The other day a lesbian Methodist pastor was acquitted on charges stemming from her sexual orientation and will continue in her ministry. A jury of pastors in Bothell, Wash., deliberated for 10 hours before a majority ruled that the homosexual relationship between Rev. Karen Dammann and another woman, who were recently "married," is allowable under the church's social principles, even though the Methodist Book of Discipline declares homosexual practice to be "incompatible to Christian teachings."
Should anyone be surprised? Having abandoned Scripture and the teachings of Methodism's founder, John Wesley, who believed that the Bible was God's infallible Word to man, it is a short step to rejecting all statements, "doctrines" and "principles" based on eternal truths.
If the church can't uphold an eternal principle involving sexual expression and male-female relations, it puts everything up for negotiation in our increasingly relativistic age where the truth can never be objectively determined.
The conservative wing of the Methodist Church, known as the Confessing Movement, has it right. Its Web page (www.confessingumc.org/tract3.html) says, "The moral relativism of our time rebels against Jesus Christ's gracious rule over human sexuality. This relativism and rebellion have found their way into the United Methodist Church. There are those in the Church who understand marriage as a short-term contract, who desire to legitimize homosexual practice, and who care little about protecting the unborn child and mother. In some quarters of our denomination, premarital sex, extramarital sex and serial marriage are tolerated. A confusion has arisen in our Church between the Lordship of Christ and the reigning cultural virtue of tolerance. The Confessing Movement challenges the misuse of the principle of tolerance to set aside the authority of Scripture and (the) Church's teaching on human sexuality."
In his closing arguments at the church trial, Dammann's counsel, the Rev. Robert C. Ward, articulated a doctrine more befitting "the church of what's happenin' now" than the historical and once doctrinally strong Methodist Church: "We need to be careful about creating rules that exclude people." I guess he's never heard of the separation of sheep from goats, wheat from tares, the saved from the unsaved and the afterlife separation of dwellers in heaven from residents of hell. Would Ward include in his doctrine of inclusiveness practicing adulterers (who, along with all other unrepentant sinners, are listed as people who have no hope of attaining heaven)? How about murderers, thieves and liars? They are on God's exclusionary list, too.
It is too late for the Methodist church (as with Episcopalians and their heretical brethren). All of the "confessing" movements and attempts to turn things around are unlikely to succeed. Once a denomination starts down the road of compromise, caring more about what the world thinks than what God requires, it is nearly impossible to bring it back. Only Southern Baptists in modern times have succeeded in reversing a liberal trend, but not without a bruising fight.
The only course for people who still care what God thinks is to follow the instructions of Paul the Apostle: "Come out from among them and be separate." John Wesley believed in absolutes that those who claim him as their spiritual ancestor have abandoned. He wrote: "But the Christian rule of right and wrong is the word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testament; all that the Prophets and 'holy men of old' wrote 'as they were moved by the Holy Ghost'; all that Scripture which was given by inspiration of God, and which is indeed profitable for doctrine, or teaching the whole will of God; for reproof of what is contrary thereto; for correction of error; and for instruction, or training us up, in righteousness" (a reference to 2 Timothy 3:16).
Dammann isn't the first lesbian ordained in the Methodist Church, but she should be the last tolerated by church members who are faithful to something higher than the shifting winds of cultural change. At the Methodist church trial, a majority of jurors failed their God and Methodism's founder. They have lost their authority to speak for God or to man on God's behalf. Methodists would be well advised to seek a denomination where God and not man is the supreme authority.