In the United Methodist Church we are dealing with issues of differing views on human sexuality. But we are also dealing with other issues in our polity that effect how we make descisions. How have we decided what is doctrine in the UMC? Why are laws on sexuality adopted as recent as the 1970s (A very recent date in Church history) a doctrine?
The United Methodist Church’s standards for doctrine are the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren, the Standard Sermons of John Wesley and Welsey’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. Contrary to popular opinion, the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are not stated doctrinal standards for the Church, although we can use them in worship. I use the Apostles’ Creed whenever I perform a baptism and it is one of my favorite simple affirmations of faith.
Within our standards we have and allow considerable diversity. The Methodists did not break with the Anglicans over doctrine as much as we broke with them over the need to promote scriptural holiness. It was more about spiritual emphasis and our pursuits of God’s grace than about doctrine.
United Methodists include their doctrinal standards in the Book of Discipline. Those doctrinal standards are found in a section of the Discipline that is not intended to be changed or amended without the General Conference and a super majority of all the voting members of Annual Conferences around the world. That is where the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith are found. And, course you’d think that the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” would be found in the restricted section as well. Well, you’d be wrong.
The statements related to homosexuality are found in parts of the Book of Discipline that are not necessarily doctrinal in nature. In some places it is primarily in a section about rules that related to the actions clergy can and cannot perform or who clergy can or cannot be.
So here is the $1000 question! Why aren’t the statements about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline’s restricted section? That one is easy. They are views of the General Conference that were added after the creation of the United Methodist Church. AND (in my opinion) rules that couldn’t possibly pass the test of being placed in the restricted section when it comes to enough votes in General Conference and all the Annual Confernces around the world.
In other words, something that is basically considered doctrine is not in the doctrinal standards because it is an add-on that was placed in the Discipline in a place where it could get past the General Conference without being placed in the restricted section. It is NEW doctrine. It is doctrine written since I was born (and I’m not all that old!). While the rest of our doctrinal standards are largely as old as Methodism itself. Are you bothered by the idea of NEW Christian doctrine? Well you ought to be.
So this brings up a question I’ve yet to get satisfactorily answered. Why is it allowable for the General Conference to circumvent the doctrinal standards of the Church by placing new doctrine outside the restrictive section? Why hasn’t the Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference should not be able to sneak new doctrine into the Discipline and thereby circumventing our Discipline by inserting doctrine outside this section of the Discipline? Does the ability of the GC to pass new doctrine by a simple majority and push it into a “rules” section of the Discipline enganger the ability of United Methodists to maintain our original doctrinal standards? Finally, should someone be mounting a challenge to the constitutionality of novel doctrines found in the Discipline never before found in Methodism before the 1970s because they have been slipped into other parts of the Discipline? (If this has not already been done?)
Here is what the Articles of Religion says about making doctrines not found or provable by scripture.
“The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (Articles of Religion Article V – Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation)
My best interpretation of the scriptures based on years of study of the Bible and everything I can get my hands on about issues of sexuality are that homosexuality is NOT incompatible with Christian teaching. And it can not be proven to me in such a way that I can or will believe it as an article of faith or otherwise. Nor is such an article of faith found in the doctrinal standards we adopted as a Church when we become The United Methodist Church.
I think it is time to put away the parliamentary choices that allowed the UMC to create new doctrine that has pushed the Church into a 40+ year fight. How about we return to the unifying doctrine we held before 1972? It was good enough for the UMC then, it was good enough for the Methodists, the EUB and Wesley before. Why are we fighting to protect Newbie Doctrine? Let us return to the Doctrinal Standards that we circumvented in order to adopt Church law that descriminates against and hurts other people!