Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In United Methodist Church, "Ecclesiastical Disobedience Is on the Rise" Over Issue of Gay Marriage

For the New Yorker, Casey N. Cep reports that the United Methodist Church is deeply divided over the issue of full inclusion of LGBTI members in the life of the church--especially after the church started putting fathers on trial for officiating at the weddings of their gay sons. At its latest General Conference, UMC conference delegates voted 61% to 39% against the full inclusion of gay members and for upholding the ban on such inclusion that has been inscribed in the church's Book of Discipline since 1972.

But there's now this:

Ecclesiastical disobedience is on the rise: in November, more than thirty United Methodist clergy jointly blessed the wedding of two men at a church in Philadelphia to show their solidarity; in December, the Seattle district superintendent married two lesbian Methodist pastors in Washington; and thousands of United Methodist clergy around the country have declared publicly that they will officiate such weddings. There are almost as many clergy now facing charges for engaging in same-sex relationships and participating in same-sex weddings as have been brought to trial in the history of the United Methodist Church.

It will be interesting to see what will be the outcome of this ecclesiastical civil disobedience. As I've stated a number of times in postings here, my experience working in two historically black United Methodist universities has convinced me that homophobia runs as deep in United Methodist institutions as it does in Catholic ones, though Methodists have been more successful than Catholics have in cultivating an "open hearts, open minds, open doors" image in the public square.  

Cep echoes claims made by many people commenting on why the United Methodist Church is so divided over the issue of full inclusion of gay folks in the UMC, when she attributes the resistance to African members of the church. As I've noted in numerous postings here, though I recognize that many African members of the UMC are at the center of the resistance to full inclusion of gay folks in the church's life, I'm also critically aware that the African resistance is itself often driven by American United Methodists who work hand in hand with toxic organizations like the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which was founded with the explicit purpose of using issues like homosexuality to divide the mainline churches and dilute their witness about matters of social justice.

Important members of the UMC, most of them with deep roots in the states of the Old Confederacy, have long worked with IRD to do everything in their power to drum up homophobia among African members of the church, in order to keep the church from moving to full inclusion of gay members. If you take a map showing where the resistance against full inclusion of gay members is situated among American United Methodists, and if you overlay that map with a map of the Old Confederacy, you'll see that the two maps are more or less the same.

Certainly there's strong resistance among many African Methodists to the full inclusion of gay members in the United Methodist Church. But that resistance has also been actively cultivated by American United Methodists whose ancestors a generation ago stoutly resisted racial integration of the church, and few generations before that, the abolition of slavery. And it's inaccurate (and unfair to African United Methodists) to report otherwise.

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