By Keith Boyette
April 5, 2019
At its November 2018 Global Legislative Assembly, the Wesleyan Covenant Association adopted a “Statement Offering Radical Hospitality and Genuine Community.” The statement declares, “We long for and are working for a church that offers radical hospitality and genuine community to all persons. While we affirm the orthodox, biblical view of sexuality and gender, we also welcome all persons to the redemptive grace of Jesus. We are committed to being a place of refuge and community for all who experience brokenness.”
This statement is consistent with where The United Methodist Church has stood for more than 45 years. The UM Church’s Social Principles, adopted and repeatedly reaffirmed by its General Conference, declares, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.” The Social Principles also states, “We affirm God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” The WCA is fully committed to living into the truth of these statements.
Unfortunately, in the the aftermath of the 2019 special General Conference major media outlets, and even some UM leaders, have unfairly given the public the impression our church has backtracked on these statements. It most certainly has not! The UM Church remains steadfast in its conviction “that all persons [including LGBTQ+ people] are individuals of sacred worth, [and] created in the image of God.” It firmly believes “God’s grace is available to all.” And it remains resolute in its fulsome welcome of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church. The WCA affirms these UM Church statements and it fully expects its members to embrace them as well.
But in a rhetorical sleight of hand, some progressives are saying the UM Church believes LGBTQ+ people are “incompatible” with Christian teaching, and even worse, with God. These claims are wrong, harmful, and contrary to the words of the UM Church’s Discipline. Still, others, who should know better, are claiming the special General Conference adopted legislation that excludes LGBTQ+ people and even those who advocate on their behalf – again, wrong and harmful. The legislation adopted simply requires that those who have taken a vow to uphold the teachings and polity of the UM church do so.
For 2,000 years the church universal has affirmed sexual ethics and teachings on marriage that are rooted in Scripture and Christian tradition. The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, the vast majority of churches in the Anglican Communion, and an overwhelming number of Protestant denominations continue to affirm these standards. The United Methodist Church (along with all denominations in the Wesleyan family) does so as well. And it does so, based on its principled reading of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal in all times and all places. UM churches are called to be full of grace and full of truth. Truth is to be spoken in love, making clear the biblical message in all areas of our lives, including with regard to sexual intimacy which is to be expressed only in a marriage between a man and a woman.
The UM Church has also wisely joined the vast majority of Christians in acknowledging that over the long centuries the church has countenanced and, at its worst, even incited mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people. These are sins the church must confess and repent of. They are constant reminders to us to affirm the sacred worth of all people, to not condemn others, and to extend a special and warm welcome to LGBTQ+ people who have not only been marginalized, but also mistreated. The WCA readily acknowledges there is still work to do in ensuring that all local UM churches are welcoming places for LGBTQ+ people and their families. We are committed to making the church a place of refuge and well being for the flourishing of all God’s people.
This makes it all the more regretful that our U.S. bishops have failed to clearly articulate what the special General Conference actually did in St. Louis. UM delegates, from around the world, passed legislation to re-establish the good order of our church and to hold its clergy accountable to its theological and ethical standards; standards they have reaffirmed time and time again. But instead of making this clear, some bishops have conflated our principled and widely shared Christian sexual ethics and teachings on marriage with a purported hostility for LGBTQ+ people and their advocates. Their misrepresentations of the UM Church’s General Conference has sown greater division in the body of Christ, undermined the ministry of the church, and harmed LGBTQ+ people.
For decades, orthodox evangelical United Methodists have been willing to participate in conversations about the church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. They have also acknowledged the right of United Methodists to attempt to change our church’s teachings through the work of our General Conference. However, they have rightly rejected attempts to force the church to adopt an agenda via acts of ecclesial defiance. So again, it is very disheartening to hear bishops and leading clergy unfairly characterize the work of the special General Conference as undermining the UM Church’s firm belief in the sacred worth of LGBTQ+ people. They know, or should know, that is simply not true.
For its part, the WCA welcomes LGBTQ+ people, their families and allies to participate in the life of the church. Many LGBTQ+ people regularly worship right beside us every weekend, and we hope and pray they will continue to do so. We implore them to reject the false narrative that a serious disagreement over our sexual ethics and teachings on marriage must necessarily imply our rejection of them. We do not accept that narrative; we will continue to welcome and reach out to LGBTQ+ people despite our differences. We will continue to work for a church that offers radical hospitality and genuine community to all persons. And we will strive to be a place of refuge for all who experience brokenness.
Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.