It didn’t take long for each of my five children to discern which parent was the more lenient (read: lazy). Their mom tends to be more consistent with the rules of our home and is more tuned in to who has done what, when, where, how and why. So when one of my children want something that they know mom has already said “no” to, they come to dad. My wife and I are starting to catch on, however, and I am learning to say, if nothing else, “Go ask your mother.”
I realize that if my wife and I do not get a handle on this and get on the same page, our home will be a dysfunctional one. Our children, who need boundaries and discipline in order to thrive and feel loved and know that there is some order to their world will be the most affected.
The United Methodist Church is a dysfunctional home right now because her leaders – bishops and pastors alike – are not on the same page on matters of most importance regarding what it means to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This needs to change.
The recent blog post by Bishop Sally Dyck, bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference, is a prime example. She describes one pastor, a gay couple, and their church as being “caught in the vortex” of our denomination’s “contradictory statements on homosexuality.” Rev. Hong, the pastor she mentions is the post, agreed to officiate a same-sex wedding despite our denomination’s rule prohibiting such but for reasons unclear to me in the bishop’s post the church decided it would be best the wedding happen in a building that was not United Methodist. The result? Feelings are hurt. Bishop Dyck writes,
As a result, everyone is hurting. The couple feels betrayed that they can’t be married in their church home by the pastor they know (although Pastor Hong has connected them with another church). The church is reeling with the need to both reach out to the Cook-Graver family with care as well as decide what to do in this vortex now that it’s not an abstract “debate” in the denomination. And Pastor Hong? He is deeply sorry that he has hurt both the couple and in essence the congregation because a Chicago Tribune article appeared on Sunday, May 11, 2014, making many feel like Faith UMC and the UMC is “anti-gay.”
It’s not my intention to dismiss emotions or to say that when we speak truth we shouldn’t do so with love, even tenderness, but when our bishops are seemingly putting emotions and feelings before Scripture and Tradition (and not to mention, the law of the Church), we are in trouble. The “vortex” Bishop Dyck describes is not caused by contradictory statements in our Book of Discipline, as her post would lead one to believe, but by the failure of our bishops and pastors to be of “one mind” on an issue that is of great importance to making disciples of Jesus Christ.
There is a young man I am presently counseling who struggles with same-sex attraction. He is confused, however, because he hears some Methodist pastors teaching that it’s not a sin to engage in same-sex sex and others (like myself) teach that it is. If anyone is caught in a “vortex” it’s this struggling man who can’t tell what’s up or what’s down because the church he belongs to is divided over what is and is not sin! How are we as a connectional church supposed to make disciples of Jesus Christ when our church members can’t trust their pastors about what is and is not sexual immorality?
Bishop Dyck, you and other bishops who continue to show disregard for our Discipline and appeal to everyone’s emotions are making it hard for me as a pastor to carry out my mission of making disciples. Because you are not on the same page, we pastors are being played against one another like my children play their parents. If something doesn’t change we will raise up generations of church-goers who view our church law with increasing disdain and something one can disobey when it doesn’t line up with their emotions, feelings or desires.
When Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler what he must do to inherit eternal life, we are told in Mark that Jesus looked at him and “loved him” and then made a seemingly impossible demand upon his life. It was a price he was unwilling to pay, and we are told
he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property (Mark 10:22).
The emotions he felt I’m sure are not unlike the ones of Rev. Hong or the same-sex couple who could not be married in their home church, or the “reeling” congregation. The difference between Jesus, the head of the Church, and our current leaders of the church, however, is that Jesus does not pander to emotion. He does not call for more conversation to discuss the merits of his demands or how to best make everyone happy so as to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Nor does he chase down the rich young ruler and bargain with him. No. The price of discipleship is a high one, and those who wish to follow Jesus should “consider the cost” (Luke 14:25-33).
The vortex we are in has nothing to do with discrimination in our church law but with your inability to enforce it. Will everyone choose to meet the demands of Christian discipleship? No! If many deserted Jesus we can and should expect the same whenever we are holding up the truth of God’s word against the norms of our culture. Our General Conference has consistently put forth the rule regarding marriage for those who would be called United Methodists. My advice to pastors or churches who are caught in a dilemma over what to do when a same-sex couple asks to be married is to say, with love,
Go ask your Mother.