What Happens Next?

As many of you know, my tribe of United Methodism has been embroiled in the latest battle over homosexuality focused in the trial of the Karen Dammann. The Rev. Dammann had self identified herself as a lesbian to her Bishop, and was therefore charged with engaging in practices incompatible with Christian teaching. This past Saturday, a jury of her peers voted to acquit Dammann of the charges.

Let me say at the beginning that I don’t know Karen, but there is general agreement from all the parties involved (including the prosecuting pastor) that Karen is a gifted pastor. She has been extremely effective in her ministry and I rejoice that her gifts for ministry will not be wasted.

And yet, this issue isn’t over. It isn’t over because the jury took a unique approach to arriving at their verdict — the “tenor of the Discipline” approach. Basically they said that the legal portions of the Discipline do not proclaim homosexual practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching in a declarative way. Moreover, they said, the Discipline as a whole speaks more clearly to inclusion and welcoming than exclusion. “We have made every effort to be faithful to the Book of Discipline in its entirety” they noted. It’s an approach to the Discipline (which is usuall seen as our legal code) that is not often used.

It seems to me that several things are likely to happen as a result of the decision. The first is that there will be a flurry of legislation introduced by conservatives on the floor of the General Conference to close the loopholes in the Discipline. These folks will continue the futile attempt to legislate theological conformity, further polarizing our church. Second, I would not be surprised (given that the decision of the jury cannot be appealed) to see charges filed against these jurors regarding their supposed unwillingness to be faithful to the doctrines and Discipline of the UMC. Third, I think this further deepens the rift between the Western Jurisdiction and the rest of the church, most clearly the Southeast and Southwest. I’m afraid that the calls for schism are about to increase.

I’m not going to get into an extended argument about the issue of homosexuality and whether practicing homosexuals should be ordained. I’ve come to my beliefs on the issue over time and after much prayer and study. While I disagree with our churches current proclaimed position, I have made a covenant to live within that stance until the time that we can affect change.

I do, however, mourn that we continue to use legislative and judicial means to try and address this issue. We made one attempt to talk about the issue theologically some 12 years ago, and when the outcome didn’t come out one way or the other, we gave up. The fact is that our theology of sexuality is unclear, a combination of Augustinian restraint and Protestant exuberance over “God’s good gift.” We will never come to clarity on this issue until we first do the theological and conversational work of sitting down, reflecting on the scriptures, our traditions, and our experience.

Unfortunately, folks don’t seem to want to talk — on either side of the issue. Pontificating seems much more fun.

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