On April 30, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to retain the current language in the Book of Discipline that homosexual practice "is incompatible with Christian teaching" (161.G). The General Conference, which is composed of elected clergy and lay delegates, meets every four years and is the only body that speaks on behalf of the United Methodist Church. The issue of homosexuality has been debated and voted on at General Conference for 36 years. The decision to uphold the Church's current position on homosexuality is important and is an indication of the larger Church's resolve not to depart from biblical teaching on sexuality.
After the voting, there was a large protest in which black clad protesters entered silently into the conference room and, standing in the shape of a cross, draped a black cloth over the communion table. They then proceeded to sing, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" The following quote is from an article released by the United Methodist News Service reporting these events:
"One witness, speaking on behalf of the protesters, told the General Conferencethat when The United Methodist Church refuses to accept and honor everyone's call to professional ministry, it refuses to abide by the rules of Methodism's founder John Wesley: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God."
I have two points to make in response to this. First, this "witness" betrays that he or she does not understand the role of the Church in matters of ordination to "professional ministry." The Church does not and must not let any old body be responsible for the teaching, sacramental, and discipline ministries of the ordained elder. When a person declares that they are percieving God's call to enter into ordained ministry, the Church then has the responsibility to examine them and decide whether or not they qualify for ordination. The Church must confirm the call of God upon the life of a ministerial candidate and evaluate his or her worthiness for ordained ministry. Not everyone qualifies. One of the things that will disqualify a candidate from being ordained is living in open sin and rebellion against God. This is why the UMC has maintained that it will not ordain practicing, self avowed homosexuals. Methodists especially should understand the role of the Church in confirming the ministerial call because we have an incredibly complex and arduous candidacy process in which a candidate's fitness for ministry must be confirmed on three levels: the local church, the district, and the Annual Conference. With such a complex candidacy process it is amazing that we are having this discussion at all. The Church must reject those who claim to be called of God but refuse to live according to his statutes.
Second, John Wesley had rather high and strict standards for his preachers. He did not allow Methodists who continued in sin to attend the regular Methodist meetings, let alone be ordained. Here is a link to his "Address to the Clergy." The entire thing is worth reading, but I'll highlight one paragraph that applies to our discussion.
"As to his practice: 'Unto the ungodly, saith God, Why dost thou preach my laws?' What is a Minister of Christ, a shepherd of souls, unless he is all devoted toGod? unless he abstain, with the utmost care and diligence, from every evil wordand work; from all appearance of evil; yea, from the most innocent things,whereby any might be offended or made weak? Is he not called, above others, to be an example to the flock, in his private as well as public character?"
I dare say that Wesley would be relieving preachers of their responsibilities right and left were he alive today to see what the people called Methodists are doing. The above quoted "witness" is clearly unfamiliar with Wesley if he or she thinks that "do no harm, do good and stay in love with God" was Wesley's only qualification for pastoral ministry. More is required than a call in order to be a minister. The call must be confirmed.