The Moral Culpability of the United Methodist Church

Some of the most well-known United Methodist Christians in the United States are responsible for some of the greatest moral atrocities committed by the United States in the 21st Century, yet the denomination seems to be more concerned about excluding persons who are LGBTQ+ from ministry and excluding ministers who perform same gender weddings than it is about addressing real atrocities. This observation is not meant to diminish the important work that many individual United Methodists and the United Methodist Church as whole have done for social, economic, and ecological justice in the world, but our denomination’s obsession with excluding others based on sexual and gender orientation has weakened our denominational response to issues that actually create real harm to human and ecological communities.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the first all United Methodist president/vice president ticket in U.S. history, were responsible for using torture and starting an unnecessary war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Before, during, and after the Bush/Cheney Administration, the United Methodist Church held trials and expelled ministers who are gay and lesbian and ministers who performed union services and married same gender couples, but the United Methodist Church did very little to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for torture and war crimes in violation of international law and the United Methodist Social Principles. Not only did the United Methodist Church do very little to hold Bush and Cheney accountable, it actually celebrated their administration by hosting Bush’s presidential library at one of the premier United Methodist universities in the country, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

Today, another prominent United Methodist Christian leader is promoting and implementing horrific practices in violation of human rights, international law, and the United Methodist Social Principles. Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, United Methodist Sunday School teacher from Alabama and past lay delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, is leading the implementation of the despicable and criminal act of separating children from their parents at our borders and putting these children in what amount to cages in detention centers at multiple locations. Mothers and fathers are weeping for their children, and children are experiencing trauma with lasting consequences because of the actions of the United Methodist Jeff Sessions.

The United Methodist Church spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on church trials and sanctions for ministers who are gay and lesbian and for ministers who perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian people, but there are no trials and sanctions for United Methodist U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents who use torture and start unjust wars, and there are no trials and sanctions for U.S. Attorney General Sunday School teachers who rip children away from their parents and put the children in cages in detention centers.

In listening to our United Methodist Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions talk about what we are doing with immigrant children at our southern border, he seems to have no reservations at all about locking up and separating people of color from their families, yet apparently he still gets to teach United Methodist Sunday School classes.

Attorney General Sessions, when you teach your United Methodist Sunday School classes, do you teach that Jesus should have been separated from Mary and Joseph and put into a detention center by the Egyptian authorities because they tried to smuggle a child across the border?

The conservative organizations within the United Methodist Church that work to continue the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ have little to nothing to say about torture, unjust wars, and immigrant and refugee children in detention camps, but they have so much to say about keeping the United Methodist Clergy pure from persons who are LGBTQ+ or those who might perform their wedding ceremonies.

What is the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Wesleyan Covenant Association” doing to keep children from being separated from their parents at our southern border? What statements are they making? What actions are they taking? What tables are they turning over? Or are they just so fixated on excluding persons who are LGBTQ+ from the church that they don’t have the time or energy to engage other issues?

What good news does the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Good News Movement” of the United Methodist Church have for the immigrant and refugee children who have been separated from their parents by our government at our southern border? Will this be a topic in between articles calling for the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ in the pages of the next Good News Magazine? Will the Good News Movement focus any time and energy to reunite these children with their parents and stop this horrific violation of human rights?

And then there is the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Confessing Movement” within the United Methodist Church. You don’t get to call yourselves the “confessing movement” if you are silent in the face of our government ripping children away from their parents and putting them in cells in detention centers that a sitting U.S. Senator has to wait two weeks to inspect. You just don’t.

If we are not talking in our United Methodist churches about what we can do to stop children from being separated from their parents at our southern border and not actually taking action to stop it because of concerns about the conflict it might cause in our churches, then maybe we need to ask ourselves whether our churches should even exist if they continue to accept these horrific violations of human rights.

Prominent United Methodist Christians are responsible for some of the most horrific actions by the United States in the 21st Century, yet we are spending millions of dollars on a special General Conference of the United Methodist Church to address our differences concerning how persons who are LGBTQ+ are to be included, or not, in the life and ministry of our denomination, the likely result of which could be continued exclusion, more trials, and more sanctions for our LGBTQ+ siblings and those who perform weddings for them.

In the meantime Bush and Cheney have their library at Southern Methodist University, and Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions can continue to teach Sunday School at his United Methodist Church in Alabama while millions continue to suffer in Iraq and beyond and refugee and immigrant children are separated from their parents in detention centers at our southern border, and we as a United Methodist Church are morally culpable for their actions through our inaction.

Yes, as a denomination we have made statements and passed resolutions against torture and against separating children from their parents at our borders; but we save our trials, sanctions, and actual punishments for those persons who are LGBTQ+ and those who perform their weddings.


About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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