- by Dr. Dorothee Benz -
Remember the good old days when supporters of the prejudice and discrimination codified in the United Methodist Book of Discipline just came right out and said gay people were immoral and should be condemned? OK, I’m joking about that being “good” in any way, but it’s noteworthy that as public opinion has evolved to strongly support same-sex marriage and LGBTQ people more broadly, this talking point has slipped off the list off institutional defenders of The UMC’s anti-gay status quo. The overwhelmingly obvious fact that queer couples want to get married because we are in love–and not because we are sexual perverts or predators–has made that argument as laughable as it is offensive.
For a while the talking point became the importance of upholding the Discipline; we can’t just break rules whenever we feel like it, defenders of exclusion said, or we’d have an ungovernable church. But then gazillions of people (OK, an exaggeration) pointed out that the rules in question are unjust and that as justice-seeking people we have an obligation to disobey unjust laws. It became inconvenient if not impossible for anyone who has ever paid homage to Martin Luther King to use this argument. Moreover, Discipline experts have shown over and over how the Discipline–much like the Bible–contains conflicting mandates and questioned why the punitive, exclusionary paragraphs should trump to whole of the Discipline.
So the rage these days is to lament that clergy and bishops (one bishop so far, but we are hopeful!) who perform weddings on an equal basis are breaking the “covenant” they have with one another. Unfortunately for the Council of Bishops and others who are trotting out the new talking point, this argument is no more sound than the one about the importance of upholding the Discipline, and critics are rightly lining up to debunk it. Civil rights veteran Gil Caldwell has likened covenants that require the exclusion of LGBTQ people to the racially exclusive covenants that kept Black people out of white neighborhoods. RMN Executive Director Matt Berryman has pointed out that the covenant we have with God ought to take precedence over covenants in the church. And Jeremy Smith has run down an entire catalog of conflicting covenants in The UMC, concluding that biblical obedience is a good guide to discerning covenantal obligations.
The bottom line, to borrow an image, is that the bishops have no clothes here and it’s important for all of us to point that out. No amount of rationalizing the exclusion of LGBTQ people in the name of institutional order can justify the preservation of the unjust status quo in the United Methodist Church.
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Dr. Dorothee Benz is chair of Methodists in New Directions (MIND), the RMN affiliate in the New York Annual Conference.