The Debate Continues

The Debate Continues

The General Conference (United Methodism’s chief legislative body) met at the end of February to try to resolve our long debate over human sexuality. As many of you know, they adopted The Traditional Plan, which retains and tightens restrictions on gay marriage and ordination of gay clergy. End of the story. Or is it?

The truth is this vote did nothing to resolve the debate. Yes, for those who believe with all their hearts that the church cannot condone homosexuality in any way, this decision seemed right and the only acceptable action. Those who disagree, however, are not silenced. Indeed, many of us have been energized to speak more loudly in favor of a more inclusive church.

I am among those who have been led in the days after General Conference to take a more public stand in favor of including all people in the church. I signed an ad many of the Clark County United Methodist clergy placed in The Columbian stating our willingness to officiate at gay weddings and offer pastoral counseling to gay people.

I know there are some within the Mill Plain congregation who do not agree with me. I want you to know I respect your opinions and long to continue to be your pastor. I appreciate those who stay with this congregation because this is your home and you do support our ministries, from the preschool to our
involvement with community matters like the Winter Hospitality Overflow Shelter and others. We don’t have to think alike on all matters to respect each other and work together on Christ’s behalf. In the words of John Wesley, “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”

Many people expressed to me their support of my actions and I thank you for that support. Yes, it is a little risky for me to “out” myself with this stand. The General Conference ruling includes punishment, even the taking of ordination rights from clergy who disobey the rules. At the same time, I don’t feel too
frightened because a) at this point I have not actually disobeyed them, only indicated my willingness to do so; b) the majority of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, and our leadership, have made similar statements and c) none of the General Conference rules will go into place until at least 2020 and perhaps never because parts of The Traditional Plan had already been ruled unconstitutional by our Judicial Council. They meet again at the end of April to make further rulings.

So, there are a lot of things still up in the air. This story is not over yet. Somehow, God is birthing something new within us. It may yet be a church split. I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that may be the best thing, for the two sides on this issue are at such odds that we are not good for each other nor for our witness in the world on behalf of Jesus Christ. I feel sad about that. I also feel hopeful.

In Acts 15:39-41, Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement. They had been sent out together to carry the decision of the church that it was open to Gentiles. Yet they could not work together. They each chose different partners and worked separately. In the end, the witness was doubled and good things came from a painful disagreement. I hope that will happen for whatever decisions come out of The United Methodist Church.

I am especially confident that Mill Plain United Methodist Church will still be here, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, educating children, praising God and loving each other. The story is not over and we are writing it as we go.