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Commentary: Good News responds to call for no church trials

Editor’s Note: Good News has responded to the Rev. Thomas Frank’s call for United Methodist bishops to hold no more trials of clergy accused of violating the denomination’s laws on homosexuality.  Frank’s proposal “is a recipe for the balkanization of the church.” Good News is an unofficial, evangelical United Methodist group that advocates maintaining the denomination’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. The Good News statement is below:

Good News response to an open letter from Dr. Thomas Frank

In an open letter to the Council of Bishops, Dr. Thomas Frank, a United Methodist historian, calls upon the bishops to refrain from processing any more complaints against pastors for performing same-sex unions or weddings.  He proposes that no more trials be held in such situations, and that “if we are to find unity in our diversity, we must do so in conference and in our orders” by “open conversation on these pastoral issues.”

Dr. Frank’s letter is essentially a call to change the de facto position of The United Methodist Church on the issue of homosexuality and marriage.  For over forty years our church has engaged in extensive conversation and holy conferencing regarding homosexuality and same sex marriage. In every General Conference dating back to 1972, our church has upheld and maintained the historic position that sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman is contrary to God’s design.  Now, Dr. Frank wants to set aside the results of that conversation and substitute the “pastoral judgment” of “a large number of faithful United Methodist ministers in good standing [who] cannot in conscience restrict their pastoral duties to accord with these statements.”

Dr. Frank maintains that “the 2012 session in Tampa failed to acknowledge our lack of consensus and refused a legislative path forward.”  On the contrary, the 2012 session of the General Conference considered alternative points of view and alternative language to describe our church’s position and declined to adopt it.  The legislative path forward is the current and long-standing position of the church, regardless of the fact that Dr. Frank and others wish it were something else.

Dr. Frank decries the “prospect of church trials for at least two different ordained elders who performed such ceremonies for their own beloved children.”  It is important to note for the record that both elders were offered the opportunity to avoid a trial by promising not to perform same-sex services in the future.  Both declined.  Their trials are not simply about “acts … within their own families that exemplify the love and ministries of the church,” but about advancing an ideological agenda to force the church to change its long-standing teaching.

Dr. Frank’s proposal that annual conferences and orders of ministry within annual conferences find a way to live in unity amidst our diversity is a recipe for the balkanization of the church.  Different annual conferences would come to different positions with respect to homosexuality.  Dr. Frank knows that only the General Conference is empowered to speak for the whole church.  The General Conference has spoken on this issue, not once, but ten consecutive times with a consistent message.  The real problem is clergy who refuse to submit to the authority of the church, as they originally promised.

Trials are indeed a last resort.  When clergy refuse to conform their behavior to the requirements of the church through General Conference, the only mechanism left to assure compliance with those requirements is the trial process.  Bishops do not have the authority to override the requirements of the Discipline by failing to pursue accountability for clergy whose actions are chargeable offenses.  The bishops’ failure to act would only cause further harm to the church by revealing the church’s inability to uphold its teachings, encouraging further splintering of our fragile unity.  The door would open for clergy, laity, and congregations to disobey other requirements of the Discipline with which they disagree, inviting chaos and anarchy within the church.

A church trial court is not “only a miniature annual conference of thirteen peers.”  It is a mechanism for engaging in the “review of the ministerial office,” which is a “sacred trust” under the “holy covenant that exists within the membership and organization of The United Methodist Church” (Discipline, ¶363.1 and 362.2).  The trial court does not have the authority to change the church’s teachings or policies, but is charged with upholding them in the practical circumstances of a given situation.  That “holy covenant” includes not only the clergy in a given annual conference, but all clergy and laity of the global United Methodist connection.  As members of one body, we are members of one another.  As such, there can be no such thing as “interference” from United Methodists “outside the annual conference.”  What affects one of us, affects us all.  An annual conference cannot, in our connectional system, be a law unto itself.

In the meantime, the opportunity for conversation always exists, as it has for forty years.  During that time, there have been numerous dialogs and conferences where we have engaged in “open conversation on these pastoral issues” and “[spoken] together openly and honestly, without fear of retribution.”  The integrity of future conversations is threatened, however, by the refusal of some to abide by the results of those past conversations.  Such refusal to honor the process of conferencing erodes the trust necessary to engage in fruitful conversation.

