist Church
“UnTIED?” No, that’s not a typo! That’s what the United Methodist Church is right now: untied!
I am a grieving pastor in this troubled Christian denomination. We are on the verge of a schism over homosexuality.
I love all my fellow United Methodists around the world, and I have advocated for a proposal called “The One Church Plan,” which would have allowed for diverse ministries in different cultures and contexts. It would have clarified freedom for each United Methodist to exercise personal Christian conscience on the issue.
Instead, the official denominational decision-making conference, just weeks ago in February, with 864 international delegates meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, passed the “Traditional Plan,” a new ruling to put more teeth into restrictive language against homosexual people seeking Christian marriage and/or ordination as ministers. The plan also seeks to create a punitive system for pastors and bishops who violate the new restrictions.
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For decades, the denomination has tried to “agree to disagree,” and to respectfully hold the tension of diverse interpretations of scripture. But there has been a breaking point. If the new restrictions pass the test of the United Methodist Judicial Council in April, we will be in a full-blown crisis. We might be getting a divorce!
This experience triggers the emotions I felt as a teenager when my parents divorced in 1971. Being caught in their psychological crossfire was horrible for me and my five younger siblings. We just wished our parents would stop fighting.
So says Papa Watatsuke, a Japanese-American interned at Manzanar during World War II. Interrogated to test his loyalty to the USA, he answered, “When your mother and your father are having a fight, do you want them to kill each other? Or do you just want them to stop fighting?” He loved both his ancestral land and his adopted nation.
I love people on all sides of the issues in my church, and I am deeply distressed that they cannot live and let live. I feel sick with grief, but I am a safe and privileged heterosexual. I can only imagine how much worse it is for LGBTQIA people. Too much harm has been done by religion to LGBTQIA people. Legalistic religion tries to legislate morality and “purify” its institution.
So I must stand up for them now. I cannot support the discrimination and punishment being proposed by the so-called “Traditional Plan.” (What “tradition” is that, anyway? A topic for another day!)
I have felt all my life that homosexuality is a normal variety of humankind. One thing my flawed parents did well was teach us kids to be accepting and inclusive of all humankind. I am convinced that God makes all kinds of people, and that discrimination against some for who they love is wrong.
Other Christian denominations have suffered schism over this issue. The United Methodist Church may be next in line for such a split, and all of us in United Methodist churches in The Union reading area are already impacted by the anguish.
Every United Methodist has the right to speak from his or her conscience on social issues. I am speaking for myself. I support full inclusion for all people to follow their God-given callings to ordained ministry, and I support all couples in the desire for marriage.
I am happy to share respectful conversation about this with anyone.
However, I will not debate what the Bible does or does not say about homosexuality. I already know which verses you will quote. These verses are clearly aimed at sin and crimes like gang rape, sex slavery, and promiscuous behavior, not about couples who want to live in a covenant of love. The Bible is a library, not a rule book. Not every word of it applies literally to all people in all places. If it did, we would be executing adulterers, and all women would have long hair under veils!
I am heartbroken about the division in my denomination, and throughout Christianity in general, but I am staying in the United Methodist Church to see if we can still find a way forward. I will work with those in my denomination who will try to save the union, but if it cannot be saved, I will join the inclusive new brand.
I am a United Methodist pastor with a broken heart. My beautiful global family may be breaking up.
Rev. Becky Goodwin is pastor at Grass Valley United Methodist Church.
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