The pastor of Seattle First United Methodist Church, the cityâ€™s oldest congregation, has condemned as â€śwrong, stupid and evilâ€ť the continued position against homosexuality taken by the 8 million member parent church.
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, meeting last week in Tampa, reaffirmed its longstanding prohibition that â€śhomosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.â€ť
The churchâ€™s position drew an immediate, powerful rejoinder from Seattle pastor Dr. Sanford â€śSandyâ€ť Brown, Brown, who estimates that 30 percent of newcomers to his growing congregation are gays and lesbians.
â€śFirst Churchers are hurting because last weekâ€™s General Conference suggested weâ€™re stuck in a Pope Benedict-slash-Rick Santorum-slash-Southern Baptist-slash-Rush Limbaugh church of closeted gays and sanctimonious straights,â€ť Brown wrote.
Brown explained why he used three powerful adjectives â€” â€śwrong, stupid and evilâ€ť â€” to describe action by the churchâ€™s parent body. The position of incompatibility was reaffirmed by a three-to-two margin.
â€śItâ€™s wrong because it elevates as doctrine parts of the Old and New Testaments that describe outdated and ancient social conventions like slavery and the subservience of women, ignoring the gracious and inclusive heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,â€ť wrote Brown.
â€śIt is stupid because it stands our denomination squarely against the tide of history. And it is evil because it perpetuates discriminatory attitudes against a portion of society that should be welcomed, supported, valued and loved.â€ť
Brown pledged to be pro-active in resisting the parent churchâ€™s position.
â€śI want to be clear that I will do everything in my power to ignore, circumvent and undermine the General Conferenceâ€™s will on this,â€ť he wrote. â€śI will present it as the institutional evil that it is and I will work to exorcise its demonizing influence from my congregation and its loving, faithful people.â€ť
Brown has held pulpits in Fall City and Kirkland, and is a former senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee. He served as executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle before being called to Seattle First United.
A fellow Methodist parson, Rev. Rich Lang, wrote on Brownâ€™s Facebook page:
â€śPreach it broâ€” the only good news in this ugly mess is that maybe it will awaken the long slumber of liberal/progressive passionate urgency to change the world. One can only hope.â€ť
The Methodistsâ€™ General Conference has resisted full inclusion of gays and lesbians at a time when other â€śmainlineâ€ť Protestant denominations have taken the opposite tack.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has voted to approve ordination of gays and lesbians to the priesthood and create rites to unite same-sex couples.
Starting with election of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, dioceses around the country have approved gays and lesbians to the episcopate. St. Markâ€™s Cathedral in Seattle had a dean who was gay, the Very Rep. Robert Taylor, for several years.
The acceptance has met with resistance â€” four dioceses, including the Diocese of Pittsburgh, left the Episcopal Church â€” and protests from conservative Anglican dioceses in Africa and Asia.
Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ have also taken a position for inclusion.
Informally, Seattle First United Methodist Church has evolved ahead of its denomination.
It was a â€śminor scandal,â€ť wrote Brown, in the mid-1970â€˛s when a same-sex couple first held hands in the church. A â€śmini-exodusâ€ť was precipitated when then-pastor David Aasen preached for inclusion and tolerance.
Since then, however, Seattle Methodists have defended a lesbian minister and Brownâ€™s church has welcomed same-sex couples and their children.
â€śWeâ€™re a rare bird,â€ť he wrote, â€śa growing, downtown mainline church.â€ť