This week Rev. Elizabeth Stroud goes on trial in Pennsylvania for being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” a condition the Discipline clearly identifies as excluding one from ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. I don’t quite understand the trial process. But what is the point of a trial? She has avowed that she is a practicing homosexual. It still seems to me that this calls not for a trial but for discernment and action on the part of the bishop.
The Discipline is clear. After years of pretending that they don’t know what a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is, the opponents of the Discipline seem to be left only with the claim of character ; “But she’s such a nice person! She has a call to ministry! She’s been effective in her ministry!” I have no trouble believing all this to be true. But according to the Discipline of the UMC (and the order of most churches I’m aware of) these are not adequate qualifications for ministry; nor are they sufficient to overcome other possible disqualifications.
The Rev. Fred Day, who has been Stroud’s senior pastor since she entered the ministry five years ago, said that if she is removed, it will send “a message of discrimination, and one of real incongruity” with the United Methodist Church’s logo: “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.”
I’m afraid Rev Fred is absolutely right. The trial – and possible removal of Stroud does conflict with our advertizing campaign. According to that campaign we have no rules, no doctrine, no exclusiveness of any kind. Anything goes. We’re open – apparently to everything.
I think it is possible to make sense (Christian sense) out of our slogan, but it takes more work than can be accomplished in an advertising campaign. It is only natural to take “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors” (in our culture) as a claim that we are substituting modern liberal relativism for traditional Christian doctrine. We stand more for “Openness” than we do for Jesus. Of course proponents of this Openness would argue that Jesus himself is the best model of openness. Just ask the Jesus Seminar folks. If we can look at this so called Christian Openness and see no significant difference with secular Openness, then it sure appears that the former is the later with a Christian veneer.