The United Methodist Church (UMC) made headlines a couple of months ago about one of the most divisive issues facing the church in America. The headlines all addressed some variation of the same question: “What should the church affirm or reject about the LGBTQ movement?” While the UMC voted—rightly—to maintain the traditional view of their denomination, this debate may not be fully resolved. The case has not been closed because the vote was so close. The UMC and other denominations will likely address this issue again in the near future. We must pay close attention not only to the arguments these groups are making, but also the terms these groups employ in this highly emotional and potentially divisive issue.
This article seeks to provide you with a way to clarify the term “welcoming” that is being used by both sides. As the nation watched the debates at the UMC national conference, it was clear both sides were talking past each other. One group was adamantly opposed to clergy who made a practice of homosexuality, and the other group was adamantly for having no restrictions placed on one’s sexual orientation. Therefore, I desire to clarify what the term “welcoming” means from the traditional view. By clarifying this term for the public, my hope is that readers will be able to understand what the traditional view actually believes about being “welcoming” to all people.
The church should be “welcoming” to all in the salvific sense, but not “welcoming” in the positional sense.
The supporters of the LGBTQ movement are right; the church should be a place that is “welcoming” to all people. Anyone who graces the doors of any gospel church comes as a person with inherent value. Everyone exists as valuable because every person is made in God’s image (Genesis 2:27). The church, therefore, welcomes with open arms those who self-identify as LGBTQ. The church must welcome everyone because everyone has a need. The human race’s greatest need is the free gift of grace that comes only from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only reason that anyone and everyone should be welcomed into the church.
Therefore, when you use “welcoming” in this traditional sense, you use the word “welcoming” with a salvific nuance. In other words, the church exists as the one place that people who are LGBTQ—or anyone else—can find true healing in Christ. The church should be the one place where people are welcomed in order to be introduced to the grace of Christ. The gospel propels the church to be open to the sexually immoral, the thief, the drunkard, the abusive, the adulterers or idolaters because the gospel of Jesus Christ offers the only way one can be forgiven, saved and transformed (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). When a church which firmly holds the gospel out to all people uses the word “welcoming,” they are typically arguing from the gospel’s saving power for all who believe in Christ. The church is “welcoming” to all based on this gospel premise.
Nevertheless, the traditional view does not use “welcoming” from a positional sense. To put it another way, the church is not welcoming into membership or ordaining clergy people who make a practice of unrepentant sinning of any kind. The only way to become a part of the church is only through faith in Christ. This kind of faith leads to a transformed life. Read the words of Paul to the Church in Corinth:
- “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, emphasis added)
Paul says that these people “were” this way, but are no longer this way. They are changed because “of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The church should be filled with people who once walked in sin, but now walk in Christ due to faith in the sanctifying and justifying work of Christ. Paul indicates that the church is made up of sinners who have been saved by grace. This kind of grace moves a sinner to pursue a life of holiness and godliness — a life of imitating Christ (Ephesians 5:1–2).
Do you see the difference? The church should be “welcoming” to all in the salvific sense, but not “welcoming” in the positional sense. The church needs to reserve membership and ordination to those who have been saved through faith and pursue a life of obedience to Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. By the way, the positional distinction is not reserved for just those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality. The church should not be “welcoming” in the positional sense to any type of unrepentant sin by any person. By clarifying the term “welcoming,” may our conversations be better suited for clearer and honest communication on this topic in the days to come.
 https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/2019/02/21/united-methodist-church-could-split-weekend-heres-why-and-how/2929542002/; https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/02/26/united-methodist-church-votes-maintain-its-opposition-same-sex-marriage-gay-clergy/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a5747d42b609