Thursday, February 03, 2011


Idolatrous (adj):
  1. Of or having to do with idolatry.
  2. Given to blind or excessive devotion to something: "The religiosity of the [group] is self-righteous and idolatrous. It perceives no virtue in its opponents and magnifies its own" (Christopher Lasch).
  3. Constituting idolatry.
Thirty-Three retired bishops in the United Methodist Church are urging the denomination to remove its ban on homosexual clergy, just in time for the election of delegates to General Conference 2012. Reconciling Ministries Network has it as their top news story. I haven't gotten Mark Tooley's weekly letter from The Institute of Religion and Democracy yet but I am sure he is licking his chops and typing away.

It is all very sad to watch.

Homosexuality is being lined up - again - to be the most important issue that United Methodists talk about when they gather for their four-year meeting in 2012. What will happen? Probably the same thing that has happened for 30-some years now when United Methodists gather at General Conference and debate homosexuality: nothing.

It is sad to watch because homosexuality has become an idol in United Methodism - to EVERYONE on either side of the ideological and theological fence. As if it is the most important thing in the Kingdom to debate! As if "solving" the problem is the great answer we need in face of a denomination that is hemorrhaging in every way imaginable. If that were the case, the Southern Baptists and the Episcopal Church would be gaining members left and right (no pun intended) with their unequivocal statements on the matter.

Allan Bevere, who is known well in the Methodist Blogosphere, wrote a comment on fellow blogger John Meunier's blog that, to me, puts it all into perspective:
I’ve been listening to this debate for thirty years and no new ground has been broken and we will not reconcile this issue as a church. Either things will continue to stay the same and folks on the other side of the issue will leave, or at some point a change will be made and the other group will leave.

For me what it boils down to is that as a denomination we are obsessed with sex just like the world; and anything that two dogs can do without instructions cannot be all that significant.
I certainly can't add anything new to the argument pro- or anti-homosexuality as a compatible Christian practice. But I do know as a pastor who is about to become a district superintendent, homosexuality is far, far, far down the list of issues that are obstacles or even problems in our local churches. Local churches want to know: how can we equip ourselves better to make disciples? How can we be in mission in our community? What do we need to change in order to be effective at being the Church?

I am not about using the usual metrics to define success in ministry. But the reality is that the UMC is headed towards collapse in just about every way you can imagine; you don't have to be an actuarial expert to see that. It seems to me that addressing an issue that is at best secondary (and is in reality probably tertiary) where our mission as a Church is concerned is a complete waste of time. To debate homosexuality AGAIN - regardless of one's stance - where it will become the MAIN issue in the press and otherwise, while in the midst of being a denomination that is bleeding to death, is akin to getting a face-lift or tummy-tuck when you're in need of life-saving surgery.

I doubt that my chances of becoming a General or Jurisdictional Conference delegate are very good; our conference's size has diminished to the point where we only get the minimum number of delegates as mandated by the Book of Discipline. But if I were a delegate, I would try to get on the floor and ask for a moratorium on the word, and any derivative of the word, homosexual. Why? We simply don't have the luxury to debate it anymore. Not when so much more is at stake and at risk.



PamBG said...

But I do know as a pastor who is about to become a district superintendent, homosexuality is far, far, far down the list of issues that are obstacles or even problems in our local churches.


Although I was only a short time in parish ministry, I was once told by a parishioner that I needed to preach on the issue. My reply was "Why? Who in this congregation needs to hear such a sermon?" The person had no answer.

The town I was in watched a pastor tear apart a small congregation of mainly elderly people. So the net result of his taking a stand was that a bunch of elderly married people who had known each other for 50 years developed such animosity between the factions that they couldn't attend each other's funerals. That was just sad.

Mazzone Communications said...

What an astute observation! This was an excellent commentary on how so many in the religious community seem to literally miss the point of what "living the faith" is really all about. Keep up the good work!

"CAPTAIN DAVE" said...

I agree it dominates the headlines way too much.

However, for some it is a justice issue, as important as civil rights for African-Americans or voting rights and ordination for women. For the other side, it is a faith issue, protecting and defending the faith (as they understand it) from distortion.

But as with so many other issues, the arguing has gone on so long and the rhetoric has gotten so heated up that few minds will be changed by continued discussion, and few people will be satisfied with another General Conference vote, whatever the outcome.

Instead of victory, both factions need to start looking for peace.

Rod Groom said...

You are right on target. We need to stop it and get on with what the church is supposed to be all about, loving each other and bringing others into a trusting love relationship with Jesus Christ.

A Florida Lay Person

Doug said...

