News Articles

Methodists’ courage on homosexuality draws Baptist ethics leader’s praise

CLEVELAND (BP)–Pro-homosexual members of an Illinois United Methodist Conference have criticized the Southern Baptist Convention for its stands against same-sex unions and homosexual ordinations, characterizing the nation’s largest non-Catholic body as “rigidly doctrinal” and “legalistic about people’s lives.”

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commenting May 16 on the characterization of the SBC, said, “We take it as a compliment that this homosexual Methodist [group] would look upon Southern Baptists as being a denomination that is ‘literalist,’ which means faithful to God’s Word, and ‘rigidly doctrinal and legalistic,’ which means obedient and faithful in practice, concerning God’s standard for living. Far better to be known for that then to be identified as part of a group that espouses a sexual lifestyle that is condemned in Scripture as immoral and unnatural (Romans 1:26 ff).”

A letter signed by 14 members and friends of the Northern Illinois Conference, published in the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA), the official publication of the United Methodist General Conference, was written in response to a May 9 DCA article by a United Methodist pro-family group, Transforming Congregations, that believes homosexual orientation can be changed through Christian faith.

In its article, Transforming Congregations asked: “Why would people remain connected to a group who doesn’t affirm them or approve their behavior?” It went on to suggest that those who do not agree with the UMC’s rules against homosexual practice might be happier in other denominations that “bless and approve homosexuality.”

The Northern Illinois delegation’s letter of response noted: “We’re not looking to leave home and family we love, even as some do and say the most hurtful things. But that’s what love does. Love never gives up. Love never ends. Love never turns away. Love never fails.

“If you want a church that is literalist in its interpretation of Scripture and rigidly doctrinal and legalistic about people’s lives, the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptists and others open wide their doors to your narrow views and limited love and measured grace.”

“True love is tough love,” Land told Baptist Press. “Tough love tells the truth. The truth revealed in Scripture is that homosexual behavior is an abomination to God and that in the love and power of Christ homosexuals and lesbians can be delivered from this lifestyle as were some of the church members addressed by Paul in the first Corinthian letter, writing, ‘and such were some of you’ (1 Corinthians 6:11).”

Land, in his national “For Faith & Family” radio broadcast, encouraged Baptists to express to friends who are Methodist their appreciation for their denomination’s “strong and uncompromising stance” against ordaining homosexuals as clergy and against the blessing of same-sex unions.

“I thank God that Methodists, in spite of tremendous pressure, boldly took a stand for morality on this issue,” Land said, noting the stance will be in place until at least the next General Conference in four years. He noted that the Methodists’ stance is courageous “particularly in light of they criticism they will inevitably receive in today’s culture.”

The criticism came in the wake of United Methodists’ General Conference, during which 992 delegates voted by 2-to-1 margins to retain current language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline, which affirms that God’s grace is available to all people, but states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and to retain the rule that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained into the ministry.

To the Northern Illinois Conference, Land said, “I don’t how loving, inclusive and tolerant it is for a small homosexual minority within Methodism to invite the vast majority of Methodists who believe homosexual behavior to be immoral and unbiblical to leave Methodism and abandon it to its homosexual minority. After all, all Methodists did was affirm Methodist doctrine.”

Controversy is nothing new to the Northern Illinois Conference. Some of its members support United Methodist minister Gregory Dell who made headlines in 1998 when he performed a same-sex union ceremony at Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago. He was put on trial March 25-26, 1999, by the church for violating the UMC’s ban on such ceremonies and was subsequently suspended for one year.

Despite the disciplinary action, the Northern Illinois Conference elected Dell as a delegate to the recent explosive United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland, which convened May 2 for 11 days of meetings. However, Dell was barred from his legislative seat because of the suspension. He was among 200-plus protestors arrested in pro-homosexual demonstrations that marred the General Conference.

The first demonstration occurred May 10, as about 190 homosexual supporters protested the UMC’s pro-family views on homosexuality by blocking a convention center exit. All were arrested and charged with aggravated disorderly conduct, according to police Commander James Davidson. They were later released that day.

Another demonstration occurred during the morning session of May 11 after the 2-to-1 votes upholding longstanding Methodist doctrine regarding homosexuality.

