Scholars Raise Doubts About Methodist Church’s Future Over LGBT Debate

Morris L. Davis, a professor of Christian history and Wesleyan studies at Drew University, speaks to a group of United Methodist scholars and other observers at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. The gathering focused on church unity and the church’s impasse on homosexuality. (Photo by Ebony Lincoln, Higher Education and Ministry)

Morris L. Davis, a professor of Christian history and Wesleyan studies at Drew University, speaks to a group of United Methodist scholars and other observers at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. The gathering focused on church unity and the church’s impasse on homosexuality. (Photo by Ebony Lincoln, Higher Education and Ministry)

Seminary professors are having their say on how The United Methodist Church should navigate its deep disagreements about the status of gay and lesbian individuals.

However, a number of scholars doubt the denomination can stay united — at least in its current form.

“If you have strong convictions either for or against gay marriage, it seems to me that in a Wesleyan understanding of holiness, saying yes to both in one body is problematic,” said the Rev. Kevin M. Watson. He is a Wesleyan and Methodist Studies professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry brought together 28 academics from three countries for a sort of one-time think tank. The title of the March 9-12 gathering at Candler was “Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness.”

The Rev. Kim Cape, the agency’s top executive, described the gathering as “an opportunity to demonstrate how people of faith with differing opinions and perspectives can discern God’s way.”

The goal was for participants to share their expertise in the Bible, church history, theology and Christian ethics as United Methodist leaders consider the denomination’s future. As Candler Dean Jan Love summed it up, the academics “honor God with their minds.”

Among the observers of the scholarly conversation were eight members of the Commission on a Way Forward, a group of bishops, other clergy and lay people entrusted with proposing a way through the denomination’s impasse on homosexuality. Other observers included seminary presidents, students and some LGBTQ individuals.

Florida Area Bishop Ken Carter, one of the commission’s moderators, also observed the gathering.

“These professors here represent the intellectual life of our church, and to try to find a way forward within the complexity of unity, division and LGBTQ concerns without drawing upon their work would be absurd,” Carter told United Methodist News Service. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

The meeting brought together scholars from across the theological spectrum.

They included professors from the 13 United Methodist seminaries in the U.S., Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, Cambine Theological Seminary in Mozambique and a scholar who teaches in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Seminaries in the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools selected the participants and paid their way to attend.

Each participant presented a paper that Higher Education and Ministry will include in a book to be published by the end of the year. The agency also plans to offer a study guide based on the weekend by the end of the month at www.gbhem.org/colloquy.

The conversations were at times passionate, but never rancorous. The academics wrestled with how Methodism dealt with theological divisions and mergers in the past.

They also struggled with how to advise a denomination that now has an openly gay and marriedbishop — despite its official ban on same-gender unions and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.

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SOURCE: United Methodist News Service
Heather Hahn

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