I follow articles that appear on the United Methodist News Service and your entry from your personal blog appeared for me today. It sounds like you are tired of watching a tennis match that constantly ends in "deuce" where it seems to you a completely different, more important event is taking place in some other arena. We should not be fixated on homosexual rights, rather, we should be fixated on "feeding and tending sheep". I suppose that looks to you and others like more effectively engaging newer generations, which is why you must have attended the Emerging Church event.

If you have read the book "UnChristian", you can certainly appreciate how all Christians have been defined as not only sheltered and irrelevant (two issues you probably want churches to address)but also homophobic (one which you seem content to ignore). I wish you could see that our seemingly intractable debates about homosexuality are not only good theologizing but also good business. Yes we are losing members; is it because we are talking too much about this issue or because we continue to confirm stereotypes that lead people to abandon the faith?

I was surprised to see this article on homosexuality and General Conference appearing so close to an article about your restored BMW convertible. It confirms some of my stereotypes about Christians as hypocrites. I have taken time to write this not to insult you but because I want you to reflect more on what is truly needed these days (restore your neighbor's malfunctioning Dodge so she can keep her job, why don't you?). This article seems quite simplistic and we need more from our leaders. Integrity may well need to start with you.

If you'd like to continue a discussion, here's my e-mail:

John said...

Homosexuality is not the issue. Bigotry, hypocrisy and human rights are the issues. By maintining our stance against GLBT persons in the life and leadership of the church, we are choosing to remain hypocritical bigots. Is it any wonder that the UMC is losing members?

Imagine how your comments would sound if you were defending the status quo when slavery or full inclusion of women in the life and leadership of the church were being debated. Discriminating against GLBT persons is no less disgusting.

Attitudes like yours are why faithful Methodists are forced to seek justice for GLBT persons again and again. We will continue to do so until United Methodists agree to end discrimination against them.

carolynb said...

Thank you for the reality check.
When I awaken to the orphan as the prophetic voice of Jesus Christ, I see without a cloud, those sideroad issues that our religiosity has taken us as a church family. One of those sideroads is the 'yah and nay' of your topic. May God grant us the wisdom to change the things we can (personal and congregational marks in the sand) and seeking out those changeable things -- orphaning for example -- holds such priority over power struggles of sexuality issues. I believe when we seek God's conditioning of our hearts, then we do not have time or desire to get into other folks' sexuality,
hallujah, as we are filled with Love and empowerment to care for those who need us as they have no other.

Anonymous said...

I firmly agree with the posts that said that if this was a race or gender issue, I'm not sure you would call it idolatry. it's not sex to lgbt folks, it's equality. as a straight UM pastor, I have seen the light after opposing them for years. once they receive justice, they will be extremely grateful that this endless debate continued long enough for justice to have the last word.

Sky McCracken said...


A few comments:

The event I attended was not an Emerging Church event; it was an event held for younger clergy in the two conferences of our Episcopal Area. And I have not read _Unchurched_, but I will try to do so.

I don't think it is fair nor accurate to paint those who do not embrace full-acceptance of homosexuality as homophobic. Is that not intolerance - to not be able to embrace those who think differently than we do?

I appreciate you not wishing to insult me - but you DID come close to calling me a hypocrite (or perhaps you DID call me one). I restored two 20-year old BMW's that were a lot of junk, mostly with my own hands and simple tools as a hobby. I have certainly done my share of shade-tree repairs for others, and given a car and a motorcycle to someone who could afford neither. I'd be happy to restore a Dodge or Ford for someone else... but both are so damned hard to work on that they require 'experts' with special tools, computers, and the like that most shade-tree folks like me can't work on them. Even ones that are 16-20 years old.

I am sure my article came across as simplistic and practical - but I am finding that we are failing as a Church at the basics and instead majoring in the minors. It will do us no good to argue the same arguments about homosexuality; the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and to expect different results. Sexuality in general needs an overhaul in Christianity, and fighting over it in a forum like General Conference will not get us one step closer to getting to the heart of the issue. Moreover, as a denomination we are dying: to fight over homosexuality while not dealing with a denomination that is declining in every way measurable is akin to locking the barn door after the horse is gone.

In my humble opinion. Perhaps I am missing the mark; if so, may God forgive me and straighten me out.



Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for this article. I agree with some parts and disagree with others. My response was too long for a comment; so I posted it here:
I welcome your thoughts.

Matt O'Reilly

Bob Brooke said...

I agree with Matt. We must continue (no matter how long it takes) to argue because the church, if it is to be the salt of the earth & the light of the world, must love it as Christ did - by speaking the truth to it & not be accomodating its demands.

Anonymous said...

The "mind-set" way too many people have is, that homosexuality is "something" that one should "not be". Homosexuality is not chosen. It is within one at inception. Remember, Jesus befriended ALL. His last commandment included ALL.