The United Methodist Council of Bishops is "somewhat immobilized these days" on such big issues as homosexuality, said one of its members recently.
At a semi-annual meeting early this month, retired Bishop Jack Tuell of Des Moines, Wash., said the Council of Bishops should give leadership to the church on the debate over homosexuality, according to the United Methodist News Service.
"[A]lmost any thoughtful plan of leadership would be superior to prudent silence," he said.
Tuell’s comments were made at an Apr. 29-May 4 meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with other active and retired bishops. While retired bishops retain voice, they have no vote on the council.
The meeting occurred just as a recommendation to change the language of the church's stance on homosexuality was rejected on May 1. A council subcommittee had proposed the language to say that the church does not condone sexual relationships between people of heterosexual or homosexual orientation "outside the bonds of a faithful, loving and committed relationship between two persons; marriage, where legally possible," according to UMNS.
UMC's The Book of Discipline (book of church law) currently states that "the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." The 2004 General Conference had reaffirmed the stance, rejecting a proposal for a more moderate language that would have added a statement acknowledging that Christians disagree on the matter.
"Jesus said so from the beginning of creation – God made male and female. We must not send confusing messages to those who are part of this church," Tennessee delegate H. Eddie Fox had said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Delegates also voted that practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.
The latest proposal to replace the language again drew attention to the differing opinions within the church body, stating that the current clause on homosexuality, which was adopted in 1972, "is based on highly questionable theology and biblical understanding and causes profound hurt to thousands of loyal United Methodist members and potential members."
Tuell said there should be a better way to "express the mind of our United Methodist church" than the current language in the Book of Discipline.
Having been rejected this month, the proposal did not head to the Council of Bishops for vote. If the proposal had been approved by the council, it would have been presented at the 2008 General Conference – the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church – for consideration. The conference meets every four years and revises The Book of Discipline and adopts resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. Bishops are able to propose legislation for delegates at the General Conference to consider.
But such an advancement of the recommendation on homosexuality would have "proven to be divisive and counterproductive to the unity currently exists in the Council of Bishops and to the church today," said Oklahoma Bishop Robert Hayes, secretary of the administrative committee which rejected the proposal, according to UMNS.
He explained that they did not act on the proposal "because it would not have been for the betterment of the church at this time."