The slogan, “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” seemed to capture the spirit of the modern Methodism.
So it will surprise many to discover that Methodists are involved in a doctrinal donnybrook over the issue of gay marriage. Or, more specifically, whether ordained Methodist clergy should perform the marriage of same-sex couples.
In 1972, the Methodist Book of Discipline was revised to state that same-sex relationships were “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Methodist clergy were told that they had to adhere to that position.
However, the church also declared that it is “dedicated to a ministry of Christ-like hospitality and compassion to persons of all sexual orientation” and that it supports “certain basic human rights and civil liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Those in the church who are supportive of same-sex unions find these two positions contradictory.
Theological conservatives see no conflict and have supported complaints against clergy who have performed same-sex marriage ceremonies. As a result, the normally calm denomination has seen church trials and in one case the conviction and defrocking of a minister who presided over the wedding of his son and another man.
Other mainline denominations have moved toward accepting gay relationships. Thus far, Methodists have refused to do the same.
Some have suggested that the influence of the South has much to do with this intransigence, but homosexuality has become a less-divisive issue than it once was, even in Dixie. The growing strength of theologically conservative overseas Methodists, who have a voice in policy set by the Methodist General Conference, also shape the church’s stand.
The result is a conflict between opposing views that see little possibility of resolution unless Methodists do what in the past Methodists have been good at — talking things out and finding that middle ground.
That is what this page urges the Methodists to do.