Pro-homosexual UM Global Agency Leader, Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Robbins, Looks to UM Bishops to Compromise Faith for Unity Sake
Sunday, December 5, 2004
by Jim Remsen, Inquirer Faith Life editor
The United Methodist church trial that resulted Thursday in the defrocking of Beth Stroud because she is a non-celibate lesbian was only the latest episode in the gay-rights conflicts that are dividing much of the Christian world.
To assess the nature of the feud -- and the prospects for a resolution -- Faith Life spoke with the Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Robbins, who spent 12 years as general secretary of the United Methodist Church's General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. In that role, Robbins arranged churchwide dialogues on homosexuality and worked to bring the various sides together. Robbins now pastors a church in Minneapolis.
Q: Do many Methodists dissent from the conservative position?
A: You must realize that a significant segment of our population of United Methodists, 15 to 20 percent of our conference delegates, come from outside the United States. The vast majority are from cultures where the attitudes about homosexuality are different from in the U.S. today. The largest are Congo and the Philippines. That's why conservatives can so forcefully say that, for the near future, the position on homosexuality is not going to change. Were it just a U.S.-based church, the division would be much closer. My guess is the advocacy of gay ordination would still be a minority position, but not by as much. A solid two-thirds worldwide supports not changing the Book of Discipline.
I am totally opposed to the prohibition on homosexuality in the church, but more conservative Methodists would say scripture and several thousand years of tradition and the consensus of the faithful, the majority opinion of most Christians in the world, point to a recognition that homosexuality should not be recognized as a gift of God. Rather, they say, it is part of the fallenness of creation.
Q: Are any breakthrough proposals being floated to end the impasse?
A: I argue that two things need to come to pass for the denomination to hold together on this issue. Persons who believe gays and lesbians should be fully included in the life of the church need to find space to act out of those beliefs while being United Methodists. For instance, they must be able to conduct holy unions in another [non-Methodist] building without charges being brought. Or some [state] conferences would have the right to ordain gays... .
On the reverse side, there need to be ways United Methodists who believe homosexuality is contrary to the Gospel don't have to support, financially or otherwise, persons in those roles. Each congregation pays an apportionment to support the general church, and it shouldn't have to support, say, places where gay and lesbian ministers practice.
But this has not been proposed formally anywhere. Our church has become extremely polarized on the issue, so there's not been much room for discussion of compromises.
Q: So what's next?
A: Our bishops are responsible for the unity of the church, and we'll be looking at what actions they take to promote unity. There could be a call for the parties to come to conversation in a new way, perhaps with the Council of Bishops. I don't know if it will be helpful. But the people who are passionate for unity are going to have to search for new instruments for unity.
Contact Faith Life editor Jim Remsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5621.
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