Letter from Conference Co-Lay Leader: Legalized same-sex civil marriages – a new war to fight – or a new mission field

“If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” We have heard phrases like this all of our lives. We just may not have applied it to being disciples of Jesus Christ. In His Word, God has constantly reminded us that following the path of righteousness often brings us into uncomfortable proximity to conflict, pain, confusion, and disappointment.

Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made several rulings that instantly changed life in this country. And, because we are the United States of America, no single decision has been received with universal approval. Depending on factors that are as varied as our population is diverse, we can easily be drawn into either a sense of relief or deep despair…joy or anger…hopefulness or hopelessness.

Certainly, the most controversial issue for members of the United Methodist Church is the SCOTUS ruling that legalized same-sex civil marriage in all 50 states. While it is normal for Christians who object to this new law to put on our political hats and charge the “windmills” of the US legal system, what about our call to make disciples? We can see this ruling as something to protest, as we are thrust between permissive civil law and church law that affirms through our Book of Discipline that marriage is a union between a man and a woman; or we can start working on discerning how we can continue to make disciples in this ever-changing world.

It is obvious that this is a civil ruling that will NOT be overturned, especially in the climate of acceptance that is growing across our country and around the world. Likewise, church law remains intact, unless changed by General Conference action. So, what do we do in the interim? Of course, we continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

“I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.” [John Wesley’s Journal, June 11, 1739]

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply choose our mission fields? Wouldn’t it be nice to only target the classes, races, ethnicities, cultures, or persuasions of people to which we choose to share the love, grace, peace, and mercy of God? Wait…isn’t that what too many congregations have done over the past two centuries? Could that be, at least to a small degree, why our denomination is shrinking in the United States?

The legalization of same-sex civil marriages could be a new war to fight…or it could be a new mission field…new people in new places. Don’t “LGBTQ” people need salvation as much as others? Do they not long for acceptance? And are they, regardless of their sexual orientation, a part of God’s creation? 

I’m pretty sure that the NUMBER ONE issues before General Conference 2016 will concern same-sex marriage, clergy, and leadership. Regardless, of the outcome, the Church’s mission remains the same. Making disciples is what we do!

Absolutely, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. However, God has extended His Grace to us, so that, filled with that Grace, we may boldly enter, not flee from, the world around us and do ministry.

This letter was written by Ralph Thompson, Conference Co-Lay Leader