In our recent discussion about Foundry UMC's decision to hold gay weddings, contrary to the Discipline, Jonathan Marlowe commented:
John, I do not agree with what Dean is doing at Foundry, and I think his actions violate the spirit of the Discipline. However, they do not violate the letter of the Discipline. I therefore think your headline, "Foundry UMC Plans Gay Weddings" is misleading. They are not planning weddings. I know that you would say in response, "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, etc..." but I think we ought to take Dean at his word when he says he does not understand these services as weddings.
So chargeable offenses should be left to the deliberate misinterpretation of the individual elder? Let's look at the ramifications of following this approach.
¶ 2702.1b provides that a pastor may be tried when charged with "practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual union; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies...."
Emphasis added. Now, Dean is proposing that what he is doing is not actually in violation of this statute, and Jonathan is proposing that we take him at his word. Let's apply that another chargeable offense, namely ¶ 2702.1a, which forbids "immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage."
Do we really want to leave it up to the individual pastor to interpret how s/he will uphold this standard? If we buy into Dean's argument, than another pastor can just as easily argue "What you saw me doing with the church secretary wasn't adultery because I choose not to define it as adultery."
Do we want that?
Now, Dean and Jonathan were already red-lining my BS detector when Andy Bryan came along and blew the gauge apart (although admittedly, it was quite worn-out by this point). Thanks a lot, Andy. I had plans for this afternoon, but now I have to drive into Gainesville and find a replacement. Andy writes:
Can this story really be contrary to a Book of Discipline that allows for the "testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective" (para. 104)? Isn't that what's happening here?
In the context of ¶ 104, um, no. If this were true, it would not be improper for a UMC pastor to set up idols to Baal in his/her sanctuary and start cultic prostitution in the fellowship hall -- all in the interest of "testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective."
Come on, guys. You know better than this. I can respect honest disagreement about theology and ethics. But I can't respect conscious, deliberate falsification of the Discipline.
And we certainly can't function as a community of faith if everyone can make up their own rules as they go along.
Do you disagree? Please state specifically how Dean's argument can be true but the hypothetical adulterous pastor's argument cannot be true.
Also: John Battern shares his thoughts.