I had the privilege of being able to attend the 2008 United Methodist General Conference. One of the major issues discussed was human sexuality. The church’s current stance states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This position has excluded some persons from marriage and ordination.
While I struggle with these issues, I have found myself increasingly sympathetic to persons excluded from the church and to their claims that God has called and gifted them. When petitions came forward in 04 and 08 to change the language in a way that would allow us to agree to disagree, I was supportive of the change.
The heart of this year’s petition to the Social Principles read as follows, “We know that all are God's children and of sacred worth; yet we have been, and remain, divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality. Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.”
This petition passed the committee but was killed on the floor as dinner approached and precious time was wasted on amendments. With no debate on the actual petition itself, the minority report, which basically maintained the church’s original position, passed 527 votes to 423.
Again and again in my own experience and in the testimonies of others, journeys towards new perspectives on inclusivity take place within the context of personal relationships. When you do not know a gay person it is much easier to exclude them. But when you become friends with someone whom you see God actively at work in and through the totality of their identity, denying their calling to ministry becomes a bit more difficult.
Eventually I believe we will see changes made in the church. While protests and hermeneutical debates may play a role, I believe people are most commonly and most effectively transformed through encountering the Spirit of God moving in persons whom they might not have chosen. May God’s Spirit guide us.