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English: Broken glass

Shattered like our Covenant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church has passed legislation actively encouraging the infraction of our polity and covenant as United Methodists, particularly as United Methodist Clergy.

From the document (linked above), which passed overwhelmingly at that Jurisdictional Conference:

In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church states our belief that the United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.”

We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.

The secretary of the Western Jurisdictional Conference will submit this statement of Gospel Obedience to the Jurisdictional College of Bishops, each Annual Conference, and chairpersons of Boards of Ordained Ministry for discussion and implementation.

Those of you who are not familiar with our polity should know that the United Methodist Church currently holds as its doctrine the following statement on homosexuality: ”

The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

The only body of the United Methodist Church that may revoke or change this stance is the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. A few weeks ago, that body failed to make such a change. The Western Jurisdiction has made this statement in violation of covenant and polity, and is rejecting the denominational stand.

I have no problem with people who follow their conscience and the leadership of the Spirit in their lives. In fact, I applaud it. I understand that this move was a carefully considered theological decision based on the dictates of conscience and done with careful exegesis (by some, anyway) and painstaking reflection.

But this action shows little regard for the connection and the covenant vow made at ordination.

I have little respect for folks who take a stand on an issue by defying the connection and covenant while still reaping the benefits of the connection and covenant. 

All clergy were asked at ordination: “Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church? … Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? … Do you approve our Church government and polity? Will you support and maintain them?”

Maintenance means upgrades and changes sometimes. Our polity allows for that. What it does not allow, without ethical breach, is ignoring our polity, even for the sake of conscience. Instead, provisions are made for withdrawal, honorable location, or sabbatical time which might be used to further this agenda of change within our denomination.

If you cannot support and maintain our polity while working to change it, then conscience dictates a departure. Those who value the covenant too highly to depart it should at least respect it while working to change the polity.

What this has done is establish a precedent for ignoring our Discipline. You might agree with this action in the current setting, but what happens when a Jurisdiction allows a bishop to make arbitrary changes to the status of one’s ordination — based on conscience of course — without an appeal to process? This precedent becomes a thing of destruction and not a path worthy of our best traditions.

If this or any other issue is worth defying the denomination, then defy it, by all means. But don’t pick and choose the comfortable parts of the covenant like pension, guaranteed appointment, insurance, and, for some, parsonage housing while you refuse to abide by the uncomfortable theology that is, for good or for ill, in place by the will of our General Conference.

No cheers for the Western Jurisdiction on this matter.

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Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.