Allow me to step back into the narrative of a four part series of posts entitled Christ and Culture in Today’s Chaos. If reader has not read the previous three, I urge him or her to do so before reading this particular blog. Part 4 is based on and assumes the reader is conversant with the first three blogs on Christ and Culture in Today’s Chaos.
Recently a friend of mine, Professor Jack Jackson (Claremont School of Theology), wrote perceptively that “human sexuality has become status confessionis for many people at opposite poles on the issue.” My friend added, “We can say we agree on so many other aspects of the Christian life, but the reality is the issue of human sexuality is one of, if not the, key ecclesial issues of our time. It is an issue that is both shaping and taking priority over every other conversation.”
It is not an exaggeration to say that the United Methodist Church faces possible schism over the issue. Current church law (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016) holds that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth” and all “need the ministry of the Church.” It goes on to assert that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” It then carefully affirms that “God’s grace is available to all” (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016, Paragraph 161G, p. 113). United Methodist clergy are thus prohibited from officiating same-sex unions (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016, Paragraph 2702.1b, p. 788) and avowed practicing homosexuals are not “certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church” (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016, Paragraph 304.3, p. 226).
To say that passions run high and disagreement runs deep with this part of church law is a massive understatement. A number of Annual Conferences have declared their intentions to refuse to uphold this section of church law. Various other forms of disobedience are being debated (and practiced!). The Council of Bishops has, at the request of the 2016 General Conference, established a special “Commission on the Way Forward” to make recommendations which will come before a called General Conference in 2019.
If you have stayed with me this far through all three blogs prior to this fourth blog, I invite you to pause and catch your breath. I ask you to be in prayer for the whole church. I ask you to be in prayer for all those who feel excluded by this aspect of church law and for all those who believe it essential to the full understanding of our doctrine of holiness of heart and life. I ask you to be in prayer for the larger society which is itself locked in a deep debate on this issue.
After catching your breath and after prayer, step back with me into the struggle of Christ and Culture in Today’s Chaos. Our struggle with the issue of human sexuality is a part of the larger struggle on how Christians follow Christ and relate appropriately to the culture we find ourselves in. We have been here before as a church! Some argue that justice in the name of Christ calls us to transform both society and the church with regard to human sexuality. They assert we Christians are called to lead society in being more open and accepting to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Others, with equally sincere convictions, argue that we must not succumb to the gale force cultural winds of today but stand firm in a principled Christian conviction. They are convinced that we are not to marry the human preferences of this or any given age and time. Rather we are to faithfully follow Christ as Lord reflecting the fullness of His teachings and preferences over our cultural desires.
Both claim biblical support for their positions. Both assert that the other side has given in to and/or is advocating cultural surrender to the current age. The interaction between allegiance to Christ and engagement with our current culture are intertwined on the issue of human sexuality. The complexity of the relationship of Christ and culture challenges us all. Such is the larger context of the debate we are locked into as the church.
In writing these four blogs, I have invited us into the larger issue of Christ and Culture through asking what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian in the cultural chaos of today. I have been clear that I stand for the traditional position. I wish to be also clear of my deep respect and love for those who believe me to be tragically mistaken and wrong. I ask us all to wrestle with what it means to be a follower of the Lord first, foremost, and above all else, in chaos of today’s culture. These are not easy times to be a Christian. But, most significantly, these are the times to which Christ has called us all to true, deep faithfulness and obedience.
Listening to NPR as I drove to the office last Friday, I was reminded of Lincoln’s famous words in his second inaugural address. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”
We are not done with this work. Nor are we done with the greater debate over what it means to be a Christ follower in the chaos of modern culture. In the midst of this struggle, we can live, in the name of Christ, with “malice toward none” and “charity for all.”