In response to the last post, I was asked: “Is this direction good or will be more division?” My answer is twofold, I think that in the long run, this will be a good direction, but in the short run, there will be more division. There is already a great deal of division, and we are already losing people on both sides of this debate. In my experience, those who want to uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible tend to leave loudly in anger, while those who want to be more affirming of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters tend to leave quietly with sadness. For this reason, to merely continue to hold onto the status quo is not really feasible. Something needs to be done, and the way forward that the bishops have chosen maintains the vital unity of the church (something for which King Jesus himself prayed).
We have been through this before. In 1844, the church split over the issue of slavery and was then reunited when, after the civil war, all the biblical citations that could be mustered in slavery’s defense become moot points. More recently, we argued about how closely we would adhere to Jesus’s strict teachings on divorce—I have a colleague who was encouraged to surrender custody of his child so that the churches he might be appointed to would not guess that he was divorced—but that is no longer a live issue. We all seem to have arrived at the understanding that regardless of Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12, divorce does not disqualify someone from full participation in the church. Until 1956, we disagreed over the ordination of women, with many citing 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their opposition to the practice, but, at present, I know of only one United Methodist who even questions it.
I give the examples above because they are reminders that we have had fierce arguments over divisive issues in the past, but a new consensus always eventually emerged. I think the same is true of the issue of homosexuality. This proposed way forward makes space for a new consensus to emerge.