Has homosexuality become an idol for United Methodists despite what side of the issue they take? This is the charge leveled by Rev. Sky McCracken in his recent article at the UM Portal. McCracken writes:
It is sad to watch because homosexuality has become an idol in United Methodism—to everyone on either side of the ideological and theological fence. As if it is the most important thing in the Kingdom to debate!
He goes on to quote the suggestion of popular United Methodist blogger Allan Bevere that Methodists are “obsessed with sex just like the world.” McCracken is certainly right that homosexuality is not an obstacle in most local churches where the pressing issues involve mission and discipleship. The issue unfortunately remains front and center on the denominational level, though.
I want to look more closely at the suggestion that United Methodists who defend the current biblical and historic stance of the UMC are committing idolatry. On one level, I agree. There are those who thrive on conflict whatever side of the issue they’re on. They need the debate to have something to do. They don’t want the issue to go away; they would be bored. So, I agree with the suggestion that there are those who get an unfortunate idolatrous satisfaction in attacking others who call for the full inclusion of practicing homosexuals in the life and ministry of the Church.
On another level, though, I think McCracken has oversimplified the issue. Not all United Methodists can be lumped into one big category of idolatry on this issue. I am quite persuaded that those who call for a change in this issue have fallen into idolatry (Romans 1:22-27), and, as indicated above, there are those on the right side for the wrong reasons. But not all who reject the proposal to change the current stand on homosexuality do so for the same reasons. I believe there are many in the UMC, like myself, who would like nothing better than for this debate to come to an end never to be discussed again. I’m tired of it. I would rather spend time in ministries of disciple-making than writing petitions to retain the current language of the Book of Discipline.
But as long as someone seeks to change that language in a way that is dishonoring to God, we must continue to engage in this debate. As long as there remains a significant number of clergy and laity within our denomination who seek to lead us down the path of unrighteousness, we cannot keep quiet, not because we are committing idolatry but because we are resisting it. Those of us who would like to see the debate come to an end are not the one’s who continue to raise the issue. We are not the ones inappropriately interrupting the business of General Conference and rejecting the authority of scripture and the discipline of the Church. If actions like that were to cease, I think the debate would all but disappear. There may be some on the conservative side of the debate who are idolatrously obsessed, but not all of us are, and we would like the whole thing to come to an end. This is where Rev. McCracken’s argument is insufficiently constructed.
I take one other (more brief) issue with Rev. McCracken’s article. He claims that when United Methodists gather for General Conference next year, probably the same thing will happen as in the last thirty years of debating homosexuality: nothing. This is simply incorrect. Something has happened. For more than thirty years now, United Methodists have taken the increasingly counter-cultural stand that homosexuality is incompatible with a Christian life-style. To this point, a biblical perspective on human sexuality has been maintained. Against immense pressure we have stood firm, and that’s not nothing.
Let me conclude with a final point of agreement. McCracken concludes his article by calling for General Conference to pronounce a moratorium on the word homosexual and all derivatives. I could not agree more. Scripture is clear; the Church has spoken; let’s move on.