May 17, 2019

One of our Five Freedoms as Free Methodists, is the “Freedom of women and men to be treated respectfully and use their gifts equally in the church, in the home and in the world.”  This profound reversal of the results of sin’s consequence in Genesis 3, is  Salvation in action.  Throughout the world women have not been and still are often not treated respectfully and rather than empowering women to use their gifts given to them by God men have defined their place by their gender.  The Free Methodist church respectfully empowers all persons to be the person Jesus redeemed them to be!

However, there has been a struggle in recent years with a theology that affirms the respect for women but sees God as having limited their place because they are women.  This theology is called complementarian and is based on a hierarchical theology that retains the rule of men over women, but does so in a loving manner.  The result of this is many gifted women have not been able to take their place of leadership that utilizes their God-given gifts and calling.

To bring complete saving grace into the lives of women, the Free Methodist Church empowers women to serve in every place for which they are gifted.  This is called egalitarian. Though this is still a struggle within the broader Christian world it is no longer so for our churches and denomination. We confirm the call of God on any person He has gifted to lead and do not forbid any woman any leadership role.

To be completely clear that we include this equality to also be in the home, the Spring Board of Administration meeting in 2019 approved a slight modification in our description of marriage to be clear that there is to be equality in the home and not just in the church.  Written by Rev. Laura Hunt, PhD and Supt. Bruce Cromwell, PhD, the clarity provided is not a change in our teaching but rather being specific about our teaching so that no one may use our Book of Discipline to claim the church supports a husband’s dominance or authority over his wife.  Both husband and wife directly submit themselves to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is the new statement for our 2019 Book of Discipline:

¶3311 The Christian and Marriage A. Principles Regarding Marriage

Nature of Marriage: At creation God instituted marriage for the well- being of humanity (Genesis 2:20-24; Mark 10:6-9). Marriage is the joining of one man and one woman into a lifelong relationship of mutual love and service which the Scriptures call “one flesh.” Such a marriage should be based on mutuality and partnership, patterned not according to prescribed hierarchies but according to the creation of the male and female both in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and the call to mutual submission as illustrated by Christ in His relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:21-31).

We look not to the state but to the Scriptures for our understanding of human personhood and well-being, including human sexuality and marriage. We order our life of faith and our ministries according to the Scriptures, not according to the shifting values of society and the state.

Sexual intercourse is God’s gift to humanity, for the intimate union of a man and woman within marriage. In this relationship, it is to be celebrative (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage, between one man and one woman, is therefore the only proper setting for sexual intimacy. Scripture requires purity before and faithfulness within and following marriage.

With deep compassion for persons who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and especially those who have been mistreated and marginalized in various settings, the Free Methodist Church encourages its congregations to practice welcoming hospitality and embracing lovingkindness toward all who desire to worship among us. We will be a people who offer ourselves as agents of Jesus’ grace and love to others – all others. We will trust the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin, to enliven hope of transforming possibilities, and then to lead people to God’s best for their lives.

Nevertheless, we hold that marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman who have made a public covenant and vow before God and the state (Genesis 2:20-24; Mark 10:6-9). Therefore, it would be a breach of the doctrine of our Church for ministers or members of the Free Methodist Church to conduct, officiate, or assist in officiating, the marriage or union between a same-sex or same-gender couple. In light of our beliefs, ministers and members of the Free Methodist Church shall not officiate or assist in officiating marriages or unions of same-sex or same- gender couples.

We hold that our congregations are stewards of the church property. Officiating or assisting in officiating or hosting a marriage between a same-sex or same- gender couple in any Free Methodist Church building or on any Free Methodist property would be a violation of consecrated Free Methodist property. Therefore, such marriages may not be performed or hosted at Free Methodist churches or on Free Methodist properties.

Marriage that the Free Methodist Church deems doctrinally acceptable, legal and appropriate, should be safeguarded and supported by both the Church and society and should be formalized with public vows. It is not enough for a couple to live together in private commitment; we believe that they are to covenant before God and the state.

Further, we hold that all these provisions are applicable to and fully binding on all activities and ministries of or affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.

B. Nurturing Healthy Marriages

The Free Methodist Church urges its people to enter the covenant of marriage prayerfully. In accordance with the apostle’s command (2 Corinthians 6:14), we expect believers to marry only believers. Ministers are required to use diligent

care when being requested to solemnize a marriage. It is contrary to the explicit teachings of the Scriptures to unite a believer with an unbeliever.

Couples considering marriage should seek the wisdom of mature Christian leaders for instruction on that promotes full equality in communication, finances, family dynamics, sex and spiritual formation. Young couples contemplating marriage should seek parental consent.

