The issues of same-sex marriage and the ordination of gays and lesbians are about to split the United Methodist Church, leaving congregations across the country to figure out where they stand on the issues and what will happen to them when they church they knew is no more.
“The entire church will go up in smoke,” said the Rev. Dr. Marlowe V.N. Washington, pastor of Seneca United Methodist Church in Irondequoit. “We have to restructure a whole new system and probably a whole new denomination.”
Washington said his church is formulating a position. To spur the discussion, he has arranged a preaching and teaching series on same-sex loving relationships.
During the 10 a.m. worship service on Feb. 2, 9 and 23, Washington will deliver a sermon on same-sex relationships and the church. At 7 p.m. Feb. 4, 11 and 25, the Rev. Dr. Douglas R. Cullum, vice president/dean and professor of historical and pastoral theology of Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, will host a forum on the topic. All events are at the church, 121 Scholfield Road, and are open to the community.
“We need to preach this and teach this and not be afraid as a polarizing topic to address this straight from the Bible, without condemning anybody,” Washington said.
Methodists are the nation’s second-largest Protestant community with approximately 12 million congregants. About 75 Methodist congregations are in the Rochester area. The denomination is scheduled to vote on the break in May.
“The reason why the church is being torn apart is because the conservatives are trying to convince the progressives and the progressives are trying to convince the conservatives and neither side won,” Washington said. “We have to take a stand. Before we take a stand, I want to throw it out to the congregation. What did Christ say? I know what you’re trying to say, but that doesn’t help me.”
Washington said that when he started at Seneca in 2017, the congregation was older and more white and more conservative than it is now.
Washington described himself as progressive, but said the decision to stay or leave the Methodist denomination needs to come from the congregation and be guided by Jesus’ teachings. But Washington, who teaches New Testament studies at Roberts Wesleyan College, acknowledged that Jesus was silent on the topic of same-sex relationships.
“Jesus never said a mumbling word,” Washington said. But Jesus did say to love your neighbor as yourself.
“Jesus is teaching us, according to Matthew, the greatest thing you must do is live by the standard of love,” Washington said. “Live by a love commandment. But a love ethic is not a sexual ethic.”
Washington said that many guidelines on sexual conduct are based on the Hebrew Bible, also called the Old Testament. He said there are inconsistencies between the documents. “Jesus in the New Testament forbid divorce, but in the Old Testament they accept divorce.”
Washington said that people can’t pick and choose based on what is convenient at the time. “If I’m a proud United Methodist Church, I want to follow what Jesus said. If Jesus didn’t say anything, it doesn’t mean everything goes. But it does mean we have to live according to my leader. My leader said love everybody as you would yourself.”
Washington likened the split to a divorce. He said the rift likely would mean people leaving the Methodist denomination, or at least leaving their local church if they disagreed with the decision made by a vote or by its leadership.
“Who will be the one that does the walking and who is the one that will keep the house?” he asked.