For the sake of the unity of the church, it is time for those seeking to perform same-sex services to honor the process of holy conferencing by refraining from performing such services.  Aborting the conferencing process by enacting individuals’ contrary pastoral judgment hastens the very separation that Dr. Frank seeks to avoid.

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  1. Julie Maniglia

    Homosexuals have been enduring discrimination by both the church and state for far too long. This “legalized” persecution of an entire group of people is despicable. Their “sin”, if one wants to characterize it that way, is no worse than anyone else’s “sin” and the church has no right to barricade its doors against a particular sinner or group of sinners or deny sacraments to anyone.

    The Jews have been similarly persecuted and murdered. It isn’t right to persecute them and it isn’t right to persecute people whose sexual orientation is different than the majority.

    Jesus Himself never spoke against any particular group of “sinners” as being beyond the love of the Father, except, perhaps, the uber-religious people of His day, who constantly complained that He was hobnobbing with too many sinners, was in league with the devil and deserved to die.

    When I come before Him and perhaps am asked to give an account of how I lived my life, if I’ve made a mistake in thinking and believing that homosexuals deserve the same rights and respect as anyone else, I will be glad to say that I erred on the side of love rather than any allegiance to the Book of Discipline.

    1. Sarah Ruth Baird Shaw

      Neither the Good News people nor any of the United Methodist Ministers who you are calling “bigots” and worse are denying the rights of anyone to worship. We are for Open Doors, Open Hearts and Open Minds for everyone. Many of us stood for Civil Rights for eveyone (Including African Americans and Women) before it became a politically correct posture, But I, with love a respect for those who disagree, do not believe we should celebrate the lifestyle of the GLBT Activist in opposition to our Book of Discipline and our Book of Faith, which BTW does not approve of slavery, disccriminarion nor women in pulpits.

    2. Sean

      Hi Julie, I agree with much of what you have said. Homosexuals have endured far too much discrimination from the church. One can and should label it as a sin since that is how God’s Word labels it.

      You are right Jesus did not single out a particular group of sinners, and the church as a whole is guilty of doing this with homosexuality. Homosexual people are NOT beyond the love of the Father. But Jesus calls all people to repentance. Do you believe this? That repentance then is a necessary part of true faith and following of Jesus? Does Jesus call people to deny themselves, take up the cross and follow him? Could that include parts of our sexuality that don’t line up with his will? Is all sexual activity approved of by God?

      When I come before the Father and he asks me to give an account of my life, I want him to say, “Sean, You have loved people with all of your heart. You have been a good and faithful servant in declaring my Word by calling people to repentance and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and helping people to grow in love, grace, truth, and godliness. Well done.”

      I’d encourage you: don’t just error on the side of love. Be a person who loves like crazy. Most non-christians agree with the concept of love. But you should also love people so much that you’d be willing to tell them the truth. If I has a son who was addicted to alcohol and I just told him, son I love you and I wish you all the best, but did not tell him his alcoholism was wrong and hurtful to his friends and family and contrary to God’s will, and if I did not try to do whatever I could to help him, I would be in error. In John 1 it says Jesus came “full of GRACE and TRUTH”. I’d encourage all believers to follow in Christ’s footsteps.

  2. Ken Grenz

    I am offended by your implication that I should be the one leaving. I was licensed to preach in the former Evangelical United Brethren Church and ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. At that point, I was NOT required to “officially” hold a sinfully bigoted view on some of those I pastored. In the intervening years, things have only deteriorated. My church has left me, but it is my church. I am still around and still pressing it to faithfulness. After a forty year career, I am losing patience with those with no Christian compassion for the perspective of a very significant minority of Genreal Conference voters. Had Martin Luther or someone following him not broken rules, there would be no Protestants. Hed Wesley or some later Wesleyan not broken rules, there would not have been enough ordained Methodist clergy “across the pond” to begin American Methodism. I have been adequately patient with increasing bigotry for too long! Justice has been delayed (denied) for some United Methodist Christains for far toop long! Now, how much money and energy will we be spending to protect bigotry when there are lives who can be addressed by genuine Good News?