C. Healing Troubled Marriages

Human sin and rebellion against God always threatens marriages. Sin in the Garden brought a change to the way marriage partners related to each other, with profound consequences for a couple’s experience of God’s plan for marital oneness (Genesis 3:16b). Early in the biblical story the practice of polygamy and spousal abuse became common. Sadly, a constant feature of the story has been the hardening of heart that may lead to broken vows, marriages, and homes.

The prophets describe God’s relationship with Israel against the backdrop of common marital brokenness. God pursues his unfaithful people as a husband who refuses to abandon his adulterous wife. Indeed, the steadfast love of Israel’s God claims and wins at last a remnant of his rebellious people (Hosea 1- 3; Ezekiel 16). In the fullness of time, Jesus the Messiah brings to full expression this steadfast love of the Lord. That love made flesh in Jesus and his followers becomes the prototype of marital love in the teachings of the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Therefore, the church as the Body and Bride of Christ has spiritual resources for marriages in trouble. Through the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the mutual support of God’s people, God brings healing, reconciliation, and oneness to willing marriage partners. We encourage our members to avail themselves of these rich and powerful resources whenever a marriage relationship is strained. In some cases, pastoral and professional Christ-centered counsel should be sought.

As in the biblical story, emotional and physical abuse sometimes occur in the homes of our people. Such sin jeopardizes safety of spouse and children and may threaten their very lives. These family members need the special care of the church family for spiritual and emotional protection and healing.

The Church recognizes all abusive behavior as sin and destructive to the home and its members. Often in these cases separation is necessary to halt abuse and allow space for the healing of persons and their relationships. Even when the marriage and home has experienced the most grievous violation, however, we insist that God’s grace can bring healing. Therefore, we counsel our members to seek the fullest measure of healing and reconciliation possible in every situation.

D. Divorce

Although God intends and wills that marriage vows be honored for life, some marriages fail even within the fellowship of God’s people. When marriages fail and partners divorce, they have violated God’s intention for marriage and often one or both have violated their vows to love and cherish the other. Such violations, whatever their reason, constitute rebellion against God’s plan for their lives and result in personal brokenness. After a divorce each partner needs healing from God, with counsel towards repentance where needed and renewed faith in God for all involved. The church must stand ready to be agents of this healing work in their lives.

A divorce may result from a variety of sinful acts, attitudes, and responses. Sexual infidelity, abandonment, and patterns of abusive behavior that threaten spouse and children are the most commonly identified sins destructive of marriages. Other sins, however, also sometimes lead to divorce, such as selfishness, anger, fear, obsessive preoccupation, and careless neglect. The hardness of heart that drives partners to divorce may trace back to many different manifestations of sin.

When questioned about marriage and divorce, Jesus stressed three principles. First, he cites the intent from the beginning that no marriage would fail. Second, he identifies “hardness of heart” as the ultimate marriage killer – because either it causes destructive behavior or refuses the grace that can heal and reconcile. And, third, he refuses to support the common assumption that in some cases one partner has a right (i.e., enjoys freedom) simply to walk away. Whatever the particulars, Jesus offered grace that heals and empowers people to live according to God’s plan – to move from their sin to a life that pleases God.

E. Care after Divorce, Singleness and Remarriage

When a marriage fails, the church seeks to restore people from the trauma of their divorce by inviting its members into a process of restoration (see paragraphs 7110-7130). Godly counsel that promotes full equality will help people understand what happened in their marriage; specifically, where they may have contributed to the failure and how they have been wounded by it. Sinful relational patterns will be exposed, forsaken, and replaced with Spirit- directed and Christ-centered patterns. The damage to children, the larger families, and their witness to Christ will also be acknowledged and where possible restitution will be made.

Persons who have suffered the trauma of divorce must exercise extreme caution when considering remarriage. Unless they have experienced healing and restoration from their failure in marriage, they will likely fail again. In some cases, wisdom will insist upon remaining single and free to live in devotion only to Christ.

One who has been divorced shall not by that fact alone be denied the privileges and responsibilities of a future marriage in the Lord. The grace that brings correction, conviction, repentance, faith, healing, and restoration can make all things new, even for a Christian whose sin may have broken a marriage. When grace restores the brother or sister who has failed, the plan God has for human well-being reopens, even the possibility of remarriage.

F. Refusal of Counsel

When a member divorces a spouse or remarries without seeking the counsel or following the guidance of the pastor or the Membership Care Committee, the committee shall review the case and recommend appropriate action to the local Board of Administration. Corrective action shall include removal from leadership, and may include suspension, or expulsion from membership.

Exceptional cases may arise for which the pastor or the Membership Care Committee can find no explicit direction in this Book of Discipline. In such cases,

the pastor, after consultation with the Membership Care Committee, shall confer with a superintendent.