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Can churches balance diversity, inclusion with being biblical, spirit-filled?

Allendale United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Andy Oliver (left) and drag queen Isaac Simmons who goes by the name 'Ms. Penny Cost' talk to two young girls at church on Oct. 2, 2022.
Allendale United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Andy Oliver (left) and drag queen Isaac Simmons who goes by the name "Ms. Penny Cost" talk to two young girls at church on Oct. 2, 2022. | Screengrab: Vimeo/Allendale UMC - St. Petersburg

Not only is society becoming more and more polarized as the general population is moving to the edges of the political spectrum, but even the Christian subset of the population is moving around based on their religious beliefs. 

While every religious denomination faces its own issues and challenges, the United Methodist Church is experiencing movement within its ranks these days. It might be better said that the United Methodist Church (UMC) is experiencing movement away from its ranks. Just down the road from me, Christ Church in Memphis, a congregation that averages 600 weekly worship attendees voted to disaffiliate from the UMC with a final vote of 941 in favor of leaving, 101 opposed to leaving, and one abstaining.

Their vote took place in the context of what is an ongoing schism in the UMC over the issue of homosexuality.

Christ Church, once a part of the United Methodist Church Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference, is not the first congregation to leave the conference. In June, the Conference approved the disaffiliation votes of 60 congregations.

Bill McAlilly, bishop of the Nashville Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, expressed his regret over their decision to disaffiliate and stated: 

“The UMC is a biblical, diverse, inclusive, and Spirit-filled denomination grounded in scripture and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are a global and connectional church committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

As an outsider of the Baptist flavor, it seems to me that so many of my Methodist brothers and sisters are leaving the UMC because they do not believe that McAlilly’s statement is true. They do not believe that the UMC is biblical. For them, it seems that the UMC is more interested in being diverse and inclusive than biblical and spirit-filled. 

Can a church and even a denomination be biblical, diverse, inclusive, and spirit-filled? Of course, it can. The question revolves around what the definitions of those words are.

In 2021, the Illinois Great Rivers Conference certified the first openly gay man and evidently the first drag queen, Isaac Simmons as a certified candidate into the ordained ministry of the United Methodist Church. This happened as Simmons, who goes by “Ms. Penny Cost” delivered a message during the worship service of Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois.

Can a church love and minister to those who claim to be homosexuals and practice “drag artistry?” Of course, it can. Not only can a church do that but a church should do that because a church must be kind and compassionate.

In addition, a church speaks and models the truth of Scripture. Along with being kind and compassionate, a church should be biblical and convictional. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

Can a church accept into membership those who persist to practice a lifestyle that the Bible prohibits?

Can a church place in leadership anyone who continues to practice unbiblical behavior?

Can a church condone what God condemns?

In speaking with the woman at the well, Jesus was both compassionate and convictional. He told the woman to go home and that “you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” While speaking the truth to her, he also showed her love and said that those who are “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4) For our purposes here, the key word is “and.”  Spirit and truth.

Many of our Methodist friends seem to be making a choice between what their church says is spirit and truth and what the Bible says is spirit and truth. 

Todd E. Brady is vice president for university ministries at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

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