Seven pieces of institutional clutter the UMC needs to leave behind

We’re on the verge of requiring a genitalia check for someone to get ordained.

Among other things, we dare not let in any possible clergy who may have been born with ambiguous genitalia because no one even knows how to define their biological sexuality.

The UMC has defined “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” as one who has genital to genital contact with a same-sex partner. So . . . how do we prove that they are or are not? And what about celibate marriages among self-avowed practicing heterosexuals? Are we going to make sure that couples are having regular sex? That’s biblical as well.

What about the sexual histories of the applicants? Many young people experiment sexually before settling down with life partners. Should the various Board of Ordained Ministries learn to perform virginity tests on their non-married female applicants?

Men, as usual, get exempted since there is no visible sign of their sexual behaviors. On the other hand, men with damaged genitalia were unable to serve as Hebrew priests. If the Bible, and only the Bible, is our guide, they may need to drop their tidy-whities for a quick BOOM inspection as well.

And let’s be honest, the vast majority of sexually predatory behavior comes from male heterosexuals. They may be the ones that need to be weeded out, not faithful same-sex couples.

Clearly, the above scenarios border on the ridiculous. But if we define holiness and fitness for ministry primarily by sexuality, they are not as ridiculous as they look.

We no longer live in the clean/unclean world–and God knows that.

The UMC institutional clutter: an overstuffed closet of rulesHoliness and fitness for service demand a far wider base. A holy use of our sexuality is certainly part of it. However, only if we are going to enter into the ancient Middle Eastern custom of rigidly defining everything, and I do mean everything, as a binary “clean or unclean,” can we rightly remove from ordination those who are living in sexual faithfulness to same-sex partners.

At the time when the early Israelites were in the process of forming their fledgling nation, living out the clean/unclean classifications made sense. It helped them separate from the forms of worship they were leaving behind to worship the one true God.

Jesus, while an observant Jew, also made it clear that the clean/unclean separations had passed. He healed on the Sabbath, ate with sinners, touched the leper and the unclean woman. Do not read this lightly: such were scandalous actions. The religious leaders, faithful to their rules, heaped condemnation upon Jesus for them.

Will the UMC start requiring kosher kitchens and demand that all UMC members quit wearing clothes made of blended fabrics? If so, there may be a reason to stick with the “Either you are hetero or non-sexual or you are out” current stance. But in our day, that bucket no longer holds water.

The UMC is not yet dead. But it is dying under the weight of its institutional clutter.

Because of the current crisis over sexuality that threatens to destroy this once-vibrant connection, we are at the ideal time to clear away the clutter, clean out our closets, and rid ourselves of anything but the essentials of serving together.

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  • P J Evans

    Those seven rules sound like they came in from the Southern Baptists or the Pentecostals. They aren’t the Methodist rules I grew up with, and I wouldn’t join any church that thought those were even reasonable rules to live by.

  • Bob M

    Well, my thoughts run the same as yours. I am a baptized and confirmed UMC who was the first youth person on our Administrative Board way back when the Methodists became “United” (yes, I am old…) I am also an out gay man, and am no longer UMC, but not for that reason. I found a home with the Presbyterians (PC-USA)Yes, we have and are traveling down many of the same roads you talk about although we do meet on the top denominational level every two years. WE also have people saying the very same things, doctrinal purity, everybody abiding by the “rules” WE do have an interesting history of division, we seem to have done it a lot over the years.

    This morning I had a thought come to mind. People want nice neat boxes (rules, consensus, doctrine, neat Bible verses) while the Holy Spirit is more of a coloring out side the lines kind a person.

    Will the future be uncertain, probably. Will it be what we want, maybe not. If I remember many of the same things were said about women in ministry…we seemed to have survived that, I think we will survive this, too.

    A favorite quote.. ”

    When you come to the end of all
    the light you have

    and take that first step into the
    darkness of the unknown,

    you must believe, one of two
    things will happen

    there will be something solid to
    stand upon

    or you will be taught
    how to fly.

    • I love what you said about the Holy Spirit is more of a cooring outside the lines type! Exactly. Whenever the fresh winds of the Spirit blow through, all the tight little boxes get blown wide open.

      • Guthrum

        There indeed needs to be a time of fellowship, talking informally, and uplifting times. Just enjoy the company of others. Don’t get caught up in strictness, formalities, and separating out. Maybe there is too much beauracracy.

    • Guthrum

      The Episcopal Church – US, Presbyterian Church – USA, and the ELCA are denominations that are in a state of total collapse.

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    In 1962 I left the Southern Baptist Church because of this kind of behavior. I went to the UMC and found a healthy and kind environment. So sad to read this now.

    • I also found the wonderful environment of the UMC after years in Baptist/Independent Bible churches. I ache to see what is happening with us.

  • George Waite

    Church is boring.

    • Sometimes it is. Sometimes we need to have our souls bored into. Sometimes we need stillness and others to discover the presence of God.

      • George Waite

        Wow, if that isn’t pseudo-profound, I don’t know what is!

  • Guthrum

    Majority: okay, but the views and opinions of the church members need to be listened to. Decisions should not be made by a small block of people with an agenda. The Episcopal Church – US and the ELCA made decisions in stacked voting assemblies that ignored the members. Social statements and policies were approved that have proven disastrous for both denominations: losses of millions of members and thousands of churches. Decisions that went against Biblical teachings.
    Look at this: Episcopal diocese of Atlanta offers communion to non-Christians ! Are they kidding ? Apostate!

    • Pastor Kimberly A Rapczak

      I am not sure what you mean by “stacked voting assemblies.” In the ELCA, every congregation is entitled to a minimum of two voting members at synod assembly. As congregations become larger, they are entitled to additional voting members. At synod assemblies, people are chosen from among those attending to become voting members at Churchwide assemblies. It is completely democratic. I have often struggled to get people from my congregation to attend synod assemblies. ‘It’s boring.” “I only get so many vacation days.” “Who cares about what happens at synod assemblies?” When people then complain about what is passed, I remind them that they chose not to participate in the process. An additional fact: According to the ELCA constitutions, synod assemblies must be composed of 60% lay people. Should they choose to do so, they could outvote clergy every time. If anything, small congregations have greater power because a congregation of 20 people can have two voting members at synod assembly, the same as a congregation of 100 people. So, I really don’t understand what you mean by “stacked voting assemblies.”

  • It seems to me that #1 fails to recognize the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – experience can be used to interpret the Bible and that’s why women are allowed to preach in Methodism. The Southern Baptists always considered it a slippery slope: if you let women preach, then the LGBTQ community will want to preach … Like it or not, you can’t grant freedom for one group to preach and use the same logic to deny freedom to another group to preach. At least the SBC is consistent in not allowing either group to preach.