Paul L. Caron

Sunday, May 26, 2024

WSJ Op-Ed: United Methodist Church Abandons Traditional Christian Teaching On Homosexuality And Marriage

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: Methodists Keep Up With the Times, by Carl R. Trueman (Grove City College; Author, Crisis of Confidence: Reclaiming the Historic Faith in a Culture Consumed with Individualism and Identity (2024)):

CrisisThe United Methodist Church at its General Conference last week voted by large margins to lift its ban on practicing homosexual clergy and to eliminate from its “Social Principles” the statement that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The decision is significant for what has long been one of the nation’s biggest religious groups, with more than five million members.

As with every other mainline Protestant denomination in America, there has been a long struggle over the church’s traditional teaching that homosexuality is wrong and that marriage is between a man and a woman. The UMC stood its ground for longer than many other denominations, even reaffirming its position and strengthening the penalties for breaking the rules in 2019. That, however, was also the year the UMC adopted a policy that allowed congregations to leave the denomination with their property. Traditionalists did so in droves, with more than 7,000 American churches departing in the past five years, preparing the way for the progressives’ triumph.

The recent changes weren’t surprising. Liberal Protestantism has always been a religious reflection of the broader culture. ... [T]he Methodist church adopted a statement about marriage. It affirms “marriage as a sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith (adult man and adult woman of consenting age or two adult persons of consenting age) into a union of one another and into deeper relationship with God and the religious community.” But what does “sacred” mean when divorced from the traditional theological and ethical beliefs that underpin Christianity? The description is nothing more than an aesthetic gloss to conceal what’s transpiring: the reduction of marriage to an emotional bond rather than the mysterious union of a man and woman that would normatively lead to the most sacred and godlike of events, the creation of new life.

For all the pious language, the UMC’s decision doesn’t represent a commitment to Christian orthodoxy. It is an affirmation of current middle-class sensibilities. The church shies away from the logic of its own position—a logic that would lead to the legitimation of any sexual act or arrangement as long as it concerns consenting adults. In short, it has chosen to embrace the liberal Protestant specialty: baptizing the dominant values it sees as informing the culture, no more, no less. In our times, when the values change with breakneck speed, the church that seeks to accommodate the latest moral tastes will always be at least a day late and a dollar short. As any progressive teenager might say, gay marriage is so 2015.

There is an alternative. It is to ... hold to a historic form of Christian faith that doesn’t affirm the predilections of the surrounding culture. That will come at a cost, but then so does sanctifying the sexual revolution. The UMC this year ratified a budget about 40% lower than what it approved in 2016. The faithful have voted with their feet and pocketbooks. Don’t be surprised if the world to which the UMC has sold its soul fails to make its payments.

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