The United Methodist Church is in the news again, and you know what that means… something related to homosexuality has come up… again…

Rev. Amy DeLong in Wisconsin will undergo United Methodist Church trial to respond to the charge that she has violated church law be being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and officiating a same-sex union.  As this is getting ready to start, 70 members of the Minnesota Annual Conference and 166 members of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference has signed pledges stating that they would “joyfully” give the Church’s blessing in civil unions for same-sex couples.

Now, I bet that this is the point where you expect me to state my position on these issues, but that’s not going to happen.  The real underlying issue that I have with these situations is the fact that Rev. DeLong and the members of these two Annual Conferences are clearly in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

For those that don’t know, the Book of Discipline is the law for the United Methodist Church.  In it are detailed the “ins and outs” of ministry in the United Methodist Church.  As a newly ordained member of the Indiana Annual Conference, I recently stood up on stage, in front of the entire Annual Conference (at least those who weren’t out playing golf at the time…) and answered in the affirmative to the following questions (and a few others, but these are the ones I want to focus on for now):

  1. Have you studied the doctrines of the United Methodist Church?
  2. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
  3. Will you preach and maintain them?
  4. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
  5. Do you approve of our Church government and polity?
  6. Will you support and maintain them?

And here’s the thing, if Rev. DeLong or these 236 other deacons, elders and licensed local pastors cannot answer these questions in the affirmative, then they need to step away and seriously reconsider their choice to enter into ministry in the United Methodist Church instead of blatantly defying the system.  At this point, you may want to argue with me that it is a justice issue.  I beg to differ.  As I see it, it is a matter of integrity, and I’ll get to that in just a minute.  There are multiple options for people who find themselves in positions similar to DeLong and these other ordained/licensed persons.

First, they can still respond to their call to ministry, but do so in a denomination that is more in line with their political and theological point of view.  Nobody is forcing DeLong or anybody else to be a United Methodist.  It is a long and difficult process.  Why go through it if you disagree with the Church?  There are several other denominations that will allow their clergy to bless same-sex unions, and will gladly ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”.  Right now, the United Methodist Church isn’t one of them.  Try the Unitarians, or, more recently, the PC(USA).

Second, enter the system with the intention of changing it.  The United Methodist Book of Discipline has a peculiar feature – it’s not etched in stone.  It changes.  Every four years there is the General Conference, and every four years at General Conference, the Book of Discipline gets changed.  If you don’t like the system, work to change it.  But… and here’s where I get back to the integrity issue… do it the right way.

Don’t stand in front of your Annual Conference, pledging to uphold the doctrines, polity and discipline of the Church with the intention of openly defying it to suit your personal agenda.  That’s where it is an integrity issue.  If you honestly cannot answer in the affirmative to those questions above, then don’t.  Walk away, and fulfill your ministry by other means.  Have the personal integrity to do things the right way, and keep your word, even if you don’t agree with the way things are.

A quick story to illustrate my point: when I attended seminary at Asbury, every person had to sign an agreement (the Ethos statement) that he/she would abstain from tobacco and alcohol during his/her time at the school.  At the time, I didn’t drink or smoke, so it wasn’t that big of a deal; however, I was 22 when I entered seminary.  Legally, I could drink and smoke.  However, I signed an agreement that I would not, and that is what mattered.  Could I have argued that I was legally able to drink and done so?  Sure.  I could have.  I also could have gone to a different seminary where I didn’t have to sign that agreement.  I could have worked to get the Ethos statement changed (which, by the way, it is now different than when I attended because people did work to change it).  I didn’t do either of those.  I stood by my word.

Are the way things are the way they should be?  I’m not here to answer that question today.  If you don’t like the way things are, go through the appropriate processes to change it.  In the meantime, stay true to your word.  If you can’t stay true to your word in this situation, how can people trust you to stay true to it in any situation?  It really is a matter of integrity.