Progressive Christians continue to react with shock and dismay over the decision by the United Methodist Church to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. It didn’t take long for those who are opposed to the decision by the worldwide body to declare their next move: to continue defying church law.
“We are not going anywhere,” one liberal told The New York Times. “If someone wants to come for me, for us, then bring it.”
It’s as if the global United Methodist conference didn’t even happen.
Gone are the days when we were conditioned from birth to submit to God’s holy ways, embodied in our denominational standards. Now, if we don’t like the decisions which are made after due process has been followed, we defy them.
For decades, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has been home to a few ministers and elders who ignore the teachings of the church. Some deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, ignore the reality of sin, and embrace pagan faiths as truth. More recently, some are openly married to partners of the same gender. Ministers are solemnizing and blessing the unions of other same-sex couples.
The same defiance that we’re seeing with United Methodists is alive in our own courts. On March 12, the Presbytery of Waterloo-Wellington received a notice of motion from a minister that seeks to amend its standing orders in an effort to normalize same-sex marriage. It’s calling for a permanent suspension of discipline, inspired by the moratorium granted by General Assembly 2018 to allow the Rainbow Communion to do its work, listening to the stories of those hurt by the sin of homophobia.
True, the motion would not “compel any minister or session to perform a particular marriage” nor would it “compel any congregation to take specific actions to be more affirming” — as if that makes it all right. It’s like sprinkling sugar on top of something sour and passing it off as palatable. Imagine a provincial government proposing a “notwithstanding clause” to allow it to opt out of any federal legislation it finds inconvenient. It would be thrown out of court at the first challenge.
The Waterloo-Wellington presbyter’s notice of motion amounts to insubordination. It’s a violation of our ordination vows.
God takes vows seriously. In Hebrews 6, we are reminded of the promise to Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations and that the world would be blessed through him. God’s promise was backed up with a vow, if we ever had any reason to doubt. And in case you think it’s all one way, the author of Hebrews reminds us of our own obligation: “When people make promises, they guarantee them by appeal to some authority above them so that if there is any question that they’ll make good on the promise, the authority will back them up.” (Hebrews 6:16 MSG)
Which begs the question: when people knowingly break the vows they have made before God and the church, won’t God give them a nudge, a poke, a gentle reminder that they are treading on thin ice? Clearly, some people are ignoring the voice of God and are listening to the voice of this world.
Civil disobedience — widely accepted in the secular realm — has no place in the church. We are commanded to respect authority, which has been placed by God. It’s why we stand when the Moderator enters General Assembly. It’s why we honour due process, lest we fall into oligarchy or dictatorial control. The Waterloo-Wellington notice of motion is disrespectful of the work of the Special Committee of Former Moderators, whose report on finding a way forward through our theological divisions has not even been presented. It’s contrary to the order that we have promised to uphold.
Those who are fighting to change the theology and practice of the church are free to do so, but wait for the process. Practice self control.