1 of 2
Illustration Courtesy of RMN Blog
Discipline CoverThe 2012 edition of the Book of Discipline
2 of 2
Kevin M. NelsonKevin M. Nelson
Kevin M. Nelson
Upholding the Discipline
“Uphold the Discipline” is a phrase that we hear tossed around a lot these days. Specifically, I hear it asked in the context of the inclusion of LGBT persons within The United Methodist Church, particularly in relation to the marriage equality movement spreading across the UMC—a movement of which I am a proud member.
Leaders of the Renewal movement want to know, will a bishop “uphold the Discipline” if a clergy member under their charge officiates at the wedding of a couple who are of the same sex? In episcopal election years, like last year, it’s the episcopal candidates who are asked some version of this question in order to elicit, or not, the answer, “I will uphold the Discipline.” If a person is a bishop, or aspires to be one, this is a question that must be answered.
Correspondingly, when clergy officiate at such weddings of couples of the same sex, they are accused of acting contrary to the Book of Discipline, of not “upholding the Discipline.”
This question, in fact, has been on the minds of church leaders for more than a decade. As far back as 2003, the Judicial Council itself raised the specter of this question. In Decision 980, the Judicial Council overturned a committee on investigation’s action in relation to the then Rev. Karen Dammann, who had been accused of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” In that Decision, the Judicial Council ruled in part, “persons who state that they cannot in good conscience uphold the Discipline are ineligible to serve on a trial jury” in cases such as Dammann’s. It was also ruled that such persons can’t sit on a committee on investigation when such a complaint is under review.
This begs the question, since when did the essence of the Book of Discipline get boiled down to ¶ 2702.1? Or even ¶ 304.3? I can’t speak for others, but the book I have in my hands, the one from 2012, has more than two pages.
I also believe in upholding the Book of Discipline, but I recognize that the entirety of the Discipline isn’t contained in ¶ 2702.1.
Article IV, “Inclusiveness of the Church,” in Division I of the Constitution (¶ 4), which speaks of all persons being of sacred worth and being able to fully participate in the Church, is also in the Discipline.
Articles XXI, “Of the Marriage of Ministers,” and XXII, “Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Churches,” of the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church (within ¶ 104) are also in the Discipline. Article XXI says in part, “The ministers of Christ are not commanded.to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage”…and they are permitted to “marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.” Article XXII states that the rites and ceremonies of the church do not have to be “the same or exactly alike” in all places, and they “may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”