Monday, June 27, 2011

John Wesley's Ghost and Gay Marriage

Das Glob kind of got it on Methodism and gays. The Sunday Boston paper twisted the big issue of the largest U.S. Protestant denomination (8 million) and same-sex marriage into its usual provincial mold.

The New England clergy (exactly like the national and beyond) have growing numbers supporting SSM. The whole org stills speaks and votes just like they were Roman Catholics:
  • We love everybody, including those gay folk.
  • Homosexual practice is icky, immoral and an affront to God and Methodism.
  • Out homos should not expect to be ordained.
  • Marriage is only for one man-one woman.
The Globe could use a religion reporter or two again. It is truly missing news and analysis here. It's also not serving the large number of Roman Catholic readers by not putting this in newsy perspective.

Methodist Swamp

Like the most common UUs, I was raised as a Methodist. I glibly say I got better. In personal reality, it was not easy coming to realize I could not accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior and that the Apostle's Creed that epitomizes Methodism is politically based craziness.
...was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead....
Right, pull the other one.

Regardless, I have written on this before, as in this piece on Methodist anti-war campaigns and publication during the Vietnam War era. Going back into the 18th Century, Methodism founder John Wesley was a delightful troublemaker and social activist. He somehow managed to stay in the Anglican Church while being a leading abolitionist and founding a whole different sect in America based on itinerant preachers seeding small-group ministries on Jesus' apostolic model.

Now Methodism is a swamp. The social conservatives that dominated since the United Methodist Church came into being (another political action, like the King James translation of the Bible) have tried to return the body into the 17th Century. Countervailing forces of slowly increasing strength try to stay within the denomination as Wesley and his brother Charles did while pushing for social reason and justice.

On the SSM issue, the most recent vote confirmed the church's homophobia (which they defineas a body by clery vote), but only by 501 to 417 in 2008 at its General Conference. The tenets and strictures in the Book of Discipline keep the duplicitous love-the-sinner/hate-the-sin so popular with fundies, including Roman Catholics.

Sharing a Blanket

Here is a key point that the Globe needs to learn — to much of the theological world, Methodists and Roman Catholics sleep under the same blanket. While it is easy, almost reflexive for the even more creedal and dogmatic RCs to believe they are off of a different, higher plane, among Protestants, Methodists are on the next cloud, just without a Pope.

There's a spectrum from extremist outlier Catholic sects to RCs to Anglicans to Episcopalians to (ta da) Methodists. I grew up with all of that. Particularly in the deep South, the same-as comparison is common. Methodists have bishops instead of elders or presbyters who run the show. They are Apostle's Creed sorts. They even (when I was in the church, Sunday School, youth fellowship and choir) used such trappings as incense on high holy days. We were the next thing to Catholicism after Episcopalians and heard about it.

In the fruit and nut bowl of irony though, Anglicans and Episcopalians held true to the social action and compassion teachings of Jesus. Most obviously, this includes for most of their churches, far more than allowing their clergy to marry. Women can be ordained, as can open homosexuals. They can even become bishops and other church leaders.

Methodists permit married clergy and women ministers, but homosexuals are, to coin a Latinism, clericus non grata. The effect has not been as devastating as in the suicidal RC Church. Yet, it has been strongly felt in lack of membership growth and retention. Both churches lose out on great preachers and counselors. Both drive away substantial numbers of members who are gay or have social consciences. ...just plain dumb.

Big C, Little c

The Globe could also pick up on the big C/little c Catholic/catholic aspect. Originally, the RC Church was to be, as the title states, universal, for everyone. It gave that up long ago in political deals, becoming yet another cult that promises only eternal damnation to anyone who doesn't dance to their frequently changing tune.

As an added irony to us in New England, the home of the Universalists, the RCs did better with their hell and pseudo-univeralism than the Universalists did with their everyone-can-be-saved message and quasi-catholicism. The fact seems to be that more people like it binary. Follow my script and go to heaven is great for the simpleminded, literal sorts, of which there remain many.

