Early on in my theological education I was in an awkward place. I knew I was called to pastor but because I had been running from God for so many years I didn’t have a church home and therefore did not know where I might one day preach. So I began investigating different denominations, what they believed, how they did church, who could and could not be ordained within them, what the qualifications were for their pastors, etc. I quickly discovered that there were several denominations that were not options for me because I have a divorce in my former life. After crossing those off my list I began pursuing those churches where those things which I repented of (like my divorce) would not preclude me from being a pastor. Hello, United Methodist Church.
I have much respect for those churches who have a stated covenant – a standard by which they as a church, particularly its leaders, will order their lives – and adhere to it. There is an integrity about them which I find compelling, even if and when I don’t agree with their standard. I have an equal if not greater amount of respect for people I have met along the way who feel they have been called by God into pastoral ministry, but for one reason or another they cannot do so in the church they have long called home. Throughout seminary I met many women who found a home in the United Methodist Church because they could not be ordained in the church of their youth. They could have stayed, I suppose, and tried to change the covenant of their church. Many of them even tried, so they said. But after being rebuffed a number of times they remembered Jesus’ command,
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet (Matt. 10:14).
They determined to practice biblical obedience by moving on, not casting their pearls before swine, so to speak.
I have much respect for them. Rather than lobby year after year after year, for 40 years or more, stirring up dissension among their peers and rivalry among the ranks, they chose instead to find a new home. They brought their charge before others, and when those others would not repent and change their ways, they found a place more amicable to their convictions.
It never occurred to me to chastise these women for leaving women behind in the churches they left. Nor do I recall the women who did leave worrying about the spiritual well-being, or physical safety, of the women they left behind. I did hear, however, much respect all around for those who stayed and those who left. I heard things like, “Many of them seem to flourish in that environment, and they are following their convictions, as I am. I wish them well,” and other such sentiments.
Churches that do not ordain women on biblical grounds are still thriving, with many women within their ranks who are flourishing. Beth Moore doesn’t seem to be hurting too terribly by so-called patriarchal domination, and this is true for thousands if not millions more. No one is forcing them to stay in a church which abides by certain rules. They are free to leave and find a new home just like the many women I met in seminary and am blessed to be with in ministry today.
My intention by now should be obvious. The progressive side of our church has been feeding us a line for several years that if they walk out, they will leave stranded many LGBT brothers and sisters who will be left to fend for themselves against a monstrous, bigoted church. What ever will they do?
One progressive Methodist pastor and blogger, Jeremy Smith, warns against schism because it will create an “echo chamber” within the church where gay children will fall prey to the ever increasing “radical” views of the majority. Who knows? We might even become like Uganda and start killing gay people if the progressives don’t stay and tame our blood-thirst (that was sarcasm, but Jeremy’s post leads one to believe that should the progressives leave, they will have “blood on their hands”). Jeremy thinks he has stumbled onto something when he writes, “Here’s a startling fact: Straight people have gay children.” And then quotes Rev. Ben Gosden, who writes,
It seems progressives who want to split forget that the church they leave will continue to have gay children. And it seems traditionalists who want separation naively think separation will finally rid the church of the homosexual debate, as though gay persons will no longer inhabit our spaces of worship, formation and service…Clearly, schism will not end the conversation before us.
Progressive Methodists, here’s a startling fact: We who are calling for church law to be upheld and who defend the biblical and traditional view of marriage do not want to rid our churches of gay people. We only want you to either repent of calling what God calls sin a blessing or to leave. Period.
To the first point, I for one want to see our churches – churches which are preaching the full gospel of Jesus Christ – filled to overflowing with gay people! I want them to hear a word of hope and healing. I want them to hear that we are all sinners, and Jesus paid the price for that. I want them to hear that they are loved just as they are and that this sort of love will not leave them nor any of us as we were found. I want them to find places where their struggle with same-sex attraction can be named, understood, and repented of and where they can find loving support in a community of faith committed to helping them walk in sexual holiness and wholeness, no matter how narrow that road might get, how lonely it may feel or how tough it is to navigate.
I don’t want to see gay people leave our church, I want to witness them, along with everyone else, being redeemed in our church. I want to witness waves of people laying their disordered loves at the altar and being transformed from the inside-out. But you, progressives, are offering a short-cut which on the surface looks like love but is really not. When Jesus was tempted by the devil to eat while at his hungriest (Matt. 4) he determined that it would be better to die alone and hungry in the wilderness than to disobey the words of God. We humbly ask that you repent of offering a short-cut to happiness to our LGBT brothers and sisters which might sound reasonable on this broad road of life but it’s end is destruction. We could all benefit from your compassionate hearts and skilled means to help devise appropriate support and structures for our LGBT brothers and sisters who determine they will surrender their desires and bodies to God and walk the hard road of sexual holiness. You, progressives, could help us do that. I wish you would.
To the second point, if you refuse to do that, then kindly leave. Please stop blaming those who defend traditional marriage for the break-up of the church you love and take some responsibility for the dissension you have caused by willfully rebelling against church law. Blaming us for causing schism makes as much sense as an adulterous spouse blaming the faithful spouse for ruining their marriage when filing for divorce. Why not instead follow the leading of trailblazing women who have found their home in the UMC? They have no doubt earned your respect for leaving a denomination that would not listen to them and you would no doubt earn the respect of your new colleagues in whichever greener pasture you land. Shake the dust from your feet and practice biblical obedience by moving on. Trust the lives of the gay children you leave behind to God, in the same way our women pastors have trusted the lives of other women to God. Their prayers have apparently been answered, seeing as how Beth Moore continues to thrive.