I’ve watched with great interest over the past few years as first the Episcopal Church (USA) and now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has dealt with, and been torn asunder, by the homosexual issue, particularly the issue of whether or not practicing homosexuals should be ordained into the clergy of those churches. I have watched as large swaths of churches have left the ECUSA and now the ELCA for “greener pastures”, in spite of pleas by the presiding bishops to remain within the denominations and remain in “conversation” with those who are pro-gay.
We in the United Methodist Church have also dealt with the issue over the past 38 years. In our case, each and every time the issue has come up in General Conference it has been defeated, and each time by greater margins. The language in our Book of Discipline which deals with this issue has also been strengthened, and those of us who do not want the UMC to go pro-gay have taken comfort in this.
But what if that was not the case? What if the pro-gays had been able to force the issue, and the UMC been made to deal with such a problem as openly-practicing homosexuals being ordained into our clergy?
What would we do if we were told by our leadership that the UMC would begin ordaining practicing homosexuals and we would have little or no say in whether or not our local church got a gay pastor?
We know that nearly all our bishops support and even promote the idea of gay clergy. And surely there are quite a number of churches in the connection that support and promote the idea. After all, look at the number of “Reconciling Congregations”! But I believe there are vast numbers of our members who would be very upset at such an order, and would be looking seriously at leaving the UMC because of it. Like the other denominations I’ve mentioned in this post, there would be large numbers of churches who would be leaving, lock, stock, and barrel.
The bishops and other pastors would be pleading with people to stay, but it would be to no avail. You can say all you want about “homophobia”, but it’s not fear that would be driving this exodus, as it is not fear that is driving the same in those other denominations. It is the realization that the Bible clearly and roundly condemns homosexual activity as sin, and the clear understanding that we cannot ordain any person who is living in open rebellion against the Holy Scriptures.
I’m sure there would be court cases testing the UMC’s “Trust Clause” to see whether or not churches could leave with their property, but if the courts sided with the denomination against the local churches, it still wouldn’t stem the exodus, because for many of us the decision to ordain practicing homosexuals would be a tipping point. It would be the line drawn in the sand, and when the leadership of the church steps over that line, people would start leaving.
Homosexuality is a hot button issue. There is no compatibility between it and the Christian faith for most of us. As it is, we have already chosen to lie in our bed with those on the other side of the issue, hoping they will stay on their side of the bed. One would think that our continual rejection of the idea over these past many years would get the pro-gay forces to give up, or at least back down, but they haven’t, and so we must remain vigilant.
And if it becomes clear that they are winning, and there is no more hope of our remaining biblically grounded, then the answer is clear – vote with your feet! Walk out! The faithful ELCA Lutherans and American Anglicans are right. When the time comes the faithful must walk out and leave the pro-gays to their own devices. Whether or not we can take our properties, the time will have come to part ways. It would be with sadness for the church I grew up with and stayed with through trying times, but it would be with joy as I looked forward to a future of faithfully witnessing for the Lord with fellow believers in a church that also faithfully witnesses for the Lord.