United Methodist Minister J.D. Greear Rejects Gay Amendment ‘It will have significant negative ramifications’

What happens when you take SBC Pastor J.D. Greear’s recent articleThe ‘Law’ Amendment: Cooperation and Complementarianism in the SBC” and alter it slightly by placing it in another denomination’s context, changing SBC to UMC and 2024 to 1971, prior to the UMC becoming completely LGBTQ affirming?

The ‘Gay’ Amendment: Cooperation and Homosexuality in the United Methodist Church.

(June 6, 1971) Last year I publicly said that the Gay Amendment, (which clarifies that the United Methodist Church only cooperates with churches that do not affirm homosexuality) which would have deleterious—even if unintended—consequences.

Since that time, I’ve had a lot of great conversations with godly men and women about this amendment, and I appreciate and greatly respect the heart of many of those eager to see the Gay Amendment passed. They want us to be clear on a contested issue in our culture, not to compromise, cave, or drift leftward. They want to see us unified about what God’s Word says. 

I understand that and respect their sincere dedication, and share all these same concerns.

That said, I am more convinced than ever that the Gay Amendment is unwise, unnecessary, and will have significant negative ramifications. For most of us who oppose it, the issue has nothing to do with homosexuality, but historic UMC principles of cooperation

Dr. Al Mohler pointed out in his recent video statement that the Gay Amendment puts forward nothing new in terms of content. We aren’t debating a change in Book of Discipline (BOD)

Since the late 18th century our denomination has been clear on homosexuality, and must continue to be. I would happily join Al Mohler and my friends at the CBMW in exploring ways we can renew and promote this doctrine for a rising generation.

Affirming God’s design for human sexuality isn’t just an ecclesiastical box we must check; it’s a beautiful truth that God wove into creation, one that brings him glory and leads to our flourishing. The church I pastor practices and celebrates heterosexual marriages—in this context this means that as we believe that the only valid, legitimate marriage is between a man and a woman.

My objection is that it rewrites the rules of our cooperation and attempts to fix, with a sledge hammer, something that isn’t really broken. It assumes that what we have in place now—that is, the Book of Discipline and our principles for defining cooperation—are insufficient in dealing with doctrinal deterioration among our churches.

But is that assumption justified? Didn’t we pull off (and successfully maintain) the Conservative Resurgence with these very instruments? And just a year ago, didn’t the messengers overwhelmingly vote to remove two churches—Saddleback (by 94 percent!) and Fern Creek—that were not closely identified with our faith and practice in this area? 

Furthermore, homosexuality is not seeping into our institutions. All of our agencies and state conventions embrace and practice heterosexual marriages. And no significant contingent in the United Methodist has mounted a challenge to our clear and uncompromising affirmation of heterosexual marriages only in the Book of Discipline. 

The question is who we agree, a priori, to kick out. 

We all recognize, of course, that there are different kinds of theological and ecclesiastical errors. Some errors are so substantive that ending cooperative fellowship is in order. But it’s also possible to say another brother or sister is wrong about something even as we have no desire to break fellowship with them.

The Book of Discipline says, for example, that Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” and the appropriate day for corporate worship. Some say that means weekly corporate worship should only happen on Sunday. Others believe hosting additional services on Saturday, or even Thursday, Friday, and Monday are okay.

Or to take another: The Book of Discipline states that communion is only for baptized believers, and thus many Methodist churches will not allow any paedobaptists, such as Presbyterians, to partake. Others, however, do allow visiting Presbyterians to partake in the ordinance, believing that we can allow someone with irregularities in their “baptism” to celebrate the Lord’s table while maintaining that the normative order for the ordinance is subsequent to believer’s baptism.

For decades, we have left space for varied applications of the Book of Discipline, even applications we believe are in error, as we stand united around its normativity in Methodist life.

So, here’s the million dollar question: Who maintains the list of which ‘deviations’ are tolerated and which should lead to disfellowship? 

Well, historically, it’s been the United Methodist messengers.

Here’s how the system has worked: (1) We put forward a clear confession of faith (e.g., the Book of Discipline. (2) Churches decide if they want to self-identify with that and give money to our denomination, knowing that our agencies will abide by and promote the BOD. Even churches who differ in certain applications (as in the examples above) can still say they “closely identify” with the BOD and be seated as full messengers. (3) The UMC reserves the right to decide if their self-assessment is true or not—meaning, they can vote out churches whom they deem not to be “in friendly cooperation,” even if they say they are (as happened with Saddleback and Fern Creek last year).

