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Methodism: Some Good, Some Bad

Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

As I wrote in one of my earliest blog posts (to which I never supplied the promised sequel), I was raised in the United Methodist Church. I never fully bought into it–even as a child, I considered myself an “agnostic Methodist” of sorts–but I do remember it quite fondly, particularly as it is far more moderate than many of the hardcore conservative evangelical denominations (such as the jerkface from North Carolina who advocated parents hit their kids if they start turning gay.)

I don’t see the Methodists in the news very often, so I was surprised when I saw Matt Yglesias tweet about them banning products made in the settlement territories in Palestine. From the New York Times:

The United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, voted against two proposals on Wednesday to divest from companies that provide equipment used by Israel to enforce its control in the occupied territories.

The closely watched vote, at the church’s quadrennial convention in Tampa, Fla., came after months of intense lobbying by American Jews, Israelis and Palestinian Christians. After an afternoon of impassioned debate and several votes, the delegates overwhelmingly passed a more neutral resolution calling for “positive” investment to encourage economic development “in Palestine.”

However, the Methodists also passed a strongly worded resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation and the settlements, and calling for “all nations to prohibit the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”

An international movement for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” has gained steam as the peace process in the Middle East has come to a virtual standstill, and allies of the Palestinians have argued that these strategies could pressure Israel to stop building settlements and return to the negotiating table.

I may not consider myself to be a Methodist, but by gosh by golly do I agree with the above sentiment. Let’s be honest about what’s going on in Palestine, here: Israel has turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into bantustans, depriving the Palestinians of water, food, electricity, and basically anything approaching a free market, all in the name of “security,” and now is moving into what little land they have and taking it. And they have the gall to wonder why they’re being rocketed? Really?

It doesn’t take a braniac to see that occupation leads to violence. Anyone would notice that. Kudos to the UMC for taking a stand, though personally, I think a boycott of goods made in the territories will do jack squat. This is just symbolism.

Unfortunately, the Church balanced out the good with some bad. Again, from the New York Times:

The United Methodist Church, at its convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, voted not to change long-contested wording in its book of laws and doctrines that calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The vote was 61 percent to 39 percent against the change to the church’s “Book of Discipline,” indicating little change to the deadlock on an issue the church has been debating for the last four decades. The delegates also defeated a compromise amendment proposed by the advocates of equality for gay members, which said that Methodists can agree to disagree on homosexuality and still live together as a church.

Now, there are multiple considerations here. First off, it is certainly a religious tenet that homosexuality is bad. That’s their religion, and if that’s what they believe, they shouldn’t change it. But certainly they can still be accepting of those who are they way, instead of blatantly stating that their lifestyle is “incompatible.” (I mean, when we think about it, is Christian teaching is also incompatible with cheating on your wife, war, and misleading your flock? Does it mean you should be bothering people at funerals when they put their loved ones to rest? I have to wonder what else is “incompatible” with Christian teaching.)

But second, I always got the impression the United Methodist Church, while not “okay okay” with homosexuality, was “okay” with it, at least in the toleration sense. That’s why I’m a bit surprised to see this sort of language. I always figured they just didn’t mind all that much about it.

This is also why, although Christians currently make up 78% of the US population, that they will basically dwindle away to nothing. People just don’t see homosexuality as an evil any more, which makes you wonder about the whole social constructionism of religion. If a religion gives way to something else that jives more with society, does that mean the previous religion was never the true way, or that the true way has changed, or what?

But this is why I’m an atheist. I’m not going to let some “General Conference” tell me what is or isn’t okay to think. (Though, technically speaking, that means I’m a “freethinker,” not necessarily an atheist. Though if there’s an “Atheist General Conference,” I’d like to hear about it.)