- (Photo: UMNS/Paul Jeffrey)
A possible schism in a mainline Protestant denomination over homosexuality is avoidable, according to a bishop with the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, head of the UMC Wisconsin Annual Conference, told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that the denomination can remain united.
"As a bishop, we are continuing to work for the unity of the church," said Jung, adding that "I will be working very actively to continue to unite and wrestle with this issue honestly together."
Jung became bishop in 2012 after the trial of the Rev. Amy DeLong, a Wisconsin minister who was accused of violating the UMC's prohibition against clergy being in a same-sex relationship.
Despite indeed being in a same-sex relationship, DeLong was acquitted of the charge and Jung appointed her to a position as pastor of a congregation.
Jung's comments came in response to the ongoing debate over the view of homosexuality in the UMC and a recent letter from a conservative Methodist group that spoke about schism.
Posted on the Good News Magazine's website and supported by about 80 UMC clergy from across the United States, the letter spoke of the Church being in a "crisis."
"It is time to recognize that traditionalists and progressives are pursuing divergent paths as we try to follow Christ and be faithful to what we understand to be the Gospel," reads the letter in part.
"We need to recognize the reality that we – laity, clergy and even the Council of Bishops – are divided and will remain divided."
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, told The Christian Post that bad times were ahead for the UMC regarding the debate.
"While no one can say with 100 percent confidence what exactly will happen next, it is very clear that the road ahead will be very rocky, and that NO ONE is serious about keeping all current United Methodists together," said Lomperis. "We need to accept the fact that no matter which way we go from here, we are guaranteed to lose a chunk of people on one or more sides."
Lomperis also told CP that he found rhetoric of liberal UMC leadership "falls short" given the actions of many American UMC officials.
"It is beyond hypocritical for theologically liberal, secularized American United Methodists to now dishonestly claim to want 'unity' for the church when they are the ones who have eroded any basis for unity," said Lomperis. "If Bishop Jung wishes to be relevant, he should do his job by teaching our church's biblical doctrine, making clear his commitment to upholding our standards, and publicly repenting of the ways in which he has aided and abetted those undermining the ministry, faithfulness, and Christian unity of the church."
Other mainline protestant denominations have experienced schisms due to the debate over homosexuality, with large numbers of congregations leaving The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church (USA) because the leadership of the churches pursued more gay friendly positions.
In contrast, the UMC's governing documents maintain that homosexuality "is incompatible with Christian teaching", defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, and bars clergy from blessing gay unions.
Despite the regulations, however, many UMC clergy especially in the United States have sought to defy and/or change the rules on homosexuality.
Rev. Andy Oliver of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a group supporting changes to the UMC's position on homosexuality, recently framed his argument as a call for unity.
"I am committed to unity, which is why I will officiate weddings for all couples ready to together be a living, outward, and visible sign of God's love," wrote Oliver. "I am committed to unity not to protect a broken institution called The United Methodist Church, but because it is the best way I know how disciples are made and moved on into perfection-in life together, one with another."