When Grace and Truth Collide
By Susan Schrier Clouse
For those of you who’ve been watching what’s happening in the United Methodist Church, I’m sorry. My church is a hot mess. As a now retired UMC pastor who was raised Methodist, I’ve seen it coming on for years.
There has been an on-going fight over human sexuality, particularly homosexuality, for decades. What’s the church to do in an increasingly sexually permissive culture? Over the years, the UMC has sacrificed more and more Christian morality for the shiny object of politically-correct inclusivity. We’re so far down in the weeds now that the debate is over whether or not to perform same-sex marriages and ordain non-celibate homosexuals. But the real issue is so much bigger.
The Traditionalists — made up of a few evangelicals in the United States and the bulk of the global church in Africa and Asia — prevailed at this recent General Conference. On paper at least, the UMC still prohibits same-sex marriages and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
The Progressives — almost exclusively from the U.S. and led by U.S. bishops — may have lost this battle, but will continue the fight. I imagine that the United Methodist Church will split twice. Once geographically with the United States separating from the global community, and then again within the United States as Traditionalists will distance themselves from the Progressives over this issue and others.
The whole thing breaks my heart. The church that led me to Jesus and has been with me through the ups and downs of life has lost its way. This debate about human sexuality highlights one of the many ways that the UMC leadership is failing to follow Jesus. It is part of the reason I retired from active ministry.
The Gospel writer John, one of Jesus’ original followers, described Jesus as being “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus is all grace, and all truth, all the time. The United Methodist Church, rather than following Jesus, is pitting grace and truth against each other.
Traditionalists are heavy into truth. How we express our sexuality IS important to God. The evidence of nature, the testimony of Scripture, and most importantly, the words of Jesus tell us that marriage is between and man and a woman AND that sex is a gift for marriage. Traditionalists are so focused on homosexuality right now, however, that they are failing to address with equal fervor a whole host of other ways we humans fail to glorify God with our sexuality. By condemning this one area of human weakness without offering the hope of God’s grace and forgiveness, many wonder if God loves them at all.
But the Traditionalists are not the sole source of the division. Progressives need to accept their fair share of the blame.
Progressives have been champions of God’s grace, shouting ‘inclusivity’ from the rooftops, much like their political counterparts. All are welcome, but none are held accountable. What an incredible abuse of God’s grace, the church’s greatest strength and hope for the world!
Jesus loves each and every one of us. He sacrificed Himself so that everyone in the whole world might be forgiven of his or her sins. He was resurrected so we could be reunited with our Heavenly Father forever. That’s how valuable we are in God’s eyes. But despite how much worth and dignity God has bestowed upon us, God has not bestowed upon us the power to define what is sin and what is not. God has already done that. We are sinners. God is God, and we are not!
Will the grace party or the truth party prevail in the UMC? Will inclusivity or morality become the church’s guiding principle? Sadly, it looks like each group will continue to demand its own way and the UMC will become the “dead sect” Wesley feared would result when we abandoned the guidance of the Holy Spirit. My church has forgotten that “Amazing Grace” saved “a wretch like me.” Grace is for us sinful wretches. Don’t water down our sin, and don’t water down God’s amazing grace. Too much is at stake.
My prayer, as it has been for years, is that the UMC gets back to following Jesus. Then it might actually do the world some good. The church must strive to be like Jesus. Full of grace. Full of truth. All the time. Boldly and without apology.
Susan Schrier Clouse has had three distinct and fulfilling careers – as a paralegal, health care administrator and United Methodist pastor. She retired from full-time ministry and enjoys life in beautiful, sunny Florida with her husband, Dave.