Discern, Dialogue, Debate
The church has been discussing the issue of homosexuality for decades. This extended debate has caused some Protestant denominations to split, and the Methodists are struggling to prevent it. The 2016 General Conference enacted a special commission to seek "A Way Forward." The members of the commission recently were appointed and probably will meet in November about when the Council of Bishops will meet.
In a recent blog post for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt posted an opinion piece about "On LGBT issues, how can Christians disagree in a loving way?" He quotes from a book that summarizes a scientific study of the issue. The discussion was broader than just the theology of sin and same sex marriage in the church. Merritt is a frequent contributor to RNS and the Atlantic Magazine. The book he cites is only one of dozens on the subject. For more info on his blogging and books, see his web site: jonathanmerritt.com.
I also recently read a book "For the Sake of the Bride" by Steve Harper. He is a Methodist pastor who is still struggling with the issue in his own mind, and to me his book seemed weak in that his primary recommendation is to form a "roundtable" that sounds suspiciously similar to the commission. We've had a "Bishop's Unity Dialogue" in North Carolina for 14 years that has changed nothing in terms of policy and produced endless discussions with no compromise on either side. I have two more books in my Kindle list to read, but my intention here is not to provide a series of book reviews.
I raise the question of why the church, that is supposed to lead in loving kindness, has been so far behind business and government in reconciling the issue. Of course, several court cases had a lot to do with it. But they have moved on and discovered the benefits of banning discrimination in any form or category. It's bad for business, particularly in recruiting, and it's bad for government because it gets tied up in endless haggling over minor details and wording in laws and regulations.
The religious right sees it as an issue of defending church dogma based upon the interpretation of a few scriptures in the Bible, and the LGBT community sees it as an issue of social justice. If they can be legally married or safe in their apartment or job, why can't they be safe in church? For thousands of years, the church has been a place of refuge.
Well, LGBT people are welcome as long as you don't try to serve in any official capacity or agree to remain celibate. The most unfortunate consequence of this lengthy debate over dogma has been not only the hurt and pain it has caused for those LGBT folks excluded from full participation in the church, but the fact that many straight people consider the church irrelevant because it is preoccupied with internal issues rather than serving the world.