“Agreeing to Disagree” Since 1993
Many reasons have been given as to why the United Methodist Church continues to drag its feet in the area of the full-inclusion of Lesbian and Gay people in the church. Lesbian and Gay Methodists have always been a part of the church, but in 1972, the UMC decided it was time to label them as “incompatible with Christian teaching”, for the last 43 years faithful Methodists have been battling over whether or not that was the right decision. From coast to coast, across four continents the UMC has carried its theological and political baggage from Europe, to Asia, to Africa, and back to the United States again. One tiny grouping of islands off the coast of France is home to a group of Methodists who decided in 1993, that they were going to “agree to disagree” on the issues surrounding Lesbian and gay inclusion in their denomination. The birthplace of Methodism has had opportunities to change this policy, as their equivalent of the UMC’s General Conference meets every year, but they have deliberately chosen not to, so they can be a church that is open to all people. In 1993, four years before the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in the US (10 years before this law would be struck down by SCOTUS), two years before the passage of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” (9 years before its repeal), a decade before Parliament would legalize same-sex marriage in Great Britain; a group of faithful Methodists decided to lead culture, rather than follow it by producing The 1993 Resolutions:
- The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God's gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
- All practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God's purpose for us all.
- A person shall not be debarred from church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself.
- The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. The Conference directs that this affirmation is made clear to all candidates for ministry, office and membership, and having established this, affirm that the existing procedures of our church are adequate to deal with all such cases.
- The Conference resolves that its decision in this debate shall not be used to form the basis of a disciplinary charge against any person in relation to conduct alleged to have taken place before such decisions were made.
- Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church. Conference calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality.
Notice that the solution was not a structural one, but a spiritual one. For in the Kindom of God, trusting that each sibling in Christ is just as capable as the other to discern the Scriptures, hear the call of Spirit, and make decisions based on Scripture, tradition, reason, and personal experience is necessary. No such laws were made to force uniformity, and thus true Christian unity was able to blossom.
Often, a criticism of Lesbian and Gay Methodists and their allies is that they are bending to culture; yet here the Methodists in Great Britain are leading culture by showing that it is okay to disagree, but it is not okay to discriminate. Just as important they are proving when Methodists are working together to build the Kindom of God, and not using laws to bully each other, they can exist together in peace, despite differences. May our siblings across the pond be an inspiration for us, and lead us to a place that is ahead of the culture and right where it needs to be, behind Jesus, following His lead.
For more information on the “1993 Resolutions” look here.