I am going to have to get to this sooner or later, so I will opt for sooner.
A special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted recently in St. Louis to continue its long-standing policy that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote was 438 for and 384 against. I think this means no gay pastors and no gay marriages in the Methodist Church.
The General Conference is the highest legislative body in the church and the only group that can speak officially for the denomination. It is composed of Methodist churches from around the world. In fact, much of the support for maintaining the current policy came from the churches in Africa.
So, what do I think of the vote? Let me digress a moment. During the run-up to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, we were faced with a high-profile issue in which the Cobb County Commission adopted a “Family Values” resolution which was a thinly veiled anti-gay statement. The county was scheduled to host a preliminary volleyball venue.
On one side of the issue was U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who represented Cobb County in Congress and who threatened all manner of retaliation if we moved the venue. On the other side were gay rights groups who vowed to harass the Torch Relay across the country if we didn’t and a number of Olympic athletes who supported them. Of course, the media loved the controversy and kept goading me as to what side our CEO Billy Payne and I were on. What we thought personally was of no import, I told them. The issue was doing the right thing for the organization.
The right thing was that a preliminary volleyball venue was not worth the time and effort with all the other things on our plate, so we moved the venue to Athens. End of story.
Back to today’s topic. I am not going to talk about what the poohbahs did in St. Louis, either. They don’t speak for me, no matter what they say and do. My faith is a very personal thing between me and my God and, frankly, they don’t get a vote.
I’ve had a bit of exposure to the upper management of the Methodist Church in the past. I found them too insular, bureaucratic and political for my taste. If I want political intrigue, I will take the crowd under the Gold Dome. At least that bunch won’t disillusion me.
What the Methodist Church and all other denominations really need to be looking at is the decline in church attendance in this country, particularly among young people between the ages of 21 and 29. According to a Gallup survey, they are the least likely to attend church or to have an affiliation with any religion. They are the future of the church and we are losing them. That is a sad fact.
Could it be that they see us Christians as hypocrites? That we talk a good game, but we don’t always walk our talk? It is easy to be holy in the pew on Sunday but not necessarily when somebody cuts in front of us in the checkout line at the grocery store.
I heard the youth director of a large church in Atlanta describe a mission trip to South Africa with a group of teens. While there, the young people were explaining to the locals that they were “Christ-like.” When she asked them why they were saying that instead of saying they were Christians, their response was that they had seen too many people who called themselves Christians but didn’t act that way. Instead, they said they preferred to try and emulate Christ. Out of the mouth of babes.
Whether the Methodist Church has done the right thing or the wrong thing is yet to be determined. Whether people leave the church as a result of the decision in St. Louis is also an unknown at this point. All I know for certain is that I’m not going anywhere.
I love my church, my fellow congregants and my pastors. They have gotten my family and me through some tough times. I am a Methodist as was my momma and her momma before her. I have every intention to die a Methodist, although that is not on my immediate list of things to do. Let the poohbahs deal with what they have done. That is not my job.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.