That’s how we’ve done it, and it’s worked. Why then go to such draconian lengths to fix what isn’t broken? Churches that clearly do not condemn explicitly homosexuality (Saddleback, Fern Creek) were removed without equivocation. With 94 percent affirmation!

Some say: Won’t it just be easier to pass this and move on? Put it to rest so we can go back to focusing on the Great Commission? 

I’d say “no” for two reasons. First, it’s become clear that this “fix” will yield A LOT of collateral damage. There are churches who genuinely embrace God’s designs for heterosexuality even as they differ in some of its applications. Several of our minority leaders have told us as much. For Hispanics in particular, it really is an issue of nomenclature:

“What worries me is that we make decisions without thinking about the consequences for ethnic churches,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “There are many ethnic churches that, for cultural reasons, affirm celibate homosexual relationships. But it’s a matter of culture. It’s not that they are sleeping together.

“And now we are, as a denomination, putting ourselves in the business of churches” and saying, ‘If you don’t change this, you can’t be part of us,’” Ramirez said. This “is a radical change as United Methodist Churches that I think we could regret long-term as we fulfill the Great Commission.”

Dr. Ramirez wants us to maintain the freedom to discern if Hispanic Methodist churches are affirming unrepentent sexually active homosexual relationships or if they are affirming celibate homosexual relationships. For the former, we may recommend an end to cooperation. For the latter, we likely will not.

Enabling that discernment seems wise. This amendment’s phrasing takes it away from us. And those who say we won’t have to abide by the Constitution (i.e., the UMC Committee can choose not to enforce it on churches they deem to be in process) are not considering how our Constitution works. Legally, we have bound ourselves to honor our governing documents. If a church violates the Constitution, legally all agencies and committees of the denomination have to honor it. 

Second, do we actually think that after putting this issue into the Constitution we’ll just move back to the Great Commission? Some of the most strident voices in this discussion weren’t talking about the Great Commission before this came up, and I am not convinced they will be talking about it afterward. A spirit that delights in majoring on these kinds of things is a spirit that knows no satisfaction until it has cloven us into 100 factions. If we pass this amendment, this issue will likely just be replaced by the next one. Who knows what that one will be? The multi-site model? Closed communion? Extroverted women teaching in a mixed Monday evening Bible study? Women who head the HR department on a church staff?

Dr. Mohler acknowledged in his video statement that this likely won’t be the last issue that we deal with, which means there is good reason to assume that we’ll be doing this again in a couple of years, with some other amendment to Article 3, on some other issue. If we adopt this amendment strategy, it will become the new norm. How many constitutional amendments are we in for? Where will it end? If so, what’s our BOD for?

My fear is that one day we’re going to wake up realizing we never talk about the Great Commission anymore.

Think with me for a moment: Do you really think the denomination of the last couple of years is the kind that will complete the Great Commission and see revival come to America? 

Some have said, “Well, this is not how I would have wanted to address this issue, but since it’s come up, we can’t vote this amendment down because it would be signifying to everyone we’re not really against homosexuality.”

I would suggest that this is not a wise way to think. If I’m out grocery shopping and some guy walks up and says, “If you’re a real man, you’ll fight me right here,” I don’t have to oblige him. I would say to such a man, “I am indeed a real man, and I don’t have to fight you here to prove it. But come to my house and threaten one of my family, and you’ll see just how much of a real man I am.” 

I don’t have to pass a constitutional amendment just to prove I’m against homosexuality. Come look at our church. Look at our marriages. Listen to our teaching. Observe our team in action. I’m not going to acquiesce to some made-up standard just because someone declared it to be so. I’ve been crystal clear on the sin of homosexuality and will continue to be. I don’t have to jump through some hoop to prove it, and neither do you.

In short, I remain convictionally opposed to this amendment, not because of its content but because of its attempt to undermine our historic principles of cooperation. It overturns a system that works. I don’t oppose the Gay Amendment because I’m a closet moderate or soft on theological issues.

I am concerned that the missional, cooperative balance that has characterized our denomination since the Conservative Resurgence is about to be overturned. History matters. As G. K. Chesterton said, we should inherit the traditions of our past with reverence and respect, even as we continually re-examine them in light of our current situations.

I don’t think our system is broken. I don’t believe that our institutions are led by a bunch of closet spineless moderates. I want the United Methodist to get back to doing what we have always done at our best—reaching this nation and reaching the world. 

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