|Newly Elected Bishop Karen Oliveto|
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”
II Thessalonians 2:15 (NRSV)
UnitedMethodists Standing Firm is the latest iteration of those United Methodists opposed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons within the life of the United Methodist Church. It stands beside UM Action, Good News, and The Confessing Movement, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and their allies.
The Standing Firm folks chose this verse from Second Thessalonians as their text. It is an ironic choice in at least two ways.
First, the “traditions” to which Paul (or more likely a disciple of Paul) refers were only about twenty minutes old when the letter was written. I’m just kidding. They were maybe a decade or two old. They were traditional in the same way that a particular Christmas Eve service becomes a tradition if the church uses it more than two years in a row. Paul (or his disciple) is not pointing to some ancient custom, he is talking about what he just taught them.
Second, the church in Thessalonica is being urged to stand firm in the face of persecution by the Empire. There is no comparable persecution of “traditionalists” in the church today. If any group can claim persecution, it would be our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, who are not allowed full inclusion in the life of the church, not the people who are organized to maintain that exclusion.
Standing Firm points to the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto as a Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC as the event which, as they see it, elevated tensions within the church to "an unprecedented level." Dr. Oliveto is an openly gay clergywoman living in what they refer to as "a partnered relationship."
Then they offer a cautionary observation to their supporters:
“Let us not lose perspective. Representing just two percent of United Methodism, the fast-declining Western Jurisdiction that elected Dr. Oliveto on its own does not represent the present or future of our church.”
But the question that we should ask is whether the Western Jurisdiction, declining as it is, might nevertheless be the “saving remnant” of which the prophet Isaiah speaks. Is this not, as many of us believe, a sign of life and hope?
Standing Firm admonishes supporters not to forget “the many great accomplishments of last May’s General Conference, at which liberal delegates once again gave up even trying to remove our denomination’s ban on same-sex unions and it became abundantly clear that the momentum in our denomination is decisively with the growing orthodox majority.”
True. By every reasonable measure, the traditionalists had many successes, but it is also important to note that what they term “the growing orthodox majority,” which exists globally does not exist in the United States. Here at home our “orthodoxy” on issues of human sexuality is radically out of step with our culture and it is a major hindrance to the effective communication of the Gospel. Standing Firm declares that “global United Methodism is growing and increasingly orthodox.” And they are glad that our denomination is moving “away from its USA-only liberal Protestant identity.” But “global United Methodism” is also moving away from its membership here at home.
Finally, Standing Firm offers a condescending affirmation:
“We are committed to loving ministry with ALL people, including our friends and loved ones who identify as LGBTQIA+. We grieve for the deep pain inflicted by secular Western culture’s confusions about human sexuality. . . . The answer is for our church to rediscover the riches of Christian teaching about the holiness and good news of God’s plan for marriage and the human body.”
The problem, as they see it, is not the church’s exclusionary and unjust policies. The problem is “secular Western culture’s confusions about human sexuality.” That’s the source of “the deep pain” suffered by “our friends and loved ones who identify as LGBTQIA+.
They are right about the pain. It is real. But they are wrong about the source. And as long as they persist in excluding LGBTQIA+ folks, that pain will continue.
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