Several months ago, my husband’s childhood church decided to separate from the United Methodist Church and become a nondenominational community church. Not surprisingly, the issue that had initially caused the rift was homosexuality.
In 2007, a youth pastor at a Seattle United Methodist church had announced that she was a lesbian. Although the rules governing the United Methodist Church are ambiguous about the church’s position on homosexuality, the local congregation decided that their acceptance of Christ’s atoning love required them to offer compassion and support to this young woman. The pastor at my husband’s home church, which is in a more conservative and rural location, disagreed with their decision and wrote a letter to the Seattle congregation telling them that he could not in good conscience allow the children of his church to attend a youth conference that had planned with two congregations and several others knowing that a pastor who identified as a lesbian would be participating.
The reaction from the regional body of the United Methodist Church was swift. Upset by the actions of my husband’s pastor, they wanted to remove from his church and place him at a new location. The local church, which had been happy with his ministry, supported his actions and decided to leave the Methodist Union rather than allow the regional body to remove him from their congregation. Now, the national United Methodist Church is suing my husband’s home congregation for the building in which they worship and for other property that was held in trust with the national Methodist body.
My husband and his family have had a difficult time dealing with this issue. On the one hand, the reason that they joined this particular United Methodist Church is that it was formed after World War II for Japanese Christians who had recently either been relocated or interned. Many had been expelled from other congregations because of their race, and they wanted a space in which they could worship and build their own community. On the other hand, they have family members who identify as queer or lesbian and they support the admittance of gays and lesbians into Christian churches as full members and legislation that would provide them with the opportunity to marry and enjoy the same rights as other couples.
I have also felt conflicted. The actions of the both national body and the local church seem deeply problematic. To refuse Christian fellowship to another congregation because they have chosen to offer compassion to another human being seems both hurtful and unChristian. On the other hand, for the national fellowship to move a pastor who is beloved by a local congregation because of his political views seems equally problematic. You cannot force individuals or congregations to be tolerant. Some sort of dialogue seems like it would have been a better option.
I am not sure what the answer is to these types of problems. One thing it does seem like, though, is that the question of homosexuality is here to stay and that Christians need to think about how they would like to respond so that they can offer thoughtful answers.