by Rev. Cheryl Farr
The question on the lips of many United Methodists these days is, “who will you go with after the split?” For many, the answer depends on how they interpret what the Bible says about the practice of homosexuality; for others the answer is not so cut and dried. The “big tent” experiment that is the United Methodist Church is on the verge of folding. It is difficult to predict what will be left in its wake.
At the heart of the argument is the ordination of those involved in same-sex relationships. One wing of the Church interprets Scripture as having no biblical admonitions against loving, monogamous relationships between adults of the same sex. Another wing of the Church interprets the Bible to say that any sexual relationship outside the bounds of heterosexual marriage is a sin. The first group wants the United Methodist Church to embrace a fully inclusive stance that accepts the ordination of LGBTQI+ persons, regardless of their relationship status. The latter group wants to retain our current Book of Discipline’s ban on “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from serving as clergy and prohibits any clergyperson from participating in same-sex commitment ceremonies.
Currently, it appears that the former group plans to retain the name “United Methodist Church,” while changing the current doctrine of the church, while the latter will organize a denomination under a new name, maintaining current doctrine with regard to LGBTQI+ participation. On the surface, it seems to be complicated simplicity. Simple, because it boils down to interpretation of Scripture. Complicated, though, by the size and scope of the church itself and by the fact that, at the heart of the issue is people who, regardless of biblical interpretation, love God deeply and are doing their best to honor that love and their relationship with their Creator and Savior.
As a female clergy person who agrees with our current Discipline regarding homosexuality, it would seem as if the decision of what to do after the impending split would be a simple matter. In reality, it is very complicated. The United Methodist Church has nurtured my faith in my youth and provided a place for the adult me to live out my call, first as a deaconess and then as clergy. It is the United Methodist Church that taught me about grace and forgiveness. And it is the United Methodist Church that taught me of a God that loves each one of us with a love that we cannot even imagine.
It is also through the clergy appointment system of the Church that I am able to serve out my calling in the Bible Belt. My decision-making problem lies in my suspicion that congregations from the first group are more likely to accept women pastors and clergy from different races. My biblical beliefs, however, will make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to serve in the new United Methodist Church. Not because God loves our LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters any less, but because I believe that God calls pastors to a high standard of living that includes celibacy for those not in a heterosexual marriage.
While the leaders of those that will retain our current prohibitions say that women will be welcome and that gender and/or race will not prevent them from living out their call, I find myself wondering how they are going to make that work. One rumor about the new church is that local churches will have more control over who is in their pulpit. That, in some ways, is a good thing because some churches have suffered greatly with little recourse against an ineffective pastor. In other ways, it could limit a church’s willingness to give a woman pastor a chance. Even in our current church, some of our local churches refuse women pastors so I admit to having concerns regarding the new denomination’s ability to appoint women pastors in a church where the local churches have greater leeway to refuse appointments.
With the further postponement of General Conference until fall 2022, there remains time for all of my questions to continue to chase themselves around in my head. I admit, I do not know what the future holds for me within the Methodist Church no matter what the first name turns out to be, but my faith tells me that I do not have to know because God knows. Psalm 46:10 is the touch from God that calms me when the stress and worry threaten my peace. Not only do I know that God is Supreme, I know that God has a place for me not only in the eternal kingdom but in the earthly kingdom and when it is time, my God will reveal that place.
Rev. Cheryl Farr serves a three-point charge in Meridian MS. After graduation from Memphis Theological Seminary, she intends to seek ordination as an elder, where she will live out her sharing the love of God with all. She enjoys spending time with her sons and quilting in her spare time.