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Church Run Amok - UMC Lesbian Trial Demonstrates the Inevitable Quagmire when Church Operates Like Government Instead of the Body of Christ


Below is a commentary posted on this Kansas UMC homosexual advocacy website:

The coincidence was remarkable.  On Wednesday, Reconciling's Annual Report arrived in the mail, reminding us that the constant ministry of reconciliation is like a dance, and we should not get weary of all the steps.  On Friday morning, news arrived by e-mail of Beth Stroud's appeal, and the dance goes on.

The appellate ruling is one more step, and more will follow.

I expect some eager, legalistic folks to use the Stroud ruling as a roadmap to purity, as if the only goal is to "close the loopholes."  I expect some buzz at some annual conferences meeting this May and June to define "status" and "practicing homosexual." That could be a tricky dance by itself.  When some people quote the word "practicing," they seem to mean "reported genital activity;" others seem to mean "being gay."  Is it behavioral or ontological?  Reaching agreement may be problematic, especially when the intent seems chiefly to excommunicate Christians.  It's a puritanical impulse -- obsessing over separating the pure from the impure, the black from the white.  It's one thing when you're doing the laundry.  It's different with people.  And most people can detect when somebody's real motive is an exercise in moral self-superiority.

It's not some legal technicality at play here.  It's genuinely tricky to craft workable, operational definitions of "practicing" sexuality of any sort -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual.  The Stroud news reminds me of a film some twenty years ago that eloquently parodied the Hollywood Western genre by making obvious the constant plot element: every Western was fundamentally about proving that the hero was a Real Man.  In this movie, the hero didn't merely have to defeat the male villain and win the girl; he had to prove his heterosexual masculinity to some omniscient narrator.  You could instantly see the incredulity and befuddlement on the hero's face, for no matter how dashing and handsome and stereotypical he was as another iconic American cowboy, he reminded American culture that nobody can prove heterosexuality. I know some married folks who wish there'd been some foolproof test they could have engaged before saying "I do," but there is no test ... only the futile human desire to know some things with certainty.  Just as the nervous Munchkins fervently needed to know that the Wicked Witch was "morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead," today's church fervently wants to know everybody's sexuality.  That's only ironic when the clamor comes from people who claim to be orthodox Christians, presumably believers that we're all sinners in the same boat, all beneficiaries of God's grace, and all united in Christ and God's love.

And that God-talk leads to another tricky dance-step.  When reviewing the Stroud case, the appeals court decided that using sexuality to decide whose Divine Calling to honor amounts to creating a new doctrine, but illegally.  The trial court, they said, wrongly stretched one particular anti-gay idea into "the realm of doctrine."  Finally, an official church body has said not only that decisions on sexuality have theological and doctrinal implications, but that they encroach wrongly on doctrine.

Here in Kansas, we've read the Bible, and we've read the Articles of Faith on Jesus, scripture, justification, and grace instead of human works.  (We rather like the entire epistle to the church at Rome, and the handy Cliff's Notes version to the church at Galatia.)  But as we've listened to discussions at General Conferences and Annual Conferences, a trendy new doctrine seems to have gripped the church and we're left with a question: "Is heterosexuality essential to salvation, meriting our justification before God?"

We're thankful to Beth Stroud and the Northeast Appeals Committee for bringing the question into conversation.

We'll be listening, while we're dancing.

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