UMNS Photo by John Goodwin
Gay Marriage, the Council of Bishops and a Selective Reading of the Book of Discpline
Religious organizations are adept at practicing forked tongue theology—which is the art of using code words to deny and disguise and resolve the contradiction between their professed beliefs and their behavior. A classic example of this common institutional practice is the recent ruling against homosexuality of The United Methodist Church’s General Conference, the Church’s top lawmaking body. The theme of the General Conference’s April 14- May 4 meeting was, “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ to Transform the World.” Sadly, The United Methodist Church continued to demonstrate its longstanding inability to transform itself, as a majority of some 1000 General Conference delegates, 61 to 39 percent, voted once again to maintain The Church’s doctrinal belief that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” (“Methodists Vote Against Homosexuality Rule Change,” by Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, May 4, 2012)
Code words allow people to profess inclusion and practice exclusion with a “straight” face. The United Methodist Church’s governing Book of Discipline is permeated with such code words. In one breath, it states, “Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.” And in the next breath, without batting an eye, The Book of Discipline goes on, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” Then from rejection back to acceptance: “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian or gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” (Part IV SOCIAL PRINCIPLES, G) Human Sexuality, Page 101, The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, 2004) Code words allow many United Methodist Christians to profess love and practice loathing.
Never mind that dictionaries define “incompatible” as “mutually exclusive,” “unable to live together harmoniously,” “inadmissible,” “antithetical,” “contrary,” “antagonistic,” “clashing,” “irreconcilable” [italics added] “Incompatible” calls for a paternalistic relationship that relegates the institutionally powerless others to an inferior status. Such “reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self” are the very opposite of the Jesus-inspired commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 39) Here, United Methodism’s “God,” with homophobic Bible verses to back up “His” paternalism, becomes the most used code word of all.
These arrogant, hypocritical code words, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of psychosexual development, do spiritual and emotional violence to the identity and inherent worth and rights of lesbian and gay persons. “The ministry and guidance of the church” have been a primary stumbling block to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons “in their struggles for human fulfillment.” And, instead of “enabling reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self,” The United Methodist Church’s hurtful, actually homophobic beliefs, turn gay and lesbian persons—and their families—into “unpardonable” religiously flawed human beings, and separates and marginalizes and estranges them.