Would you burn down your house because the furnace needed repairs? Obviously not. But the current disagreement, discussion, and proposed remedies over the issue of human sexuality within The United Methodist Church seems to be following that line of logic. When applied anywhere else, it seems obvious. If your engine is misfiring, you don’t rebuild the transmission. If your bicycle has a flat tire, you don’t disassemble it and sell its parts. Unfortunately, that seems to be how most everyone has been approaching the disagreement within our church.
But maybe there’s another solution that doesn’t involve burning down the house.
Let me explain.
The way that I see it, there are two principal disagreements within the church regarding human sexuality. First, those persons who feel that sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship is sinful believe that they cannot, in good conscience, formalize or bless such a relationship. And second, those same persons have difficulty belonging to a church that would ordain pastors and bishops who are in such relationships.
Oddly, while both are disagreements over the role and membership of clergy, the solutions being proposed to the next General Conference in 2020 is to split up the church by forcing the laity to vote. But if we are having a disagreement over the role and membership of the clergy, why isn’t anyone offering a solution that divides the clergy instead of dividing the laity?
Although this may seem strange, I think we might find a solution in the Catholic Church. While my knowledge of the intricacies of the Catholic Church is admittedly weak, I know that within that structure there are at least three different orders who, to me, seem to be orders of priests and not laity, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines. Without worrying about how these orders work within the Catholic system, this division, I think, points to a solution for United Methodists.
Rather than dividing churches and laity over a disagreement over the role of the clergy, why not simply divide the clergy? I think a division of clergy solves our immediate problem, without dividing the laity or the church, better than the solutions that I’ve seen proposed to date.
Here’s what I’m suggesting: Under the existing United Methodist structure, we create a new order of clergy, the name doesn’t matter. But those clergy that choose to belong to the new order, in line with their conscience, would be prohibited from performing LGBT weddings or officiating in the ordination of such persons. Local churches, under such a system, would not choose whether to leave the denomination, but would vote, as a congregation, on two things. First, would that congregation accept a pastor that only belonged to the new order, would they only accept a pastor that did not belong to the order, or would they accept a pastor from either the order. Second, the church would vote whether they would be willing to allow same sex unions to be conducted in their building. Churches could, therefore, accept a pastor from the new order while still allowing same sex marriages to be officiated in their church if there were an officiant (not the church pastor) willing to do so.
While there would be some significant logistical issues with such a system, rather than forcing local churches to vote on its denominational affiliation, bishops (and their cabinets) would be responsible to match churches with pastors (much as they already do) with some, admittedly, new and complicating differentiation. Two obvious consequences would be that it would complicate the appointment process, and that it would likely necessitate the elimination of guaranteed appointment for ordained elders. The second simply because, in many cases, there would be a significant disparity between the number of available clergy (of one type or the other) and the number of churches willing to accept them.
The advantage of such a system, of course, is that while the clergy would be divided, the church would remain whole.
Maybe we can take a hint from the Catholic Church.
Why burn down the house if you can fix the furnace?
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