Interpretation: Pick & Choose

The United Methodist Church in Indiana is in the spotlight once again for issues revolving around homosexuality.

You might recall recent events that focused on an Indiana UMC congregation no longer partnering with the Boy Scouts due to their new position on homosexuality.

You also might recall another Indiana UMC congregation making the news due to not including Pride Lafayette in their community event.

Now, a congregation in Alexandria has become the focus of a news story surrounding the dismissal of a choir director.

Let me be very clear…there is always more to the story than what we read in the paper. The online commentary has been extremely critical of the UMC as a whole (some of it deserving, some of it not). The articles, blogs, and comments surrounding the events have been extremely critical of the pastor, District Superintendent, and Indiana UMC (some of it may be deserving, some of it not).

But, the bottom-line is that there is always more to the story. These stories sell papers. Let’s be honest, you know the Herald Bulletin website has seen a lot more traffic in the last 5 days than it probably has in the last 5 months! And, again, there is always more to the story.

While I have clergy status as a local pastor in the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, I do not have all of the juicy details concerning this situation. All I know is that people on both sides of the issue have been hurt. In this particular situation, there is no obvious winner or loser. And, of course, there is more to the story.

Many of my regular readers understand that I am extremely liberal when it comes to social issues. I have been pretty straight-forward in saying that I disagree with the UMC’s current statement regarding human sexuality, marriage, and inclusion of LGBTQ clergy. I simply feel it stops short. However, while I may disagree, I still uphold the Discipline. I will continue to work within the system, honoring the system, while attempting to partner with others to usher in change.

My biggest issue with all of these situations is when the Discipline is brought into play. In each case, only a portion of the Discipline’s statement on human sexuality has been shared. When a more conservative decision is made in regards to matters of sexuality, a small portion of the Discipline is used to defend the decision. The portion often shared is this, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” Taken as a stand alone sentence, this sounds like a very strong statement that would fully support the actions in each circumstance.

With the issue in Alexandria, the portion of the Discipline used to justify dismissing the choir director applies to clergy (those appointed by the Cabinet) and not to lay employees. Therefore, it does not really support the decision made. Of course, there is more to the story. The article in the Herald Bulletin has so many holes in it…and is mostly presented from only one point of view.

However, this is an example of picking and choosing which parts of a statement will support our particular theological, political, or social stance on any given issue. We do it with Biblical interpretation all the time too…we pick and choose verses that will drive home the point we make, disregarding the story within it’s particular historical context. This practice is dangerous. It gives a false representation of the church. When we apply this type of pick and choose interpretation to the Bible, it can give a false representation of the holistic story of God.

The Discipline’s statement on human sexuality can be found here. Within it, you can find statements that seem extremely conservative. At the same time, one can find statements that seem extremely liberal. However, taken as a whole, it’s fairly moderate. Taken as a whole, we find a central theme…love for all.

For me, of course this is my own particular interpretation of the Discipline, the most powerful statement is this, “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

Each of the recent “news stories” focusing on Indiana United Methodist Churches remind me of my call to do certain things…to love God, to love neighbor, to pray for/encourage/support my brothers and sisters in ministry, to be committed to be in ministry “for and with all persons”, to uphold the Discipline while boldly working to bring about change, and to remember that there is always more to the story.