The votes prompted about 50 pro-homosexual members to line the front and main aisles of the Cleveland Convention Center, while another 150 circled the perimeter of the floor and balcony, according to the United Methodist News Service.

One non-UMC observer suddenly stood and shouted, while teetering on the edge of the upper balcony of the convention center. “I’ve been gay all my life,” screamed the weeping woman, her arms extended outward. Fearing she might fall, two other demonstrators grabbed her and pulled her to safety. She was later escorted from the auditorium.

Meanwhile, the demonstrators refused to leave, forcing presiding Bishop Dan Solomon of Louisiana to call a 20-minute recess in an attempt to restore order. Solomon met with protesters and announced they had reached an agreement to continue the protests in an orderly fashion, standing in aisles or kneeling at the altar.

When the session resumed, delegates handed homosexual supporters another decisive defeat, voting 646-294 to retain the ban on pastors performing same-sex unions. That triggered yet another protest as about 30 demonstrators violated the earlier agreement reached with Solomon by walking on stage and refusing to leave.

After failing to regain order, Solomon allowed the protestors to speak.

“We are not strangers to this church,” said one demonstrator, noting that he and other homosexuals had been raised and confirmed in the church as children, only to discover they were not welcome as adults. “The covenant [the agreement with Solomon] is already broken; the tapestry is unwoven,” he said, because he felt the church already had broken covenant with homosexuals.

The protestors began to sing and were joined by about 50 people in the visitors’ gallery and approximately 20 others scattered throughout the assembly floor.

Solomon implored the demonstrators to return to the aisles or kneeling at the altar, but they refused.

“I speak with anguish in my own voice for the circumstances that are about to unfold. I bury my head in prayer,” Solomon said as police were called in and began escorting demonstrators out of the convention center and loading them into paddy wagons.

Some pro-homosexual supporters shouted, “Shame!” as police took them away, while others sang “We Shall Overcome.” Many other delegates burst into tears, prompting Solomon to declare a 15-minute recess that was extended to 25 minutes.

All totaled, 31 people were arrested and charged with “disrupting a lawful meeting,” a misdemeanor that carries a $250 fine and court costs, or 30 days in jail, Cleveland Police Lt. Sharon MacKay told the news service.

It is believed to be the first time anyone has been arrested on the floor of the denomination’s General Conference.

Prior to the vote on same-sex unions, Emery Percell of the controversial Northern Illinois Conference, asked delegates to change the words “homosexual unions shall not be conducted” to “should not be conducted.” The purpose, Percell said, was “to make it something other than a chargeable offense.”

Don Fado, a California-Nevada Conference pastor who performed a same-sex ceremony in Sacramento, supported the change. Referring to the ceremony he conducted — which resulted in the filing of charges against him and more than 60 other pastors of that conference — Fado said, “Some of you feel we broke covenant to do this. I hope our covenant is more than one rule in the Discipline.”

But Paul Hayes, a minister who chairs the Faith and Order Committee, said that substituting “should” for “shall” would be ambiguous and should not be accepted. “If we would allow a change at this point, the church would have no leverage in such cases,” he said.

The change was overwhelmingly rejected.

The General Conference also voted to retain the prohibition against using official church funds for any organization or program that promotes homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

Throughout the conference pro-homosexual supporters appealed for unity while pressing their demands, but pro-family members said unity is not always best.

“In terms of unity, it can be a false god,” said conference attendee Andrea Garcanz, a former lesbian who heads Stop the Cycle, a ministry to the sexually and relationally broken in Long Island, N.Y.

Ultimately, Garcanz said, homosexuality serves as a flash point over scriptural authority.

“If we look at foundations, there are two worldviews,” she said, according to a United Methodist Press Service report. “One sees the Bible as authoritative. If you say it is not authoritative, then you have a relativistic view. They [homosexuals] are welcome, but what it will come down to is where we stand with Jesus Christ. It is being played out on the field of homosexuality, but it is really about the authority of the Bible.”

Paul Leeland, a North Carolina minister, argued that the church has an obligation to define how faith and order are to be lived out.

“This is also a defining moment,” he said. “It expresses how our denomination identifies a common ground that makes us a family.”

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle & Dwayne Hastings