a bit monkish.
A few days ago, a dear friend sent me a picture of one of his socks. While that might sound unusual and just a bit creepy, I should tell you these are not ordinary socks. Knitted into the nylon and cotton fibers are these famous words by church reformer Martin Luther: "Here I stand. I can do no other." Luther proclaimed this statement at his trial for treason. Among the charges brought against him were preaching and writing against a church he believed to be misguided.
The picture of the sock was a spiritual event for me, especially during these seemingly tumultuous days in The United Methodist Church. The Holy Spirit moved me to ask myself that question: Where do I stand?
Obediently, like a trained puppy, The United Methodist Church seems to be falling in line with the moral demands of secular society. With a recent 26-10 vote (with one abstention), the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church made it clear where they want the denomination to go. The vote creates legislation to be brought before the 2016 General Conference that would remove language in the Book of Discipline that states homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. It allows clergy to perform same sex marriage ceremonies (removing it as a chargeable offense), and leaves it to annual conference Boards of Ordained Ministry to discern if "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" can be ordained.
While this vote may reflect the changing moral views of the loudest voices in modern America, it is not representative of either the narrative of Scripture or the tradition of the Global Church. For years, the media has tried to change the minds of American culture regarding the acceptability of homosexual marriage. It began quietly, with one-liners in sitcoms and feel-good stories on the news. The issue gained momentum over the years and has now become a political issue.
As Christians, we believe we are created in the image and likeness of God. This truth is revealed to us in the Bible. The Bible is consistent throughout that homosexuality is not God's plan for our lives. In order to explain this Biblical consistency yet affirm homosexuality as a lifestyle, we're forced to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and which ones are not (United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton has endorsed this solution). This puts us in a precarious situation of placing ourselves in a position of authority over the Bible.
I refuse to bow to the clamorous pressures of secular society. The church should be influencing the culture around us, not the other way around. The long, rich tradition of the Christian church has been in harmony with the testimony of Scripture on this subject. Why should this generation know better than those who have gone before us? If the topic now is homosexuality, what will be the next secular issue to be legitimized by the church? I suppose the Connectional Table will wait to decide until they receive instructions from the media and political elite (Pardon the snarky comment. I couldn't resist).
I fear the implication of the Connectional Table’s vote is not a more “United” Methodist Church, but an “Untied” one. I wonder if the Connectional Table understands the implications of their vote. Depending on what General Conference does with this legislation next year, we may not see a split in the UMC, but a disintegration.
When it comes to siding with either the pop morality of our modern day or with the timeless understanding of the human condition as portrayed in the Bible, the choice for me is easy.
Here I stand. I can do no other.
Dr. Ben Witherington has provided a much more eloquent response to the Connectional Table's recent vote than my words here. I highly recommend his article.
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.