Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bishops Chose Silence Over Leadership on Homosexuality

This week Bishop Tuell, perhaps best known for his statement of repentance for his former homophobic stance in the Church, urged the Council of Bishops to break the silence over the issue of homosexuality. In response to a vote to table a recommendation to change the denomination's current stance on homosexuality Tuell urged the Bishops to confront the issue saying that, "leadership would be superior to prudent silence."

Tuell urged the Council to discuss the matter openly rather than retreat to silence. He understands that the denomination's incompatibility clause is "based on highly questionable theology and biblical understanding and causes profound hurt to thousands of loyal United Methodist members and potential members." Tuell went on to say the council is "somewhat immobilized these days on some of these issues that are really facing our church that are big issues" and hoped "we will find the ways more intentionally to be about the business of giving leadership in this area."

A council subcommittee had proposed replacing the "incompatibility clause" in the Book of Discipline (Par. 161G) with language that the church does not condone sexual relationships between people of heterosexual or homosexual orientation "outside the bonds of a faithful, loving and committed relationship between two persons; marriage, where legally possible."

Unfortunately, the proposal never made it out of the subcommittee. According to Bishop Robert Hayes of Oklahoma, advancing the recommendation on homosexuality would have "proven to be divisive and counterproductive to the unity that currently exists in the Council of Bishops and to the church today." He continued saying that the committee discussed the proposal at length, but did not act "because it would not have been for the betterment of the church at this time."

Bishop Hayes' appeal to "unity" reminds me of the same argument used by Latin American bishops in the 1970's in support of their silence on issues of poverty, violence and oppression. In response to liberation theologians who appealed to the bishops of Latin America to take a stand against the injustice of life for the poor in the region, the bishops said it was impossible to speak out on the side of the poor, for doing so would threaten the unity of the church and alienate the rich. Instead, they opted to watch as thousands starved, were disappeared, died of curable illnesses, and worked under inhumane conditions...all for the sake of unity.

Juan Luis Segundo in describing this period of history says that the silence of the bishops of Latin America made them complicit in the injustice themselves. In deciding not to choose sides, the bishops of Latin America stood on the side of the wealthy and elite. In not speaking out, they stood on the side of the status quo and since the status quo was oppressive, that meant standing on the side of injustice.

James Cone likewise points out the danger of idolizing unity. He asserts that the internal unity of a Christian church can only be attained or maintained by minimizing and playing down the radical historical oppositions that divide its members. In other words, one must pass over in silence such matters as ethnicity, class, status, gender, ideology, economic status, and even sexuality. In short, Cone claims the Church must pay a high price for unity. It must say that the issues of suffering, exclusion, violence and injustice are less critical and decisive than religious polity, formulas and rites.

Is this the price we want to pay as United Methodists?

1 comment:

Keith McIlwain said...

I agree with much of your post. My own response to the UMNS article is here.