- by Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, District Superintendent Bridges District, Cal-Nevada Conference -
When I sat down to write this earlier this year, my inbox, Facebook, and the internet were all abuzz with news that the United Methodist Church has “defrocked” a pastor for performing a wedding for a gay couple. More poignantly, this pastor performed the wedding ceremony of his son, who happened to be marrying someone else’s son.
This is the latest in a growing number of incidents of disobedience (or “Biblical Obedience,” as some call it) to The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which forbids our clergy to perform weddings of this nature, and also forbids having them take place on church property. Moreover, in language that only a church committee could conjure, our Discipline lifts up the sacred worth of all people while simultaneously condemning homosexuality.
In my new role as a Superintendent I am receiving a growing volume of queries about where I stand on this issue. With each email I have burrowed a little deeper in prayer and wondering. For me, this is a storm of clarity and conscience. Anyone who knows me even a little knows full well my position and my work on this issue over thirty years of ministry. But, for those who wonder if Superintendency changes someone’s heart let me be clear.
The Church is wrong. Cloaking homophobia in poor biblical scholarship and even worse concoctions of church law is simply wrong. Moreover, demanding subservience to Church law above dictates of conscience and biblical understanding smacks of idolatry.
The preponderance of our Christian understanding of grace, which speaks to the unearned, abundant love of God for every person reveals the Church’s error in this. Our understanding that all the walls between people have come down in the love of God in Jesus Christ reveal the Church’s error in this. The call of our own Lord and Savior to liberate the oppressed reveals the Church’s error in this. And, the simple practice of agape love reveals the Church’s error in this. Even our local Church membership vows which have every United Methodist promising to struggle against evil and injustice in any form, reveal the Church’s error in this.
Now that I have made my stance clear, I need to add that this is not the only place where the United Methodist Church is wrong. The Church is wrong on it’s mushy language about war. The Church is wrong when it invests pension funds in military contractors and other corporate entities that ravish our environment and practice human slavery. Indeed, the Church has been wrong often throughout it’s history. On slavery, on the inclusion of women in ordination, on so many things the Church has stumbled and fallen. And, friends, the hard truth is that when we get this issue sorted out we will continue to be wrong on a host of things.
When I served the local Church I would frequently invite people to participate in a rhythmic chant. It went like this. Feel the beat if you can.
“The Church is a broken and sinful institution!
The Church is a broken and sinful institution!
The Church is a broken and sinful institution!”
I know. It’s a strange thing to ask people to do. But I led this seemingly silly chant because as a people we frequently get caught in the trap of thinking the church should be perfect. And then we are surprised and upset when learn that it’s not. The Church is not perfect. It never will be close to perfect. It will always be forming, reforming, and reviving. It will always be picking itself up from the dust of its errors and reaching to be a more faithful expression of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Moreover, we are not perfect. We, the Body of Christ, the people of God are an imperfect people in search of the perfect wonder of God.
Of course, one cannot list the frailties and failings of our United Methodist Church without lifting up the wonder and power that emerge from our great Connection. Divided though we may be, we continue to heal the sick and lift up the broken hearted. Disgruntled and disagreeable we may be, but because of us the scourge of malaria will very likely be halted in it’s tracks. While we argue over important issues, we continue to sponsor the most effective relief agency on the planet. Our common work is spread around the world through the schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics we have built. We also share the saving Word of God as we train pastors and lay people across the globe. Friends, even in the heat of our present disagreement we are nothing short of amazing.
My hope and my fervent prayer is that we will journey together with our eyes on the prize, knowing that we are not there yet, believing that the journey is worth it, and trusting that God is calling us forward to justice, hope, revival and renewal in Jesus’ name.
So there it is. I believe the Church is wrong here. I stand firm in my commitment to The United Methodist Church, and I will follow it’s rules as far and as long as conscience and biblical understanding allow.
Finally, I call all my sisters and brothers throughout our connection to get busy where you are and do your passionate best to be the Church of Jesus Christ in this time and this place. Let us join hands and hearts as we build a faithful, powerful, healing place for all people in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.
. . .
The Rev. Schuyler Rhodes became the Superintendent of the Bridges District of the California-Nevada Annual Conference on July 1 of 2013. Prior to the Bridges District he served for thirteen years as the Pastor of Temple United Methodist Church in San Francisco. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of New York at Potsdamm, and a Master of Divinity with honors from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Rhodes has also carried on graduate studies in Literature and Criticism at the State University of New York at Albany, and in Liberation Theology at Maryknoll School of Theology. Currently, Rhodes is completing his Doctor of Ministry Degree at Drew Theological School.
Aside from serving as Superintendent and as Pastor in San Francisco, Rev. Rhodes has served churches in New York City, New Jersey, and in rural New York State. His other experiences include Campus Ministry, Retreat Director, Teacher and Workshop Leader, and serving as the National Director for Peace with Justice Week. Schuyler has had extensive public speaking experience, traveling throughout Europe, Latin America, Asia and the United States. He has also served as Consultant on Peace and Justice ministries to the national office of United Methodist Women (UMW) and served for nine years as President of the Board of Directors of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.
Rhodes has published numerous articles and monographs, as well as five books, Journey Through The Psalms, Words of Hope and Clarity, Words for a Birthing Church, Pentecost Fire: Preaching Hope in Times of Change (CSS Press) and Words to the Silence: A Book of Uncommon Prayer (Ed. Min. Press). He also wrote a regular column for Emphasis Preaching Journal for seven years.
He is married to Lisa Quoresimo and is the father of twins, Emma Elizabeth and Aaron Schuyler, age 19.