Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why I'm not a Methodist

One reason why I'm not a Methodist: The United Methodist Church in Wisconsin put the Rev. Amy DeLong on trial. The two charges were that she conducted a lesbian wedding ceremony,  & that she is a "self-avowed practicing homosexual." She was unanimously found guilty of the former;  it was "on the record" & she wouldn't deny it, or  promise she wouldn't do it again.   But she was acquitted of the second charge by a vote of 12-1. She is "self-avowed" & freely admits to loving her  "life-partner."  But they couldn't prove she was "practicing." To try to prove it, the church prosecution actually asked her, in open court, if she had ever engaged in "genital-to-genital conduct." Of course, DeLong refused to answer such an outrageous, intimate question, & not just because the answer might be self-incriminating. It would also mean confessing to having sex out-of-wedlock, also prohibited pastors, but for which no heterosexual pastor, to my knowledge, has been brought to trial.  It was an embarrassing, absurd moment for the UMC, which knew for years that DeLong  is a lesbian, but didn't smack her with the Book of Discipline until she performed the wedding ceremony.

This isn't really why I'm not a Methodist. A number of reasons.  But the trial is symptomatic of most of them. I don't like the episcopal governing structure, the power of appointing pastors to individual churches reserved to the local conference Bishop. To allow openly gay & lesbian pastors, key changes would have to made to the Book of Discipline (especially a passage that was voted into it in the 1970's),  these changes would apply to the entire denomination, & even the most conservative Methodist congregation  by rule would have to accept a homosexual pastor if the Bishop assigned one. This makes compromise impossible in the UMC, unless the denomination adopted  the kind of policy it had until 1968 that treated African-American pastors as a special category so that white churches wouldn't get black preachers.

So the UMC now has an unofficial network of  "welcoming" churches,  largely tolerated if they aren't too vocal or too visible. Methodists prefer to avoid conflict.  How? During a break in the DeLong trial, everyone in attendance sang a hymn, & when the judicial panel returned the presiding officer thanked the audience for the music. (I'm currently reading a book titled When in Doubt, Sing, which could be Methodist theology summed up in four words. )  What's attractive about Methodism is that it's rooted more in  a practice rather than a doctrine (which actually is sort of doctrinal, but I'd have to explain a peculiarity of Wesleyanism & I'd probably get it wrong). So when you're raised Methodist you don't get much in Sunday School about how or why you're different from other denominations

By-the-way, marriage in the Methodist church is a covenantal relationship not a sacrament. Whatever that means. I write about it because I find it interesting, not because I care all that much what denominations require of people who sign up for a particular viewpoint of Christianity. That's  what a denomination is - a place to sit down, a choice of who you want to sit with.

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Interesting post, Bob. Of course, everyone is free to start their own religion, homosexual or not.
My viewpoint has become more "Catholic" over the past decade, that is, influenced by those who have continued Catholic "practice." This includes women, homosexuals, political leftists, all marginalized by who they are in addition to the institutional powerlessness of being "laity." In this context, the very concept of "religion" is strange. Christian practice is spiritual path of & for the marginalized human being. When it fails to teach that, it fails as religion.
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