The Troubled Conscience of the Church
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
Faith and Life commentary: The troubled conscience of the church
June 30, 2000 News media contact: Tim Tanton�(615)742-5470�Nashville, Tenn.
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Phil Wogaman*
Following the United Methodist General Conference in early May, much was
made of the polarization of the church and the fact that the conservatives
generally won. That was especially true of anything having to do with
homosexuality, where the church's generally negative stance was reaffirmed
by voting margins of nearly 2 to 1. That there were "winners" and "losers"
seems clear enough.
What may have been missed in the vote tallies was a certain loss of
self-assurance on both sides in the conflict. A deeper level of
soul-searching was especially evident in some of the things that were said
in the Faith and Order Legislative Committee, where the issues were
principally fought out. I was struck by the comments of one of the
conservative delegates. He spoke with some eloquence about a close relative
whose devotion to the extended family was what held them all together. He
was deeply impressed by her obvious love of others and how much she had
meant to all of them through the years. He then revealed that she was
lesbian. Still, he believed he had to support the church's judgment against
all homosexual practice because of the biblical statements. But he was
obviously troubled by this conflict between his reading of the Bible and the
undeniable grace at work in this lesbian relative's life.
Similarly, when more liberal delegates spoke of their own experience with
gay and lesbian people (including the winsome testimony of an obviously
talented and morally committed gay man in the group), the conservatives
acknowledged the force of what was being said. Still, they felt compelled
to adhere to biblical strictures and the voice of tradition. While that
became the majority view of the committee and of the General Conference as a
whole, the conscience of the majority was expressed in a new statement in
the church's Social Principles, adopted by nearly unanimous vote: "We
implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay
members and friends." I suspect that it will not be too many years before
the compelling human evidence of gay and lesbian Christians will bring
further changes in the church's position.
Meanwhile, the church's liberals have also had to deal with troubling issues
of conscience. While they have been open to change and insistent upon
greater tolerance of gays and lesbians, the liberals are clearer now that
some forms of sexual practice are destructive. Not everything that feels
good really is good. Sexual promiscuity, whether practiced by persons of
homosexual orientation or by heterosexuals, is morally damaging to people.
Recognition of that is why liberals in the church are so concerned that
monogamous committed unions of gay or lesbian people should be given the
Liberals have also had to come to terms with the conservatives. At the
General Conference the liberals invited conservatives to join in compromise
statements acknowledging the differences of opinion. Overtures toward
compromise were rejected, and yet it is clearer now that both conservatives
and liberals are listening to each other in new ways.
The deep reason why the church's conscience is troubled on the issue of
homosexuality is that everybody has tried to fix church teaching
prematurely. The evidence just isn't all in yet. We don't yet even know for
sure why some people are homosexual while most are heterosexual. We haven't
yet listened enough to the quiet testimony of people who have lived
responsible Christian lives as gay or lesbian. We haven't struggled enough
yet with how to interpret the Bible. Most United Methodists - including the
conservatives - are not biblical literalists. But we all take the Bible
seriously and need to think more carefully about how to apply its deeper
teachings to the divisive issues at hand.
In the end, the church's troubled conscience may be an invitation from God
to new ways of discerning who and what we are.
# # #
*Wogaman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, is a
seminary professor of Christian ethics and author. He is a clergy member of
the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference..
Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily
represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.
United Methodist News Service
Photos and stories also available at:
Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com