Late last year, in accordance with the United Methodist Book of Discipline that declares that a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is ineligible for appointment as a United Methodist pastor, Beth Stroud lost her clergy credentials. Today the verdict of that court was reversed on appeal. Today’s decision was based on two points:
1. The General Conference has not defined “practicing homosexual”
2. The paragraph in which this rule occurs identifies the rule as based on the fact that the practice of homosexuality is “not compatible with Christian teaching.” “Christian teaching” is “doctrine.” The first restrictive rule in the UM Constitution limits what can be changed in our doctrine. The appeals court rules that because the GC had never spoken on the non-incompatibity of this restriction with our “accepted doctrine,” it was therefore unconstitutional.
I have no reason to doubt that Beth Stroud loves God. I have no reason to doubt that she has abundant skills for pastoral ministry. But that is irrelevant. Although these are disciplinary qualifications for ordained ministry, they are not sufficient. This organization we call the ordained ministry of the UMC, like all organizations, has certain requirements. Some of these are positive: skills, abilities, achievements, practices, qualifications that must be in hand or in life before one is ordained or if one wishes to remain ordained. Some are negative – practices, attitudes, dispositions – that one must refrain from or not evidence it one is to be or remain ordained. We find most of these requirements in the Book of Discipline, though each Annual Conference adds some further specifity and hoops to jump through. Some of the requirements have long standing in the Christian tradition, some are peculiar to United Methodists. Some of our requirements are common and comprehensible to the ordained in other church groups, some aren’t. Some make great sense, some are completely arbitrary. I like some of them, I don’t like others.
But the thing is, my likes and dislikes are, at this point, irrelevant. As one who has entered the System, I have pledged myself to uphold it. It is my job to submit to it. This is tough sometimes. I sometimes don’t like to submit (ok – rarely; submission isn’t fun). But I was not forced to become a United Methodist pastor. I am not forced to remain one.
And neither is Beth Stroud.