As the General Conference begins to debate and adopt legislation related to homosexuality, some of which may be quite divisive, it may help to remember that we United Methodists agree on many aspects of this issue:
- We advocate for equal civil rights for homosexual persons. We were the first denomination to adopt resolutions advocating for equal civil rights for gay and lesbian persons – that happened in 1972. Yes, that was also when we adopted the language about homosexual "practice" being incompatible with Christian teaching, but let's remember that the basic teaching we adopted and have continued is our belief in equal civil rights for all persons, regardless of their sexuality.
- We do not condemn anyone for their sexual orientation. Our language about "incompatibility" focuses upon BEHAVIOR, but we have never condemned anyone for being LGBTQ or any other form of sexual orientation. We may debate the source of a person's sexual orientation (the old "nature verses nurture" argument), but we do NOT condemn anyone for being who they are. In fact, even within our teachings and statements about sexuality, we specifically state that we believe "all persons are of sacred worth."
- When we focus upon sexual behavior, we are quite united in our condemnation of sexual abuses (no matter one's orientation). We have consistently taught and spoken out against rape, exploitation of children, pornography, and every form of sexual abuse. Many of our rules and statements actually focus upon heterosexual abuses, but we are united in our desire to eliminate all sexual abuses.
- We affirm that anyone can become a lay member of our UMC, regardless of their sexual orientation or practice. Our UMC has never had a rule against a homosexual person joining a local church – we leave it up to the pastor to determine if a person is ready for membership. In fact most or nearly all of our local UM congregations have faithful, respected lay members who are known to be homosexual but whose gifts and leadership are appreciated. Some congregations are more welcoming than others, to be sure, but our UM rules have never prevented homosexual persons from being active and leading laypersons in our congregations and/or conferences.
- We continue to seek God's will on these issues through Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience – what we call our "Wesley Quadrilateral" of knowing the truth. We may disagree on the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, but we are a people who turn to those sources of truth and interpretation; we don't simply follow the whims of any particular cultural fads. In fact, I have been impressed by the devotion of persons on all sides of these issues: their devotion to Jesus and their commitment to faith, even in the midst of disagreements.
- Which leads me to the most important aspect of our United Methodist agreement on homosexuality – we believe that it is important not to let our disagreements divide us. While there are some on both sides who speak too easily of schism or splitting our UMC, our history is that we have stayed together in spite of our disagreements since 1972. United Methodists believe we are united by so many other things (like our mission, our faith, our connection) that we should stay together and learn from one another. It is easy to lament our disagreements since 1972, but I find it helpful to focus upon the amazing fact that we are still together in spite of those disagreements. Evidently most of us UMs believe that social issues like human sexuality are important, but we know that they are not "the main thing." So we agree to stick together, even when it is difficult.
Will our United Methodist Church continue to focus upon those things that unite us? I for one hope so. As the General Conference and the media headlines so easily focus upon our differences, I am reminded of how much we are united.