Recently on a local television newscast I saw a story that featured an interview with the first openly homosexual bishop of the United Methodist Church. She told the reporter that in her view the group’s pending split over LGBTQ+ acceptance in the church was the result of a principle listed in the foundation of the denomination’s values when it was formed in 1972, which stated that the church considers the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. “At that point, we turned from a very grace-filled understanding of human sexuality to one of condemnation for a group of people,” she noted, and admitted that she was biased on the topic, as she has been married to her female partner for many years. However, she said many pastors she works with throughout Colorado are traditional, and represent a significant portion of the denomination that believes homosexual marriage is prohibited in the faith and hold “very closely to a more literal reading of scripture, ” while noting that she and other liberals “look at it through church tradition, reason and human experience. And, our traditionalists look toward the Bible first and only.” She said the split, if approved by vote later in 2020, was sad, but could also help Christians reach more people with the love of God. “We can free one another to live in to the ministries we think God calls us to. It is a huge moment in the life of our denomination.” “What will emerge from this separation is a strengthening of a commitment to extend God’s love to all people, and that to me is where I find hope.”
I recall at the time briefly wondering just what I might say to her in a conversation on the topic. She seemed like a pleasant person. She is certainly better educated than I am, and likely my superior in intellect. I soon forgot the news spot.
I recalled the report about the bishop when I was perusing a magazine recently. In the publication “The Week” for January 17, 2020, in a short piece headlined “Irreconcilable:” was a report that
“The United Methodist Church announced plans last week to split into two branches, in a schism over same-sex marriage. The country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, with roughly 9 million members, expects to let a “traditionalist” wing break off and take $25 million. The remaining United Methodist Church would allow gay marriages and LGBTQ clergy for the first time, but any local church could vote to defect with the traditionalists (and take its buildings with it). The announcement heads off contentious sanctions that were set to take effect against pastors who officiated at gay weddings: a one-year suspension without pay for a first offense and removal from the clergy for the second. The Nashville-based church’s large following in Africa has fiercely opposed liberal reform. Church leaders will vote on finalizing the split at their worldwide conference in May.”
I hope this denomination does indeed split. But I think it needs to split over issues even more fundamental than the aforementioned. Over what issues should this denomination split? Issues such as the questions of – Who is Jesus Christ? Why did He come? What is the Christian Gospel? Do individuals need to be “saved,” and if so what does salvation entail, and how does one obtain it? How has God spoken or revealed Himself to us; what is the Bible, and is it inspired, authoritative, primary, and sufficient? It is in the answers to these questions that we find the basis of all true Christian unity, and that require division when there is disagreement. It is only on the basis of the answers to these questions that the issue raised by this bishop can be addressed.
I am, frankly, highly unlikely to ever converse with this woman or any other Methodist bishop. But, hypothetically, what would I say to her? In all probability she is not a regenerate, born-again believer. I would attempt to kindly share with her the Gospel, perhaps from Romans 3, perhaps from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, perhaps from John 3, though understanding that she probably does not recognize the authority of those passages. I would share with her that Jesus Christ was the virgin born Son of God and God the Son who died on the cross to atone for human sin and rose triumphantly from the grave, that human sin and rebellion against God requires punishment and separation from God, and Christ has provided the only solution for that sin. Turning from sin and turning to Christ as Savior and Lord in faith is the only hope any of us have. I might further invite her to examine the teachings of early Methodist John Wesley, to consider the lyrics of some of the great hymns written by his brother Charles Wesley.
While I will never meet this bishop, I do meet people who are rebels against God and are part of the fallen human race. People who are sometimes less than honest, sometimes less than truthful, thieves, materialists, proud, self-sufficient, individuals caught up in unwholesome compulsions or aberrant sexual behavior, but mostly people who are unbelieving or spiritually dull but really nice people. And regardless of their particular situation in life, regardless of their religion or morality or individual failings or virtues, people who need to turn to Christ in faith and repentance as their only hope. People who need to become convinced that the Gospel is true, and call out to God with utmost sincerity, repentance, and faith,
“Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I’m sorry for my sin. I want to turn from my sin. Please forgive me. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son, that He died on the cross for my sin, and You raised Him to life. I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord and want to follow Him from this day forward.”