The 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church is still over a year away, but the controversy that we all knew would precede it has already begun. No surprise that the big point of contention is the Church's current stand on homosexuality.
On January 31, thirty-three retired United Methodist bishops released a statement calling for 2012 General Conference to remove the paragraph from The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church that states that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" (para. 304.3).
Other bishops, both active and retired, have spoken publicly in favor of the call while others have opposed it. Not surprisingly, many have not taken a side on the issue. Some are concerned about the divisive nature of the decision on the part of these retired bishops. Criticism of these retired bishops has shown up from pastors and others. Just this morning, the Renewal and Reform Coalition has called the Council of Bishops to defend the doctrine of United Methodist Church and to hold each other accountable for the defense of our doctrine. There will undoubtedly be other statements from both sides of the controversy as we move ever closer to General Conference.
But what is at stake in this controversy? What is the real issue underlying this debate? In reality, this battle is not so much about sexuality as it is about the authority of the Bible. Scripture is clear that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with a faithful Christian lifestyle. To this point, the United Methodist Church has remained faithful to the teaching of scripture and to the historic teaching of the universal Christian Church. There are, however, those within our denomination, including these retired bishops, who would cast off the authority of scripture in favor of the authority of their own personal agenda and experiential preference. More than a debate about human sexuality, this is a question over whether the United Methodist Church will remain under the authority of our God mediated through the scriptures or fall to the idolatry of worshipping a god made in the image of our own sinful inclinations. There will be attempts to distract us from the real issue. It will thus be key that we keep the clear teaching of scripture at the forefront. The United Methodist Church is engaged in nothing less than our own battle for the Bible. My prayer is that, at the end of the day, we will be found faithful.