In the End, What Did We Accomplish?
James A. Gibson III
"We" won every vote.
"We" expanded and clarified the list of "chargeable offenses."
"We" tightened the screws so that the Discipline is more clear than ever on what is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
From a purely legislative perspective, General Conference 2004 looks like a huge victory for "our" side: the side of biblical truth and high moral values. Yet, in the end, what have we really accomplished? Have we redeemed one lost soul out of the darkness of the homosexual lifestyle into the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we exhibited the grace and compassionate love necessary to effect such a transformation of souls?
The answer, sadly, is no. The legacy of Pittsburgh will be one of law superseding grace and fear drowning out love. In an attempt to rein in on the lawless deeds of the revisionists, we have piled law upon law, airing our dirty laundry for all the world to see. What does it say about the state of a Christian denomination when it has to put in writing that adultery, fornication, and homosexuality are "chargeable offenses?" This is simple common sense in a community living in covenant under grace by the power of God's Spirit. If we have to write it down, we are sadly lacking in the areas of covenant and grace, not to mention the power and Spirit of God.
Grace does not require us to write on paper what ought to be written on our hearts. It does require us, however, to be bold and courageous when confronting those who are not abiding by the covenant. This does not mean that we should offer the revisionists some half-baked plan for "amicable separation," which would allow them to go their own way and do their own thing, ostensibly with God's blessing. The way of grace, rather, is the way of redemptive disfellowship. Grace ought to compel us to say to those who would abandon the biblical and Apostolic faith for a dangerous philosophy of sexual libertinism, "Unless you repent, you have no fellowship with us. You do not belong to Christ. You belong to the world. But the world is our parish, and we will continue to reach out to you with the transforming message of love, mercy, and grace that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray for the day when we will welcome you home with open arms."
But fear of being labeled "unloving" and "intolerant" by the world has driven us instead to lay out a whole new set of conditions, rules, and laws whereby we will allow these revisionists to remain among us. They are conditions the revisionists have no intention of meeting, rules they have no intention of following, and laws they have no intention of obeying. When the inevitable happens, one of these new laws is broken, and we call the lawbreakers to account, the world will say of us exactly what we feared they would say if we had done the right thing in the first place: we are "unloving" and "intolerant."
The difference between suffering ridicule for doing right and suffering the same ridicule after compromising is that the former is a sign of God's blessing, the latter a sign of his judgment. When the choice between doing right or compromising presents us with the same consequences, it is always best to do right because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If we choose, instead, the path of compromise, we have nothing to gain and our very souls (and the souls of countless others) to lose.
As the final gavel falls in Pittsburgh, honesty compels us to confess that we have accomplished nothing in the way of reviving the fire that once was Methodism. We have not cleansed the temple. We have not purged the inner sanctum. We have only given the lawbreakers more laws to break and the world more reason to call us names.
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