The United Methodist Church has voted to keep it’s ban on lesbian and gay clergy. A decision that was narrowly passed with 53% in favor and 47% against. Despite the majority of the American church pushing to openly allow for any LGBTQ+ members, many of the church members worldwide have chosen to maintain the Methodist Church’s traditional stance. Many churches are now in talks of splitting off from the Methodist denomination.
As a Christian myself, I am a bit heartbroken over this entire situation. I fully believe and affirm that the Church should be united. Hearing news that such a large denomination may completely split apart is incredibly disheartening. But I think that looking at the circumstances and issues surrounding the vote could help to teach us certain things about the way we view church as a whole.
Separation of Church and Love
I think the largest issue that the more progressive Methodists raised during this debate is one of love and openness. Many feel that if the church does not embrace these new standards, they are sending a signal of hate for everyone to see. David Livingston, a pastor from Kansas, said “My kids’ friends are not going to come into the church unless I can tell them about the love part of our church, not just the judgment part,”. For many, they feel that not allowing LGBTQ+ individuals into positions of leadership in the church is a mark of judgment. A hateful message to a new generation.
While this sentiment is understandable, it is misguided. For two-thousand years, the Christian worldview on sin has remained relatively the same. Mankind is broken and unfulfilled. Despite a new post-modern affirmation to the opposite, humans are not born ‘good’. You may agree or disagree with that statement, but the fact remains that sinful humanity is a central dogma of the Church worldwide. Therefore, all sinners should be welcomed to the church because everyone is one. No church should ever ban or exclude gay or lesbian individuals from attending.
With all that said, the Bible very clearly lays out specific requirements for leadership. Leaders must be committed to Jesus. They must have a character that is honoring to God. And they must have a good comprehension of God’s word. James 3:1 says “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”. The Bible clearly emphasizes a stricter standard placed on leaders. Leaders are responsible for God’s people, people who God lovingly and harshly guards.
All that to say that the Bible defines homosexuality as sinful behavior in both the Old and New Testaments. And openly sinful people are barred from leadership. Period. Full-stop. This does not mean that they are excluded from the church or that we should heap judgement upon people, it simply means that the Church has certain standards that are not fulfilled. I don’t see this as a lack of love.
Made for the Old
Many people in the Methodist movement see the vote as an appeasement to the elderly. Some saying that “we’re sending a signal we are here to minister to the spiritual needs of the elderly”. This mentality is shared by many of the protesters. The general consensus is that younger people are for LGBTQ+ in ministry, and by not allowing them in, are encouraging an aging religion. I find this irrelevant. If we are to maintain a faith tradition like Christianity, it is not about what percentage of what age group believes what.
I’m not claiming that we should not be trying to minister to younger people. I am a young person. It makes me happy that people took the time and energy to minister to me. But if you view Christianity as a specific worldview, you cannot shuffle things around to appease the newest generation. If you did this, it would only take a generation or two before the thing you end up with is entirely different from the thing you started with.
Lastly, implying that the youth are more important than the elderly is incredibly antithetical to Christianity. We should be ministering to everyone’s spiritual needs, not one end of the spectrum over the other. Christianity is not about age, to imply that it is reveals a much deeper problem that I think is the real heart of the issue…
Quickly Fading Church
The majority of congregants seem to be afraid of their denominations decline. A big fear is that by having a stance that is against what most young people believe, the church will die off. I think that the crux of the issue is not LGBTQ+ privileges at all, but the issue of religious decline. Many supporters for change feel the need to include the possible negative ramifications that this decision may have.
It seems ridiculous to me that the majority of objections seem to be on the grounds of ostracizing the newer generation. If one truly believes that LGBTQ+ are ordained by God to be ministers of the Bible, isn’t that what the focal point of the issue is? If we are truly having a debate over what is true and what isn’t, then the opinions of the masses should have absolutely no bearing. Majority opinion does not equate to truth.
The real problem is that religion is declining in America. And many have deep-seated fear that this is because the church is too confrontational, too controversial, too deeply committed to its traditional roots. But despite all this opinion that not allowing LGBTQ+ clergy is what will be the death of the church, statistics show to opposite.
Liberal leanings in mainline Christianity as we know it are a new phenomenon. Many pastors and theologians in the 70’s and 80’s claimed that if Christianity does not change, it will soon cease to be. But the reality is the exact opposite. Theologically liberal churches are rapidly declining. A 2017 study conducted over a five-year period shockingly reveals that “Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline”.
In fact, churches that have experienced growth are almost exclusively conservative.
All of this makes me wonder if the narrative being spun so frequently is true at all. We are constantly being told that everyone supports liberal ideas, everyone supports more liberal theology, everyone sees the value in modern social opinions. But the fact of the matter is, almost every study seems to disagree with that narrative. Which leads me to believe that, to an extent, we’re being lied to. Gen Z is looking to be the most conservative generation since World War 2. All of this reminds me of a quote by St. Augustine:
“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself”.