Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Illegitimate Has No Power Over Grace

Greetings from Nashvegas...

As you might imagine, our work this week has had, as an added agenda, conversation around the recent Judicial Council ruling.

As I'm having opportunity to borrow a computer and check email (and offer this post), I'm seeing the circulation of a "closed hearts, minds and doors" email that's making the rounds. For those who feel so convicted, I have no problem with anyone being a signatory.

But I want to place some of this in context. And, having had the benefit of conversation with my own bishop, I believe I understand a bit more of what is going on.

The long and the short of it is this - the ruling is a bad ruling, in part, because of a due process issue.

Bishop Kammerer, who filed the original complaint, is seeking a review of the decision. I'm betting on a different outcome.

Having said that, I want you to know this - the Church is conflicted on this issue. No doubt about it. And yes, there will come a day of repentance necessary for our church on the issue of discrimination of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.

But that's not the only issue we need to repent on.

Despite what you've read in the newspaper, the Church is "open," at least on another paper, to receive all who will come and seek to be disciples of Jesus. That paper is the Book of Discipline, and the mandates of the Gospel to practice radical hospitality

I believe that, I will defend that...heck, our Church Consititution all but says it.

The Judicial Council makes rulings based not on theology, but on procedure. That's what they do. The bishops of the church, however, "teach" the church even as they shepherd it. The shepherd's crook is the symbol of the episcopacy, and for good reason.

Sometimes the Church needs to be guided.

Other times, prodded.

And other times, still, rapped about the head to get it's attention.

That's the role of bishops.

And they have spoken, without equivocation, on this matter. Their statement gives me hope.

The ruling last week only has the power you give it.

The witness you make by "living the gospel" over turns that which is illegitimate.

In the meantime...be the church. Open your hearts, doors and minds. And if there are churches that will not accept others for any reason, you know where to tell them to find sanctuary. Oh, and by the way, and I don't think he'll mind me saying so, if there are clergy refusing membership in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, I know a bishop who will suspend and file charges in the blink of an eye. And if you've come to know anything about Dick Wills, you can believe that.

Because I doubt you've had access to read it, I've copied the response of the Council of Bishops on this matter and inserted it below.

Read it. Read it well. It tells who we are. Not yet perfect, to be sure. Needing to respond in grace and not fear on some issues (or at least insecurity), but genuinely open, I believe to the Spirit's leading.

Not all in the Church are open. But they never have been. And sad as that is, frankly, it's o.k. I have no trouble warning folks not to let the door hit them in the backside on the way out, because failure to be open is a hardness of heart, which means there's no room for love.

Faithfulness to our task may yet be the most effective converting ordinance for the church. Don't confuse that with silence, complicity and lack of advocacy. At Saint John's, our life together is shouting the goodness of the God of grace and the Kingdom coming into being.

Stay tuned.

This is the statement approved by the Council of Bishops on Nov. 2.

A Pastoral Letter to the People of The United Methodist Church From the Council of Bishops

By grace you have been saved through faith. Ephesians 2:8

Grace to you from Jesus Christ who calls his church to welcome all people into the community of faith as it proclaims the Gospel.

The Judicial Council, our denomination's highest judicial authority, recently issued a decision regarding a pastor's refusing a gay man's request for membership in the church. In the case, this man was invited to join the choir at the United Methodist Church in the community. As he became more active in the choir and the church, he asked to transfer his membership from another denomination to The United Methodist Church. Because he is a practicing homosexual, the pastor refused to receive him into church membership. The Judicial Council upheld the pastor's refusal of membership.

While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier. With the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church we affirm: "that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons." (Para. 161g, 2004 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church)

We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to the bishop, superintendent, and the clergy on matters of ministry and membership.

The United Methodist Church is committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ with all people. We, the bishops of the Church, uphold and affirm that the General Conference has clearly spoken through the denomination's Constitution on inclusiveness and justice for all as it relates to church membership: "The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking the vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection." (Article IV, Constitution of The United Methodist Church)

We believe the ministry of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We call upon all United Methodist pastors and laity to make every congregation a community of hospitality.

Nov. 2, 2005 Lake Junaluska, N.C.

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