So when it all settles, what the Methodists do should be meaningful in Rome and throughout the RC world. They too confront the nasty modern world where Jesus' teachings cannot be reduced to the latest Pope's whim. Here we have real people, men and women, singles and couples, facing limits, secular punishments, illogic, inequality, persecution, and even arbitrary judgments by their churches.

Fundies are wont to say, "Like it or lump it. Conform and yield or leave." That is not an answer. Rather, it is an abrogation of Christian duty as well as reason and compassion.

Sweet Spot

Episcopal and Anglican churches are in a sweet spot. They follow the lead of pinkos like UUs and the UCC and such in ordaining women and homosexuals, separating atavistic, Leviticus and 1940s ideas of marriage from current and all other periods. They see that one person's religious ritual does not mandate civil marriage for all Americans, that the narrowest view is not all that the world will see.

Roman Catholic pols are not there and either are Methodist ones. Both suffer as a result, which will only continue until they get their acts together.

By the bye, consider how the Vatican and the United Methodist Church overlap. Methodists like to have it all ways too. For a few examples, consider the sections of the Book of Discipline, the regularly updated polity and politics doc that defines the church.

Section 139 goes for the catholic angle of inclusiveness for all. Defined as "openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world; therefore, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination." Attending worship service (and donating, I assume) "shall be open to all persons."

However, Section 304.3 excludes homosexuals from the ministry. "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." Likewise, section 341.6 states simply, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

As with RCs, homosexuals are good enough to fill the collection plates and may sit in the pews, but nothing else. Here's were Anglicans and Episcopalians have joined liberal religions like UUs in buying into the New Testament, a.k.a. being Christians.

Creeping Christian practice seems to be slowly inundating the parched anti-gay ground of Methodism. The roughly 1,000 clergy meets quadrennially in General Conference. The next one is in 2012. They vote on such matters as exclusion of homosexuals from ministry and policy on SSM. The last vote was not quite 55% against SSM. That is certain to narrow or even reverse as more states legalize marriage equality.

We are such a socially conservative nation. I suppose that should be an endearing foible, if only it did not hurt, harm and hinder so many of us, including homosexuals. We take a long time to come to the right place.

Pretend Concessions

Along the way are some embarrassing stops, including NY's recent passage. As noted here and elsewhere, the anti-SSM lawmakers and groups eventually recognized the inevitability of marriage equality from Albany. Their attempted Parthian shot hit nothing. Insisting on meaningless, reduplicative protections for disciminators let them claim they had somehow protected someone from something.

The NYT has a nice wrap-up of the extraneous wording further codifying these religious exemptions...yet again. No, churches and clergy who oppose gay rights/ordination/marriage still don't have to host or perform the weddings. No, they can't be sued for discriminating in ritual or renting the hall. Blah, blah, blah. It's all there already and unnecssary, but the anti-gay types get to claim a victory. Isn't that special?

In reality, our states' and federal laws have always allowed religious institutes to be as narrow, petty and hateful as they want in membership, ritual, and hiring, plus of course, being tax-free. They only have to be careful for non-religious activities like selling nick knacks and such.

The anti-gay types love to site the (ta da) Methodist camp in Ocean Grove, NJ, that lost its tax-exempt status, only for the camp not the church, three years ago for banning homosexual couples from renting the facility for events, like commitment ceremonies. This is exactly where churches run afoul law as well as Jesus' teachings. The camp is a money-making business on the side that is not religious in nature. Thus, it has to adhere to state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination.

Cut me a thin slice of that baloney. You want to be tax free in your side businesses, obey the laws. Be as narrow and bigoted as you like in your church. You're covered there.

So there you have it. The RC Church struggles to have enough priests, while continuing to ban open homosexuals and women from its clergy. The Methodists turn their backs on their roots of social activism and catholic inclusion of all that Wesley gave them. Surely Methodists will get it together long before the Holy See does, but they aren't ready yet.

Tags: , , , ,

No comments: