Friday, May 23, 2008

How to secure your denomination's demise

The recent report on the United Methodist's quadrennial General Conference created a wave of disappointment within that denomination. Hopeful advocates of marriage equality for Gays and Lesbians were crushed when again their denomination refused to budge from a long-standing resistance to what many consider one of the last bastions of the denial of civil rights. The vote was narrowly against moving ahead on a milder motion that would remove the words "refrain from judgement......" from the church's rules. Nor would the church decide to remove the words, "incompatible with Christian teachings..." Marriage equality and even domestic partnerships were again put aside.

If I were a United Methodist I too would be seething about these decisions. But I am a member of a denomination that won't even address the issue. So who am I to complain about these religious cousins?

What if the heirs of the Wesleys' hadn't even considered the matter because they had decided that their Conference should not even hold votes on controversial issue? So they would meet every four years to hear sermons and receive reports. Ah, but their members would be forever free of having to take a position on the war, civil rights, torture, economic justice, women's rights, justice for farm workers, on and on and on. How peaceful! How deadly!!

In recent months various voices within the Christian Church (DOC) have started pushing to have "Sense of the Assembly" resolutions off the agenda. Opponents suggest that such resolutions are too divisive to be considered, because they may further rupture the already fragile state of the denomination. The grumbling began when a large congregation in Oklahoma raised the issue before the denomination's General Board. At this point the leadership of the Disciples has the matter under discussion. While no decision has been made, there is more than a straw in the wind to tell us this is the way much of the movers and shapers are thinking of going.

The focus of the Oklahoma church's anger is a resolution adopted in last summer's General Assembly titled, The church's response to the war in Iraq. I was at the Assembly and was part of the debate, and frankly, the meeting being held in Fort Worth, Texas, I was mildly surprised that it was adopted--by what seemed to be approaching a two-thirds margin. The resolution was a clear statement opposing the war as being contrary to Jesus' clear perspective on violence, as well as including a handful of other reasons, most of which came from a clear theological imperative.

According to a letter I received from one of the congregation's elders, among the reasons for objecting to the Assembly even considering such resolutions were:
  • The resolution was made up of assumptions that may or may not be true.
  • It would comfort those who wish to continue to kill our troops.
  • And finally, it was seen as a "liberal political statement."
Had the resolution failed, while those who supported it would have been deeply disappointed, nobody would have suggested that therefore we no longer take a position on such things.

Significant numbers, and much of the energy behind these Assemblies every other year, come from DPF (Disciples Peace Fellowship), GLAD Alliance (Gay, Lesbian, and Affirming Disciples) and DJAN (Disciples Justice Action Network). While I doubt if these groups would officially boycotte assemblies, many of us would just not find it important to attend, and the economic investment by these groups would be substantially paired down.

So far the denominational leaders have found considerable support for the effort to eliminate these resolutions. Now it is time for the rest of us to speak up--to the leadership, and in our congregations.

But that's just my opinion. What's yours?
Charles Bayer

To visit the Disciples Justice Advocacy Blog,

To contribute to the justice ministry of DJAN,


boblog said...

Hear, hear. Wake up, mainstream protestantism. Address these issue soon or wake up to find the world will have passed you by!

Dennis said...

I think there has to be a better way to address such issues than "sense of the assembly" resolutions. Disciples have long celebrated the fact that we are theologically diverse, so such resolutions are always guaranteed to do two things: make a good-sized chunk of the community feel left out, and give the impression to the world outside that we are more unanimous than we actually are. Naturally, if my church is going to speak with authority on any issue, I'd rather it spoke in such a way as to reflect my own feelings on the issue, but I seldom can be confident that it will. The Gospel calls us to work for certain outcomes, but we aren't always unanimous about what those outcomes look like or how to bring them about; how can it be helpful, then, to alienate sizable minorities each time a resolution is put forward? I don't have a solution, but I think we could figure out a better way.

4simpsons said...

"Hear, hear. Wake up, mainstream protestantism. Address these issue soon or wake up to find the world will have passed you by!"

Oh, my, do you see the irony in your statement? Have you noticed that theological liberals tend to follow the world?

1 John 2:15-16 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.

"If I were a United Methodist I too would be seething about these decisions."

Of course, because you are rebelling against God and putting yourself in his place. You de-classify the sin of homosexual behavior and create a new sin, that of teaching the Biblical view of human sexuality.

100% of the verses addressing homosexual behavior denounce it as sin in the strongest possible terms.

100% of the verses referencing God’s ideal for marriage involve one man and one woman.

100% of the verses referencing parenting involve moms and dads with unique roles (or at least a set of male and female parents guiding the children).

0% of 31,173 Bible verses refer to homosexual behavior in a positive or even benign way or even hint at the acceptability of homosexual unions.

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