Pastor Bob O'Bannon
A church in Alexandria, just about 20 minutes west of Yorktown, has recently been thrown into the national spotlight because of a situation regarding its former choir director. According to an article in the Ball State Daily News, the director, Adam Fraley, was forced out of his position at First United Methodist Church. The reason? Fraley is gay.
You can read about the situation here and here. Bottom line is the church has an interim pastor who does not accept Fraley’s lifestyle. Many in the church have protested the pastor’s position. About two-thirds of the congregation has left. But according to the DN article, Fraley will “continue to fight until he is welcomed back into the church for who he is: a gay man.”
Situations like this have become commonplace in our culture. Most of the ensuing discussions revolve around whether homosexuality is condoned by the Bible, or whether churches should employ homosexuals, or whether gays are being discriminated against.
But there is one significant topic that never surfaces in this debate. It is an issue that every professed believer should be concerned about, whether gay or straight. It is an issue that is near and dear to the heart of Jesus. I’m talking about the unity of the church.
When people in the church are insistent on pushing a particular agenda, no matter what it might be, the result is almost always dissension. Most Christians find a way to avoid the tension by seeking a church more in line with their convictions.
A Baptist, for instance, might find it impossible to coexist in a paedobaptist church; if so, he will find a church more in line with his convictions about baptism. A charismatic might find it impossible to coexist in a cessationist church; if so, he will find a church more in line with his convictions about spiritual gifts. A Calvinist might find it impossible to coexist in an Arminian church; if so, he will find a church more in line with his convictions about God’s sovereignty.
But rarely, if ever, have I seen a Baptist, or a charismatic, or a Calvinist “continue to fight” until the church was willing to overhaul its beliefs to match their own. And one reason we don’t see this is because Christians see the way peace and unity are highly exalted in the Bible.
Jesus prays in John 17:20-23 that his people would be “perfectly one.” Paul admonishes us in Eph. 4:3 to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” He also lists “dissensions” and “divisions” as examples of “works of the flesh” in Gal. 5:19-20.
It does not seem to me that there is much peace at First United Methodist Church right now. A headline in a local paper sadly summed it up: “Alex church torn apart by gay issue.”
Perhaps mistakes were made with regard to how Fraley was hired and “pushed out.” If so, the church should acknowledge its error and make it right. Whether a person is gay or straight, he or she should be treated fairly and with respect by his/her employer. A spokesperson for the United Methodist Church denied that the decision had anything to do with Fraley’s sexuality. It was a “personnel decision,” they said.
Whatever the case, there is nothing unfair about a church staying true to its official position on an ethical issue. The UMC Web site says: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” To demand a United Methodist congregation to defy this position does not seem to demonstrate an eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
One of Fraley’s supporters said he believed in “accepting everybody for who they are, not what you think they are.” May I suggest that he and Fraley accept the United Methodist Church’s position on this issue for what it is? Would that not be the Biblical thing to do? Lord grant peace to First United Methodist Church in Alexandria.