LGBTQ activists use leftist tactics to split a church
Those tactics include using: (A.) labels as propaganda; (B.) protest demonstrations as theatre; and, (C.) escalating defiance to test boundaries.
First, here’s the basis of the conflict.
The Book of Discipline (BoD) is the official polity, policies and procedures manual of the global denomination that is the UMC. It has approximately 7 million members in the U.S. and 12.5 million worldwide—with many of those outside the U.S. living in Africa.
The BoD contains this core language concerning homosexuality and the clergy:
“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” (para. 304.3 Qualifications for ordination)
Language concerning same-sex marriages reads:
“Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” (para. 341.6 Regarding the ministry of the ordained)
Also, the BoD includes a list of “Chargeable Offenses and the Statute of Limitations” applicable to the clergy. They include, but are not limited to:
“1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (para. 370), local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged… with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies…”
“2. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference, or diaconal minister may be brought to trial when the appropriate body recommends involuntary termination.” (para. 2702)
For decades, the UMC has internally debated these provisions in the BoD.
The debate reached a boiling point at the UMC’s 2016 General Conference (GC).
The GC is the all-church plenary session held every four years involving representatives from UMC churches across the globe. Delegates from Africa represent about a 40% voting bloc of the total.
Discussions concerning ordination of gays and same-sex marriage became so contentious in 2016 that the denomination’s Bishops proposed forming a commission to review the church’s stance on sexuality in search of a path to reach agreement by all parties.
The result was a recently released 93-page report of the Commission on a Way Forward. The options for action in the report will be considered, and voted on, at a specially scheduled meeting of the GC in February 2019—more than a year ahead of the regularly scheduled 2020 CG.
Here are the three options up for consideration.
The Three Options for a “Way Forward”
To all but the connoisseurs of laborious ecclesial jargon, the report is an exhaustive read. Relatively few among the UMC laity will suffer the ordeal. And, though posted on the internet, it has yet to be widely distributed to the laity.
It describes the three Way’s Forward offered by the Commission. In summary:
- The One Church Plan: This option, preferred by a majority of the active Bishops, as well as the bureaucratic hierarchy of the UMC, removes the current restrictive language in the BoD concerning clergy sexuality, and deletes the prohibition against clergy performing same-sex marriages. Individual pastors and their regional United Methodist organizations would be free to make their own decisions on whether to perform same-sex weddings and ordain LGBTQ candidates as clergy.
- The Connectional Conference Plan: This option defies summarizing, but here’s a fly-by: The current geographical areas within the U.S. church would be erased and congregations realigned in ideologically independent silo’s representing major factions of the controversy. The wide-ranging organizational adjustments required to enact this plan are, at a minimum, very challenging. The plan’s complexity suggests it was devised under the influence of Rube Goldberg on a hallucinogenic drug. It’s a non-starter for the sane.
- The Traditional Plan: Re-affirms the existing language in the BoD concerning the sexuality issues, and strengthens the historically lax enforcement of those provisions. The heat generated in the church’s sexuality debate during the last two decades has come from those who support the One Church Plan, and oppose The Traditional Plan.
Proponents of the One Church Plan use three tactics of the Left
A. Labels as propaganda: The label “One Church Plan” conveys a spirit of wholeness and unity—the absence of division. All for one, and one for all.
“Progressive,” a word applied to the advocates of the One Church Plan, implies forward looking, advancing into the future, moving ahead into a brave new world.
The label “Traditional Plan” suggests fixed, routine, and outdated. The church blue hairs.
When “progressive” is juxtaposed against “traditional” it promotes the One Church Plan as open-minded, modern, contemporary, versus what is old, stale and close-minded.
The “Progressive” meme aligns with the denomination’s official motto: “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors.”
The proponents of The One Church Plan are the “progressives”. When asked what that label means in the context of this debate, a representative of United Methodist Communications responded via email:
“Within American Protestantism, in particular, the term ‘progressive’ or ‘progressives’ describe those who work for change to improve the lives of persons who have been oppressed or excluded within church structures and in the wider world—often joining with others who share similar political, economic, or social views, even when religious views may vary dramatically. Progressives within various religious groups have ‘kept up the fight’ for women’s rights, for civil rights for all people, for the environment, for the rights of indigenous peoples, and for LGBTQIA+ rights…Christian progressives are Christians first who believe in and work for change for people whose lives continue to be threatened or harmed and whose voices continue to be marginalized by other dominant voices in the wider culture, and they believe systemic change as well as personal change are essential in this work.”
B. Protest demonstrations as opinion-impact theatre:
This long-running tactic is best told with photos.
- At the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, two UMC Bishops, Susan Morrison and Joseph Sprague, were arrested by Cleveland Police after blocking a session of the conference protesting the UMC’s anti-homosexual policies. They, and 25 others, were charged with disrupting a lawful meeting. (source)
- At the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, pro-LGBTQ protestors formed a conga line. (source)
- At the 2008 General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, “Gay rights supporters react to 2008 United Methodist General Conference vote retaining the church’s position that homosexuality is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’.” (source)
- At the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, advocates of changing the UMC’s stance on homosexuals felt bullied. (source)
- At the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, “The Rev. Will Green lies on the floor of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore., with his hands and feet bound to protest the denomination’s policies on human sexuality. Delegates returning from their lunch break passed by protestors on the floor and lining the entry to the meeting area.” (source)
C. Escalate violations to test boundaries and challenge enforcement
Instances of violations of the UMC’s Book of Discipline concerning the ordination of homosexual clergy, and clergy conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies, increase yearly.
They are largely ignored by the hierarchy, and worn as a badge of honor by the violators. Modern day Martin Luthers and Dietrich Honhoeffers.
Perhaps the most publicized example of pushing the boundaries of the UMC’s stated beliefs concerning these issues is the case of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Oliveto is pictured (R) with her wife, Robin Ridenour (L), a nurse anesthetist, who is a deaconess in California-Nevada Conference of the UMC.
Oliveto was elected bishop on July 15, 2016 at the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the UMC.
She presides over an area that includes Montana. In an article entitled “Lesbian still Methodist bishop after ruling that consecrating LGBTQ bishops violates church law,” the Billings Gazette reported on church events following her election to the episcopacy.
The case of Bishop Oliveto has, for over two years, circulated in, out, and around the UMC’s version of the United States Supreme Court, called the Judicial Council (see below).
There is none yet in sight, but a major schism of the United Methodist Church would surprise no one.
And benefit fewer.
By Lee Cary