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CLUB 444: Issues, Past & Present

September 6, 2022

Rev. Robert Stutes says —-

Regarding current efforts by some to exit the UMC…

It occurs to me that there are any number of life issues for which some churches have a very high bar.

There are churches that insist on total abstinence (from alcohol). That may have been part of our UMC heritage, but no longer. We still name it as an issue of importance, but we leave it up to the individual whether to choose “total abstinence” or “responsible consumption.”

There are churches that insist on pacifism and back in the days of the draft, they encouraged their young to be conscientious objectors rather than go into military service. Our UMC heritage certainly does not minimize the morality of war and peace, but we do leave it up to the individual whether to serve in the military.

There are churches that insist on a strict biblical approach to marriage that strongly condemns remarriage after divorce as a violation of covenant. Our UMC stand on remarriage has evolved across the years. We would certainly respect someone who chooses not to remarry because of a strict biblical interpretation, but we leave that choice up to the individual, and few of us would condemn someone who finds grace in a new marital relationship despite having gone through divorce.

There are churches that insist on a strict biblical interpretation of modesty in dress (most commonly for females). We leave that up to the individual (though we reserve that right to talk behind your back about what you are wearing). That parenthetical remark was tongue in cheek, of course.

There are a few churches that insist upon a pretty strict approach toward money management and the acquisition and use of wealth. I don’t know that this has ever been a strong part of our Methodist heritage, although John Wesley had some very good advice for us. We clearly leave that up to the individual, though we might find ourselves very admiring of one who chooses a simple lifestyle allowing for extraordinary charity and generosity.

There are churches in which gambling (including buying lottery tickets and quilt raffle tickets) is strongly condemned. This IS a part of our heritage, but it is largely not an area for moral condemnation among those who do things differently, and it is largely left up to the individual.

There are still a few churches that have strong norms regarding courtship. UMC folks generally leave this up to the individual and family.

There are still a few churches that have rigid expectations regarding male and female roles in the family. UMC folks certainly value the role of the family, but leave those specific choices up to the individuals involved.

I could go on. Are you sensing a trend?

One could certainly make an argument for rewinding the clock and being MUCH more prescriptive on some of these ethical and lifestyle issues. My thought? “Probably not gonna happen.”

None of the above issues are seen by UMC folks as trivial. But we allow for seeing things differently.

Is it possible to have a big tent with a variety of opinions and yet be united in the essentials of loving God and loving neighbor? I guess I am still naive enough to believe that can happen.

I do believe it to be somewhat disingenuous to form a breakoff denomination where members and pastors and congregations secede primarily around the idea that we treat LGBTQ life as the ONE issue for which we choose to have a high bar while the rest of us heterosexual folks continue to make and respect individual choices about drinking and military service and remarriage and modest dress and personal finance and gambling and courtship and family roles.

In my more snarky moments, I would ask the GMC to pick at least one countercultural expectation for your straight members. Sigh.

If I were a lay member of a church that voted to exit my denomination, I would immediately cease my connection with that congregation. I have remained a part of the UMC despite my disagreement with its current requirements regarding conducting marriage ceremonies. I have chosen to live by those standards. Yet I do have profound respect for those who choose otherwise. Sometimes it takes a Rosa Parks to stand in defiance. I am NOT a good Rosa Parks. But you can be sure I am not going to denounce those who are.

I continue to seek to live out my vow to “to be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church…to do all in my power to strengthen its ministries…to faithfully participate in its ministries by my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.”

I am heartbroken about those who choose to exit from that covenant. I pray God’s best. But I sincerely do not understand making resistance to LGBTQ inclusion the hill upon which to make a stand. I totally understand different opinions on this issue. I cannot accept making this the singular issue about which all must be of one mind.

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