April 1, 1998
But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works. --John Wesley, "A Catholic Spirit"
Today Affirmation spokesperson Morris Floyd recommended that United Methodists avoid what he called "the rush to 'crisis thinking' that has emerged over the last two weeks" in response to the acquittal of the Rev. Jimmy Creech on charges of disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church. Floyd spoke on behalf of the COvenant Relationships NETwork (CORNET), a program of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.
"Recent calls for a special session of the General Conference to 'deal with' alleged disobedience to the Social Principles by those who perform same gender covenant services represent an overreaction," Floyd said. "Warnings of potential schism may become self-fulfilling prophecies if we do not take a more realistic look at what has actually taken place."
Floyd pointed out that the acquittal of Mr. Creech simply means that the trial court -- by a narrow margin -- has given the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha "the benefit of the doubt on the debateable issue of whether or not a prohibition placed in the Social Principles can be the basis for a charge of disobedience." He said the decision is "in the mainstream of accepted legal principle" under which "laws that are too vague cannot be enforced and the writer of a contract with too much ambiguity cannot enforce the unclear provision."
While this is not a 'mere technicality,'" Floyd said, "critics of the verdict should remember that the court did not have before it the question of whether this or any same gender covenant service should be approved by United Methodists. I hope all will appreciate the irony involved in the spectacle of United Methodist bishops, in the name of 'the order and discipline of the church' criticizing a jury of Nebraska pastors for a judgment they did not in fact make."
Acknowledging that most United Methodists may not support same gender covenant services, Floyd said, "Nevertheless, I think it unlikely that most United Methodists want those of us who support these services to leave the denomination, as some are calling on us to do. Very few United Methodists are as narrow-minded as that."
Furthermore, Floyd said, "the expression of 'the mind of the church' at a point in time has never before meant that further debate is closed. Certainly those on "the right" have never taken this approach on issues where they differ from the positions adopted by the General Conference."
Floyd pointed out that, at its root, the Wesleyan tradition has tolerated dissent and debate even on fairly important issues. "John Wesley made a fundamental distinction between matters of core doctrine and those of 'theological opinion.' Wesley advocated acceptance of differing opinions while at the same time condemning what he called 'religious bigotry'-- individuals or groups trying to force everyone else to believe and worship exactly as they did."
Floyd pointed out that "opinions and interpretations about homosexuality, though very important, would not be 'core doctrine' from a Wesleyan viewpoint. As Wesley said, 'the nature of this faith' is 'a sure trust in the mercy of God, through Christ Jesus,' not 'bare assent' even to 'the truth of the Bible, of the articles of our Creed, or of all that is contained in the Old and New Testament.'"*
Floyd declared, "We hope that those in Omaha and those around the country might respond to the invitation of Wesley-- 'If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand." We appreciate the church leaders who are calling for a measured response to this issue. It is possible, particularly in United Methodist tradition, to have reconciliation between persons and within a congregation without resolving a disagreement. That is where our energies should now be focused."
Floyd noted that "yet another 'outsider' appeared at a 'laity rally' last Sunday in Omaha, continuing to stir the pot at First United Methodist Church." He said "These interlopers should cease and desist. Conference leadership should demand that they do so. The congregation's leaders, pastors, and the Nebraska Annual Conference cabinet are the ones to respond locally to division within that congregation."
As for the rest of the church, Floyd urged, "Depending on the mercy of God, let us offer each other our hands, even as we continue to differ about and to debate the matters of opinion."
CORNET, a program of Affirmation, includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual Christians who stand for justice and love for all members of The United Methodist Church.
*Quoted from John Wesley's sermon "The Way of the Kingdom" as reported in John Wesley's Fifty-Three Sermons, E.H. Sugden, ed., Abingdon Press (1990), p. 111.