The United Methodist Church is about to fulfill the typographical prediction to become the Untied Methodist Church. The Judicial Council (a Supreme Court analog in this denomination whose polity emulates the political structure of the United States) handed down two rulings on the weekend that ought to give pause for thought to any UM’s who are still exercising that faculty. In a split decision, the Council overturned a lower court ruling and stripped out lesbian Beth Stroud of her ministerial orders. Actually, this should not have come as a surprise. The UMC is so boxed into its own legalisms these days that the Judicial Council could hardly do anything else.
Much more disturbing is the second decision, also thankfully split. In essence, the Council in its wisdom determined that the pastor of a local congregation could legally refuse to admit into membership gay and lesbian people. It’s nothing less than license for a new witch hunt in the denomination. Unfortunately, nothing in current UM process permits a change until the 2008 General Conference, and given the sorry state of Methodism, that change seems very unlikely to happen.
The decision certainly puts the lie to the denomination’s PR campaign called (disingenuously) “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” I was an active United Methodist and denominational employee for more than 10 years, but I clearly am now explicitly unwelcome there. I’m angry and saddened, and I also believe that God is certainly weeping just now.
The only bright note here is the courageous dissent of Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the chapel and religious life at Emory University:
I dissent with my colleagues on Decision 1032. This decision compromises the historic understanding that the Church is open to all. The Judicial Council cannot interpret something that is not stated in the Discipline [the denominational book of statutes and ordinances]. Nothing in the Discipline gives pastors discretion to exclude persons presenting themselves for membership in the Church.