questions/implications re: Paragraph 304.3 #gc2012

This afternoon, the Faith and Order legislative committee passed an amendment to paragraph 304.3 in the Book of Discipline that discusses qualifications for ordained ministry.  The change actually removes language that would bar a “self-avowed practicing homosexual”  and removes language that talks about from service and instead inserts this language:


I have a LOT of questions about this amendment that I hope are discussed before we decide to pass this change. 

1) Does this amendment refer to only ONE marriage, or does it leave open the possibility for someone to be remarried.  As it stands, it talks about a marriage between a man and a woman and makes no comment on the reality of divorce and remarriage, remarriage after death, etc.  Clearing up that question is important. We have many re-married clergypersons in our midst and if we are already concerned about the retirement tsunami in the next 10 years – this impact might be HUGE.

2) while our standards previously called for “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” (and still retains that language earlier in 304.2) there were no particular stipulations re: appointment for those who have failed to live out the highest of these standards.  Clergy who today have committed adultery may have sanctions, but we leave room for forgiveness, repentance, etc.  This language seems to preclude that by now including unfaithfulness in marriage (as well as co-habitation) in the list of things that will make a person ineligible for commissioning, ordination, AND appointment.

3) Point two leads to deeper questions if the answer to my first question is “only one marriage.”  With the new language that is listed here, are clergy persons who have divorced and how have remarried not eligible for appointment? 

4) What about sexual conduct outside of marriage that happened in the past?  What if I was a wild child as a younger adult and have since matured and changed my ways… does this amendment preclude them from being a candidate for ministry?  What if a person co-habitated before marriage?  Does this amendment apply retroactively to their behaviors and now as an ordained elder or deacon mean they will not be appointed? 

5) **thanks to folks who talked with me in person and in the comments here** WHAT IS SEXUAL CONDUCT?! genital sex? kissing? smouldering eyes at one another over a table? Lord help our unmarried younger clergy (which we are trying to recruit) if they have to constantly fear something they are doing might be construed as sexual conduct.

I could go on and on and on about questions and implications of the wording of this amendment… the language needs to be CLEARER or else it might have implications on our current clergy that we have not for seen. 

On the other hand, I’m guessing that someone who would respond to some of my questions might see that little word “may” in the fourth line from the bottom.  It says that those persons “may not” be certified, ordained, appointed.  It doesn’t say “shall not.”  It says “may not.” And that means that Boards of Ordained Ministry and the Appointive Cabinet can exercise judgment and flexibility and can leave room for grace and compassion and forgiveness. 

And that is because legislatively speaking, “may” language is permissive language.  It has flexibility.  It leaves the question up to the person who is exercising judgment, rather than simply following a set, prescribed rule. 

And actually, for friends of the LGBT community… that means it is a step in the direction of inclusiveness.  Previously the paragraph read: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.” 

“Are not” is very different from “may not.” 

Words matter.


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  • John Meunier

    April 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm Reply

    I’m not so certain on the “may” issue. If you mother says you “may not” have ice cream for dinner that is not a flexible choice.

    • Katie Z.

      April 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm Reply

      That is true in ordinary language, but not here.

      One of the big changes with Call to Action legislation (separate from restructure) is to change all “shalls” to “mays” in regards to how annual conferences structure themselves. In legislation, “shalls” are “have tos” and “mays” are “you cans”.

      • John Meunier

        April 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm

        See, this is why I am not a lawyer.

        So, that means each annual conference can make its own choices and still be in line with the language?

      • Katie Z.

        April 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        Well… “May” language is already in this section that allows for annual conferences to add additional requirements for ordination. They don’t have to, some do. It is a big deal.

  • Jared Littleton

    April 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm Reply

    I’d add that this is an issue not just for the lgbt community, but for all non-married pastors

  • Brad S

    April 28, 2012 at 6:10 pm Reply

    I think this takes a murky issue and makes it down right muddy

  • Bethany

    April 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm Reply

    I agree with Jared above. As a single person I could see this affecting me as well. It’s already difficult to date as a pastor…how much more so if relationships can come under this kind of scrutiny and possibly put someone’s job/livelihood/calling at risk.

  • Brad S

    April 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm Reply

    How could anyone possibly enforce this? What is “sexual conduct?” In certain instances, kissing could be “sexual conduct.” In Tennessee, our state legislature just passed a bill warning kids of “gateway sexual activity.” As you mention Katie, there seems to be much more leniency when it comes to divorce than there is for non-married pastors.

  • Mary Roth

    May 3, 2012 at 10:04 pm Reply

    Wait… so did “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.” get removed?

    • Katie Z.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:11 pm Reply

      We have yet to approve this piece of legislation… but if it passes as it is… yes. From at least the ordination piece… not the Social Principles piece…

  • Katie Z.

    May 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm Reply

    This legislation never made it on the floor… Paragraph 304 remains as it was before

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