Last week the United Methodist General Conference rejected two motions that would have relaxed the church’s teaching about homosexuality. One of the results was a decision not to vote on related motions. From the Washington Post:
The UMC’s policy remains that ministers cannot marry same-sex couples and churches cannot host same-sex weddings. Clergy in same-sex relationships are likewise banned. … About 1,200 United Methodists clergy have agreed to break church rules and marry same-sex couples, surveys show young Christians favor expanding gay rights and other mainline Protestant denominations have adopted gay-friendly policies in recent years.
But what’s with that last part?
Can clergy disobey the teaching of the church?
Luther did. When he was told to recant, he refused, (possibly) adding “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
But where does it end? Is a pulpit like a university chair, protected by tenure, allowing its occupant to go where their heart tells them the evidence leads? Should they continue to draw pay when they go there? (Consider the case of Teresa Macbain.)
What about when things are reversed? Here’s a story about an Anglican preacher who advocated traditional marriage. His license was suspended for at least two months (and might not be renewed).
The church, however, has defended its decision and clarified that it has not suspended or revoked Gowlland’s preacher’s license, just told him to stay away for two months to “settle the dust.” It also claimed that it was not his defense of traditional marriage that created the issue, but the way he raised the debate at church.
Is that a legitimate distinction: it’s not the theology but the way you express it?
For example, there’s a church in North Carolina, that was also a polling place in last Tuesday’s election. One of the issues being decided was a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and the church took sides, posting a sign reading: “A True Marriage: Male and Female and God.”
Wouldn’t that be strange, though, if you permitted the clergy any kind of theology they arrived at, but drew the line at etiquette?
And besides, what is good etiquette? Look at Paul. Sometimes he was engaging, as in Athens. But not always: sometimes, like in Philippi or Thessalonica, he got people so angry they…well, they did more than post an angry blog about him.)