Two sets of rules – one for clergy, one for laity?

A United Methodist elder currently pastoring in another denomination reflects on the Beth Stroud case:

Further, the message sounded out from the UMC after the Beth mess is this — you can’t be a practicing lesbian and be a United Methodist pastor at the same time, but as a lesbian who is in a committed relationship with another female it is quite acceptable to be an active and involved lay member of the UMC — which means you can serve on committees in any capacity, including serving as a chairperson! And as previously mentioned, Beth Stroud will likely be a paid staff member at Germantown United Methodist Church.

I’m not surprised that some find this odd. We have discipline for the ordained, but not for the unordained. Originally, Methodists were known as a disciplined people. Under Wesley, continued membership in the Methodist Societies required discipline – recognized by the leaders of the movement. In the past couple of generations, however, discipline has been watered down. We have standards, but they are selectively enforced, if at all.

As to homosexuality, the Book of Discipline declares that its practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It doesn’t say this is the case only for clergy, but for all. At the same time that same Book of Discipline declares that homosexuals are “people of sacred worth”, fully deserving of civil rights.

What we are lacking, is the ability to discern sin and what to do with sinners. Our culture generally offers us two options. First, there is violent condemnation – the like of which we see in Fred Phelps’s crowd. Second, there is tolerance. Now which would any morally upstanding person choose? Which position seems more loving? Which is more like Jesus? Most people have trouble imaging Jesus shouting “God hates fags.” He instead would be tolerant. If these are our only two options the UM position on homosexuality, especially as acted out toward the clergy, is manifestly unfair and unChristlike.

But are these the only two options? I don’t have time to look at this in great detail now, but I have one suggestion. Are there any activities that those who emphasize tolerance in relation to the practice of homosexuality think ought not to be tolerated? How ought one to respond to those non-tolerated activities? We’ve already ruled out the second option – the “nice” option. But do we then take up violent condemnation? “God hates pedophiles!” “God hates embezzlers!” “God hates gossips!” ???? I confess that I haven’t seen that option taken up by the tolerant crowd (except by some caught up in PC issues).

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