A Matter of Priority: What is Second?

Currently, a clergy trial is under way in Pennsylvania. It surrounds a pastor who performed a same-sex wedding ceremony for his son. The Book of Discipline is fairly clear that UM clergy are not to perform same-sex weddings. The “guilty” verdict was not a surprise. The clergy trial was not held to make a decision on whether or not the BOD position is just, but whether or not it was violated. The pastor in question admitted he was fully aware his decision was in violation of the BOD. Again, no surprises. It really doesn’t matter what side of the coin you are on, the reality is that the BOD, as it currently stands, was disregarded when the pastor performed the wedding ceremony. Now, we are waiting to learn what the nature of the penalty will be…

For me, it boils down to a matter of priority.

Throughout my ministry, I have been told the following numerous times…

“God first. Family second. Then the church.”

However, I’ve also seen too many instances where this message is spoken, but not intended to be taken seriously.

Was the pastor wrong in granting the desire of his son and partner to have him perform the wedding? Is he wrong to refuse to repent of something he believes to be right? Is this act of disobedience what it takes to shed light on an unjust position?

In my opinion, the pastor made a decision to honor his family before the church. If one of my daughters asks me to perform her wedding ceremony, regardless of sexual orientation, my answer would be “yes”. Why? Because I love my daughters. My daughters will always be more important than a paragraph in the Book of Discipline. Of course, in doing so, I know that would be the last “official” duty I would perform as a UM clergy person. But, in my opinion, it would be worth it.

Again, in my opinion, the church is sending a message that while we claim “God first. Family second. Then the church.”, it has its limitations.

The issue of human sexuality has been graciously and not-so-graciously debated in the UMC for as long as I can remember. The online interactions between the “conservatives” and “liberals” is less-than-fruitful, un-Christ-like, and void of love. While we are trying our best to be faithful to God, to our neighbor, and to the tradition of the UMC, we are creating a large divide between the various factions within the denomination. We are creating a larger divide between the church and those outside the church.

At the end of the day, we could be wrong. I could be wrong.

I am one who longs for an all-inclusive church. I believe it is time to break down the barrier. But, I wonder if too much damage has been done. Are we headed towards a division within the church? Are we so divided on this one issue that we cannot imagine a third way? While we have so much that unites us, will we let one issue lead to our demise?

I wonder, are we sending a clear message of “open hearts, open minds, and open doors?” Are we teaching people proper priorities?


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