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Commentary: Do our Social Principles say, ‘You are not welcomed’?

Commentary: Do our Social Principles say, ‘You are not welcomed’?

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: Do our Social Principles say, ‘You are not welcomed’?

An e-Review commentary by the Rev. William Wesley Roughton | May 6, 2009 {1012}

NOTE: A headshot of Roughton is available at

One year ago — April 30, 2008 — the General Conference voted to approve a minority report affirming sexual relations only “within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.” Regarding homosexual practice, another effort to delete the words “incompatible with Christian teaching” did not prevail.

Some think we are saying to gays, “You are not welcomed.” 

A lay delegate from Florida was part of the subcommittee that recommended the deletion, inserting instead: “Faithful and thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.” 

The lay delegate was disappointed the minority report was approved and said: “It is more restrictive than the original stance in the (United Methodist) Social Principles. ... It will say to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, you aren’t welcomed here.”

Is that actually what the church is saying when we affirm social principles? Are we saying to all persons who may have fallen short of some of those values, “You are not welcomed”? If that is what we are saying on one issue, we are also saying it to vastly larger numbers of people, on a very wide variety of other issues. Consider only a few quotes from our Social Principles:

• “We recognize racism as sin … .” Wow! To some, that is a harsh little word. To some it may not feel welcoming.

• “Divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness … .”

• “We oppose capital punishment.”

• “We recommend total abstinence from the use of tobacco.”

• “We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol … .”

• “Christians should abstain from gambling.”

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church are included in The Book of Discipline, the church's book of laws.

Were any of these approved unanimously? If not, do we need to delete them? Are they rooted in harsh, judgmental or maybe mean-spirited attitudes? Or do they reflect genuine Christian concern, as stated in the preface to the Social Principles: “intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit”?

We could say, as was proposed at the 2008 General Conference, “Faithful and thoughtful people who have grappled with these issues deeply disagree with one another … .”  That could be honestly said about virtually all the Social Principles. However, doing so would largely nullify their significance. Why bother?

Our struggles are different, but all of us struggle. All need prayerful encouragement and help. Successful change is for those who are highly motivated. Too many people are being told: “You can’t change. Don’t even try.”

What is our church saying to persons who struggle with sexual issues? We are saying the same thing we say to all struggling souls, regardless of the differing issues. The Christian gospel is a warm and welcoming call to repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. It has huge relevance for all persons who acknowledge their need. God’s transforming grace is available to all people. It is a great welcome for everyone!

Psychiatrist Dr. Erich Fromm, in his book “The Heart of Man,” says, “Freedom is nothing other than the capacity to follow the voice of reason, of health, of well being, of conscience, against the voices of irrational passions.”

Bishop F. Gerald Ensley, a former professor at Boston University School of Theology and president of the General Board of Christian Social Concerns in the 1960s, wrote one of the most profoundly significant books in my library — “Persons Can Change.” He asks, “Can persons change?” and then acknowledges, “A wide segment of intellectual opinion says no.”
Change is not easy. Ensley says: “The will is indispensable to moral betterment. … Not only do we have all the barriers to goodness, which the natural world sets up, but the rigidity of the human will itself is formidable. It is centered on its own self-satisfactions … . It never seems to perceive the truth until it has explored all the false alternatives, and the slow consequences have worked themselves painfully out.”
All persons are born with a wide variety of possibilities, inclinations, desires, feelings, talents or orientations. Our greatest God-given power is the power to choose the priorities that shape our future. It distinguishes humanity from all other forms of life.
Let’s choose to humble ourselves before the Lord, whose transforming grace is available to all people. That is authentic inclusiveness! The welcome is for everyone!

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Rougton is a retired Florida Conference elder.