Institute on Religion and Democracy
January 19, 2000
At a pre-General Conference News Briefing, General Secretary Thom White Wolf Fassett of the Board of Church and Society advocated changing the United Methodist Church's opposition to homosexual practice. He was joined in a panel discussion by Scott Field of the evangelical Good News caucus and Jeanne Knepper of the pro-homosexuality Affirmation caucus.
Fassett lamented that the church has a "prohibition on certain persons." He alleged that there is a "vagrant spirit running through the United Methodist Church" which manifests itself with a "great deal of violence." He also complained that this "vindictive spirit" seeps into the secular world, which explains why passage of legislation regarding "hate crimes" has become controversial.
The Board of Church and Society has voted to lobby against the church's stance on homosexuality at this year's General Conference. The board has also backed federal legislation that would equate "sexual orientation" with race and gender in laws regarding discrimination, is supporting "hate crimes" legislation that would federalize or add special penalties for crimes aimed at sexual minorities, and favors judicial attempts to compel the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual Scout masters.
Fassett said hate crimes laws and sexual orientation laws were simply a question of "hate" and "workplace fairness." He claimed that the "response from our constituency" was "swift and vicious" in its opposition to the stance of Fassett's board. "There is extraordinary religious intolerance," he surmised. "People are seeking to worship in our congregations," he commented, implying that the church's current stance was keeping people out.
Jeanne Knepper, a clergywoman from Portland, Oregon, was even more outspoken about homosexuality. She likened the struggle for the acceptance of homosexuality in the church to Moses' demand of Pharoah: "Let my people go!"
Just as the first born sons of the Hebrews were slain by an Egyptian Pharoah, so also the parents of "gay and lesbian" children must worry for their safety, Kneppers said. "The United Methodist Church participates in a violent culture through the lie that says homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching," she insisted.
"It's not a choice," Knepper said. "It's not a sin." When asked about former homosexuals, she responded that all persons should be able to "name their own identity." But the existence of former homosexuals does not mean that all homosexuals could or should abandon their sexual preference, she said.
Although Knepper cited the purported claims of some scientific studies that indicate a genetic explanation for sexual preference, she, when pressed, was unable to name any studies that have conclusively found a firm genetic link. "I don't look for science for proof to tell me what I know about myself," she instead retorted.
"We are to repent of the wish to control others," she said. "We do not repent of who we are. People are being treated like dirt on the floor."
Scott Field responded that the United Methodist Church has no need to apologize for its current position on homosexuality. He observed that the debate had moved from the legislative process to the judicial process, as clergy who have conducted same-sex unions are facing multiple church trials. The divide over homosexuality is "symptomatic of a wider division," Field observed. "We may be a house divided," he said, and that division may be irreconcilable.
Mary Daffin of the Confessing Movement, a caucus that defends the church's current teaching about sexuality, was also to have been a panel participant. But she was not present.
Several hundred United Methodists attended the three-day briefing January 13-15 in Cleveland. Most participants were either the heads of annual conference delegations to General Conference, or were editors or reporters for United Methodist publications.