Friday, July 18, 2008

Not of One Mind

Some interesting news from the recent Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church, which meet every four years to elect and assign bishops for the coming quadrennium: 

The Northeastern Jurisdiction voted to affirm the actions of California pastors who choose to bless same sex marriages, even though they are prohibited to do so by the Book of Discipline (you can read the UMNS story here). The delegates also encouraged leniency on those who choose to practice this kind of civil disobedience as a prophetic witness against what they believe to be an injustice.

In the Western Jurisdiction, Rev. Frank Wulf took the very courageous step of being the church's first openly gay candidate for bishop (UMNS story here). Although he was not elected, Rev. Wulf showed both tremendous personal integrity by being honest about his sexuality and tremendous pastoral sensitivity by his concerns over the backlash from people filled with hate should he be elected.

Also in the Western Jurisdiction, Bishop Beverly Shamana of the California-Nevada Conference issued a "ruling of law" declaring same sex marriages performed by UMC clergy to be "null and void" according to the Discipline, even though they are legal under California state law (UMNS story here). Any ruling of law issued by a Bishop is automatically reviewed by the Judicial Council (our denomination's Supreme Court), guaranteeing a very interesting a controversial meeting of the JC this fall.

I bring this up because earlier this summer at General Conference a legislative committee recommended adding some additional language to the Book of Discipline regarding our official stance on homosexuality. While this language did not change our official position, it did acknowledge that the church is "not of one mind" on the issue and that "good and faithful Christians" are on both sides. This majority report went to the floor of GC and was narrowly voted down. The debate over this language was described by many in attendance as one of the most divisive and hate filled exchanges they had ever seen.

But whether the Book of Discipline says so or not, we are clearly not of one mind on the issue of sexual orientation. Perhaps it's time we laid aside our rhetoric and sound-bytes, came out of our armed camps, and actually had some dialogue with one another. We're not of one mind, and the sooner we admit that, the sooner we can deal with it.

1 comment:

Jessica Miller Kelley said...

It is truly evidence of the power of "official language." I don't think anyone--even the most ardent opponent of homosexual marriage, ordination, etc.--would deny there is great division in the denomination, but having the official language only represent one opinion--so long as its yours--is very appealing.

I wonder what reconciling delegates would have done if the tables were turned and the long-standing official language was already inclusive and some Good News people wanted to acknowledge their disagreement in the Discipline. It would be very tempting to let language you already agreed with stand.

Also, for the record, what Shamana was calling "null and void" was not the marriages themselves (only California law could say that) but the Cal-Nevada conference's resolution to support retired clergy performing such unions.