Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Methodist Church, Newsweek and Ban on Same Sex Marriage

I grew up a Methodist. From the time I was a kid at the Palma Ceia Methodist Church in Tampa to 1st Methodist in Grand Forks, North Dakota to Ocean Beach United Methodist in San Diego, I seem to default to that denomination. I was confirmed in the Methodist church. I was an acolyte as a kid. I’ve sung in several different Methodist choirs.

Over the years I spent some time in Presbyterian and Congregational churches (in fact I even chaired the Diaconate at one UCC church) but I guess I’ve always basically considered myself a Methodist. But I’m not so sure anymore. Unfortunately, the word hypocrisy is revolving through my head within the context of this Protestant denomination.

I just got this week’s copy of Newsweek in the mail. It has an ad on page 13 that features a simple photo of a footbridge crossing a small stream with copy reading “What if church could bring sides together?” followed by “Rethink Church at”. Then at the bottom it shows the logo of the Methodist church and the copy “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. The people of the United Methodist Church”.

Pretty innocuous isn’t it. And it’s a good message. One that would normally make me somewhat proud and interested. But not when I consider the article that was in my newspaper’s weekly Faith and Religion section last Friday morning.

The article was from the Associated Press. The head read “Methodist top court affirms ban on clergy presiding at gay marriage, union ceremonies”. You can probably see where I’m heading with this now.

The article cites the Judicial Council of the church as deciding that “United Methodist clergy cannot perform same-sex marriages or gay civil unions, even if their regional church district supports the idea.” This California-Pacific Conference of the Methodist Church had recognized “the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.” The Judicial Council’s decision negated that recognition.

In one sense, you have to go along with the main body of the denomination being able to exert its influence and power over the “conference”. The Judicial Council is the top body of this church. They ultimately run the show with the conferences being semi-autonomous.

So here’s where the hypocrisy comes in. How on God’s green earth can a church ask the rhetorical question “What if a church could bring sides together” while at the same time “pull sides apart”? There’s no two ways about it. This is a divisive issue. Same sex relationships have always been part of virtually every human culture and while not the “natural order of things” (if by that we mean the vast majority of relationships and the capacity of procreation) they exist.

But to my way of thinking, denying the blessing of a union between 2 people based on gender just isn’t right in today’s world. We were proud of the California-Pacific Conference’s position when I was a member of the Ocean Beach Methodist Church because that was reflective of a significant number of people in our community. If only the Judicial Council had left it to the conferences to decide.

Is the couple going to love one another to the exclusion of all others? Are they going to love honor and cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health? If so, then what’s the problem?

The bottom line here is that the Methodist church is free to make whatever decision it believes that it must. But, to advertise in a national magazine “What if church could bring sides together” is hypocritical. And, I’m sorry to say that I can no longer consider myself a Methodist.

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