Methodists’ ruling on same-sex union creates crisis of faith

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 5 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:38 am in
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By Bob Elliott

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I’m torn about what to do. I’ve been almost a lifelong member of a respected organized religion that last month publicly demonstrated itself to be seriously bigoted.

I refer to the worldwide United Methodist Church, which has defrocked an ordained pastor found “guilty” of performing a same-sex wedding.

As a member of the Methodist Church since childhood, I find this disturbing, embarrassing and confusing. I know whatever I do will have little or no effect on what the United Methodist organization will or won’t do. But I have to live with myself, and I believe bigotry — whether based on race, sex or sexual preference — is beyond just being narrow-minded.

So as a human being with at least a modest amount of character, I’m torn between resigning in protest or remaining a member and working to help heal that part of our church.

If you’re not familiar with the news, here’s what happened.

On Dec. 19, the pastor (the Rev. Frank Schaefer) of a small country church in Lebanon, Pa., was stripped of his credentials for violating United Methodist law by officiating the wedding of his son to another man. The wedding in question had taken place in 2007.

The Methodist branch of Protestant religion traces its roots to 1739, when it was developed in England by John Wesley and his brother, Charles. My understanding is they were labeled Methodists because of the methodical way they organized their religious events.

In 1968, the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church joined together to become the United Methodist Church.

My wife, Maggie, and I have been members of the local St. Mark’s United Methodist Church since shortly after moving to Iowa City in 1965. Through the years, we’ve gained many friends and acquaintances among St. Mark’s congregation. Leaving would be difficult.

Being Methodist was part of our second-generation Irish immigrant family. My father was John Wesley Elliott and my older brother was John Wesley Elliott Jr. But being a member of the United Methodist Church right now is more than just difficult.

I don’t want to be included among active members of any bigoted organization, whether religious, civic, educational or whatever. How do I face my gay and lesbian friends? How do I look at myself in the mirror?

Personally, I consider myself more spiritual than religious. But being an active church member provides opportunities for self reflection, examining life’s real meanings, helping others, and times for discussing things simply more important than politics and profits.

When I learned about what happened to the Rev. Schaefer in Pennsylvania because he violated a regulation against same-sex marriage, I was troubled. Such a regulation is clearly counter to Methodists’ mission statement of “Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors.”

It’s now cold hearts, bigoted minds and closed doors.

When our worldwide church organization was saddled with an obscure homophobic regulation a couple of years ago, I assumed no one in this country would pay attention to it and the church organization soon would come to its senses.

I fooled myself into thinking if a member or pastor crossed that line it would ignored, or perhaps the person found “guilty” would be suspended for a minute or fined a penny.

To me, if a church has such an unconscionable regulation, it’s unconscionable to remain a member of that church. So the moral question is, do I leave or do I remain and fight for the church organization to “heal” itself? What do you think?

Bob Elliott is a longtime resident of Iowa City and a former City Council member. Comments: elliottb53@aol.com.

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