Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors:
the People of the United Methodist Church." Church slogan featured
in many United Methodist Church TV commercials and on the denomination's web site,
"Closed Minds, Closed Hearts, Closed Doors."
Picket signs at the church trial of Karen Dammann, charged with "practices...incompatible to Christian
teachings." She is in a loving, committed marriage to another woman.
Sincere disagreements exist about sexual orientation among sincere, devout,
thoughtful Christians. Conflicts exist within all denominations/schools/traditions
of the major religions.
The two main topics which have surfaced in North America are:
Should qualified candidates for the clergy who are involved in committed same-sex relationships be eligible for
Should the relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples be recognized by conducting some form of church ritual
similar to the marriage ceremony that is provided to opposite-sex couples?
In those political jurisdictions where same-sex couples are allowed to marry, should their marriages be solemnized by a church ritual?
Not all Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other faith groups are experiencing the same level of conflict:
Liberal denominations: Believers from the very liberal wings of religions
in North America generally accept homosexuality and bisexuality as two alternative
sexual orientations which are normal and natural for a minority of adults. They understand, as do
the vast majority of mental health therapists, that one's sexual orientation in adulthood is unchosen and unchangeable.
Most accept that the ordination of clergy and rituals recognizing
the relationships of committed couples should be made available to
individuals and couples of all sexual orientations. Many believe that sexual
behavior only becomes a moral issue when age differences, health and
coercion, manipulation, and/or promiscuity are involved.
Conservative denominations: Within very conservative wings of these same religions, the vast majority believe that ordination and
any recognition of committed relationships must be denied to sexually-active homosexuals and bisexuals. They generally believe that same-sex behavior is
abnormal, unnatural, chosen, and changeable. It is hated by God, perhaps more than any other sin,
or perhaps on a par with other sins. Almost all
view same-sex behavior as intrinsically sinful, regardless of the nature of the couples' relationship. They view homosexuality
as such a serious character flaw that it must preclude a person from
being considered for ordination.
Mainline denominations: It is in the United Methodist Church,
Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Church, USA, the Anglican Church
of Canada, and similar Christian denominations where serious conflicts currently exist. There are large groups within each denomination who have taken a very
liberal or very conservative positions. The conflict has reached a level where some members are actively discussing
denominational schism as the only likely solution to the disputes. Meanwhile, others look for some type of compromise that will allow
diversity of beliefs and perhaps practices within the denomination.
Denominations' views on transgender persons and transsexuals are generally similar to their views on homosexuality.
Those faith groups that are struggling with the LGBT topics have four obvious
responses to the problem of equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons and transsexuals. All
alternatives are painful to many of their members. Each of the three main U.S. denominations which are
actively debating the issue have chosen (or had choice thrust upon them) one of
Liberals win: Grant equality to all church members. This will
probably cause a mass exodus of conservative members to more conservative faith groups, perhaps fundamentalist and
other evangelical denominations.
United Methodist approach: Retain inequality while continuing
debate, and live with the resultant tension and division. The conservatives
win. This will probably cause a mass exodus of liberal members, who will
either leave organized religion or switch to a more liberal denomination. It
will probably discourage significant numbers of youth from entering the
Local option approach: Adopt a local option policy, thus
thrusting the conflict from the denominational level to the regional or
congregational level. Liberals will be unhappy, because of restrictions of their members and candidates for ordination on
the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Conservatives will be unhappy because some transgendered persons and sexually active homosexuals will
be ordained or have their relationships formally recognized.
Episcopal Church approach: A schism: splitting of the
denomination into two groups: one conservative and the other liberal.
In the case of the Episcopal Church, USA several dioceses and individual congregations have left the denomination. Everyone loses. This has happened in the past during other conflicts: human
slavery, interpretation of the Bible, female ordination, etc. Sometimes the
schism is healed many decades later. Sometimes both groups continue to their
beliefs so that no reunion is possible.
There is an over-riding concern about church membership from these topics that simply will not go away:
Many older teens and young adults are leaving their denominations because of the latter's teachings on human sexuality and their rejection of scientific findings. There is some evidence that the loss of these members is permanent.
To adopt policies of inclusion and acceptance will alienate older members of the denomination and cause them to leave because of their bias toward the LGBT community.
All paths forward are dangerous and hazardous to the economic future of Christian denominations.