  3. Paul Fleck

    I stay in the UMC because I believe in grace.

  4. Bob K

    It does not take an extensive review of history to see when the words “church” and “trial” go together, the prosecutors don’t end up looking well in the long run. When one group of people have bigoted views and feel superior over another group of people, history also does not look kindly to them. Over and over again, the Bible stresses the need for humility. I don’t see any humility in the people that are so interested in what they perceive as sins of others.

  5. Sean

    Hi Ken,

    Can I ask you a few questions:

    1) Did Jesus offend anyone with his message and teachings?
    2) Do you believe it Is possible to hold the view that homosexual practice is sinful and still be compassionate towards them? Can one hold the view that lying is sinful and still be compassionate towards people who lie?
    3) What rules are you referring to John Wesley breaking and how does that relate to the belief that the Bible teaches homosexuality is sinful?
    4) The Good News was that Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, and through the enabling of the Holy Spirit to live a life free from the enslavement of sin. Do you believe this? What is your view of what the “good news” is that Jesus offered?

    Points to consider:
    *I agree that homosexuality’s sinfulness has been unfairly singled out and they have at too many times been unrightfully discriminated against.
    *The fact that they have been unfairly discriminated against does not necessarily take away from the fact that the bible views it as sinful. Christians treatment of homosexuals has often been wrong, but that doesn’t take away from the viewpoint.

  6. Jim Falls

    It’s not about church numbers – QUALITY over QUANTITY: It’s about following the teachings of Christ and welcoming everyone to that big table in His Father’s house. It’s got lots of rooms, I hear.

  7. Sarah Ruth Baird Shaw

    I have been in the Methodist Church all my life (Baptized as an infant), I have never heard a pastor “preach against homosexuals.” It is the Homosexual GLBT Activist that are now demanding that the church celebrate their behavior.

  8. Israel Alvaran

    The Good News statement is bereft of good news. It speaks of law and punishment. No mention of God nor grace. It dangles the sword of schism and does not call for genuine dialogue. The Spirit invites us to talk with each other, and seeks to heal our self inflicted wounds as a church.

    1. Pudentiana

      The Good News is that because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can receive forgiveness when we repent of our sins and choose to follow Him. The need for the insertion into the Discipline of the statement about homosexuality and Christian teaching arose because of the willful effort by activists to force acceptance of the practice into the church. Anyone who lived through the societal changes of the 60’s observed this. If you read Karen Booth’s excellent book, Forgetting How to Blush (http://www.bristolhouseltd.com/endorsements-forgetting-how-to-blush/) you would learn about that process. The UMC has had a practice of inclusion sometimes lacking in discernment. Acceptance of all people is in accord with the teachings of Christ, but celebration of same-sex practice and same-sex marriage has never been and never should be part of our Discipline or His teachings. It is my prayer that our church will turn and examine what errors brought us to a place where sinful practice has become promoted even by clergy. If an organization of adulterers, pedophiles or bigamists chose to seek affirmation by the UMC, what would stand in their way?

  9. Paul Edward

    I am both Gay & a proud Episcopalian! I was baptized in the UMC as an infant and confirmed as well at 14. I jointed the Episcopal Church when I turned 15 and am now 58 years old. I am so sad that the Methodist Church refuses to embrace ALL of God’s children and still believes that being gay is terrible and a grievous sin that one should be ashamed of. My parents are still Methodists and have always been accepting of my sexual orientation and never spoken any anti-gay sentiments. The Book of Discipline is always evolving and the only reason the 2012 General Conference voted against marriage equality, is the rising numbers of African & Filippo delegates that are very conservative. We, in the Anglican Communion, are experiencing the same situation-maybe worse in Africa especially. The Bible was written by old men with biases and prejudices and weren’t perfect! Jesus never preached against homosexuality. We are the last group in the US in terms of fighting for our civil rights. It is both a Justice and a Moral right that we should have along with our straight brothers and sisters. We are born gay and if we are truly taught by the Church that we are God’s children and He never makes mistakes and LOVES all of his children, then why can’t the UMC and others embrace our humanity and allow us to celebrate our marriage vows and those who are called to serve God as ordained clergy? It is the right thing to do.

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