The Long Legacy of Methodism
By: Sherri Gragg
Reading the Same Book… Differently
The Rev Dr. Chappell Temple has no doubt that regardless of tonight’s vote, Methodism will prevail. “Methodism has been here for a long time, 300 years,” he said, “it may have some different forms of expression going forward, but it will still be here.” According to Temple, the Methodist church has split no fewer than 13 times since its conception in 1784. Each time, the faithful Methodists found their way back into ministry. Terry suggests that there are times when a period of separation during a season of deep disagreement may even be helpful as a “cooling off time.” This, he feels, may be one of those times.
“Both sides are entrenched, and both feel they are doing the Lord’s work,” he said. “We are reading the same book, but we are reading it differently. The question is how do we reconcile those opposing understandings and interpretations.”
After more than four decades of ministry, throughout which the debate over human sexuality has never waned, Temple is doubtful a consensus is possible. Over the years, he has encouraged progressive friends to show him through scripture how his own traditional interpretation is flawed. “I told them, ‘Show me scripturally how to get where you are, and I will be the first person there.’ Unfortunately, no one has been able to do that for me,” Temple said.
Disappointment and Disobedience
As the conference draws to a close, one side or the other will inevitably suffer deep disappointment. Temple knows that some of those in disagreement with the final vote will resort to ecclesiastical disobedience. As a former Vietnam anti-war protestor, he asserts that historical civil disobedience is inherently different than ecclesiastical disobedience. As the Civil Rights movement practiced civil disobedience in the pursuit of equality for African Americans, it did so within the context of an unjust society which African Americans had no choice but to inhabit. “The United Methodist Church is a volunteer organization,” Temple said. “No one is suffering human rights abuse because they can go to any other number of denominations where what they want is already in practice.”
He also points to the power of Dr. King’s teachings in that King was willing to bear the consequences for his disobedience, something Temple does not feel is replicated in clergy who are practicing disobedience in regard to the Book of Discipline’s teachings on human sexuality. “There are clergy in some Conferences that may disobey our discipline by performing gay marriages, or perhaps through participation in a same sex relationship, who know they can do that and not bear any consequence because in their jurisdiction no one is going to confront them on it. I don’t disagree with the concept of civil disobedience,” Temple said. “I disagree with it in this setting.”