Monday, October 31, 2005


"But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24: 15b

I have to admit that I am distressed by today's decision concerning Beth Stroud and even more disconcerted about the ruling that a pastor-in-charge has the sole authority to determine a person's readiness to affirm vows of membership.

I am a youth pastor who feels very called to do what I do. I love to share the love of Christ with teenagers. Shoot, I even enjoy lock-ins, which might put me somewhere in the ranks of madness or sainthood at some point.

Given the kids I work with I know that I come into contact with teens who are either struggling with their sexuality or consider themselves to be gay/lesbian or bisexual. Some may even be practicing. I don't know the answer to that, it hasn't come up. But I know that I, as their youth pastor WOULD NEVER tell them that they are not a valuable part of our youth group. In a world where they face enough places of exclusion and fear- our youth room is NOT one of those places.

In fact when I look into the face of each of my youth- not just my white kids, or my "good kids" (whatever that might mean), or my straight kids- I don't see those labels, those aren't labels in our group- I just simply see the face of a child of God.

I love all my kids and I see the potential that each one possess and I see the gifts each one brings to our youth group.

If a teenager who is going through confirmation shared with a pastor that he/she was gay, ought that pastor confirm them or baptize them on Confirmation Sunday? Let's assume this teenager has grown up in the same church all their life, their family attends there, there friends attend there, and have been an active part of the congregation all their life. On that day- the day when confirmands stand before the church and cross over as "members" of the congregation and take the vows for themselves- should a pastor have the right to deny that person full membership into the church (assuming the teenager has been an active participant and productive participant since childhood)?

My answer is, how could we do otherwise? My thought is that God has blessed that teenager with a community who has up until that point- loved and nurtured and discipled. If the pastor decided to deny that teenager the right to become a member that pastor is denying the community part of it's body.

I find the decision today to be horribly misguided. But I am not on the Judicial Council, nor would I really want to be. I know many would disagree with my stance. But for me and my household (youth group), we'll serve the Lord the best way we can- by not excluding anyone from our safe and Christ centered youth room. But by being there for one another, celebrating our love for one another even in the midst of our differences.


Andy B. said...

Thanks Jonathon. I think you would make a fantastic addition to the Judicial Council!
- Andy B.

St.Phransus said...

thanks andy, but today i want nothing to do with any of them. i hope it was more of a struggle for that decision than i picture it to be. please lord, let it have been troubling.

Tony said...


I'm with you, dude.

But I'll bet that you don't get seventy-something comments like Shane has.

I think (pray)that when God looks at us He doesn't see straight Christians or gay Christians or adulterous Christians or gossipy Christians or greedy Christians or prejudiced Christians. I think (hope and pray) that He just sees sinners in need of grace.

St.Phransus said...

like i said before- labels are something we create- mostly to build fences from those things we don't understand or fear.

John said...

We are called to be a holy and distinct community -- resident aliens, if you will -- disdaining the values of the world. God calls us to a higher and often painful standard. The world may tell us that we are to be tolerant and accepting of all people's behavior. God instructs us otherwise.

St.Phransus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
St.Phransus said...

I agree John. One of the hallmarks of our "distinct community" in being resident aliens is the practice of hospitality. The openness of our youth group comes from how we read scripture together, practice our faith together and live out the gospel together. Tolerence and acceptance does not have to come from a worldly acceptance of behavior but a rememberance that in scripture God's people have at one time or another been strangers in a foreign land.

Holiness comes through practicing the means of grace, of which communion is one and hospitality is in there, as well. Communion is open to all, hospitality is to see "the other" as the face of Jesus. If you practice otherwise, you may be further away from holiness than you want to be John.

I'm glad you're reading hauerwas though, although I don't think Hauerwas would agree with your interpretation of Resident Aliens completly.

Zoomdaddy said...

While I feel your concern, Jonathon, I don't think today's judicial council decisions were as big a deal as they are made out to be.

Beth Stroud will still be on staff at her church (albeit in a non-ordained capacity). Methodist churches will continue to struggle at the local level concerning issues of covenant membership vs. a more "rubber stamp" approach to membership.

While I personally think the judicial council made the correct decisions in these cases, I don't think the impact is going to be significant in the day to day practice of the churches involved. Even when the UMC does things that I support, I know the ramifications are inconsequential in actual practice. I am glad that I did leave when I did (but I still support and pray for those you who stay :) ).

Zoomdaddy said...

BTW, where's the promised "part 3" on the Scripture debate?

gavin richardson said...

as fellow ym, i'm with you. i think i expressed some of these thoughts in my thoughts from today (albeit a brief thought), but how can a pastor be given final authority over a congregation? granted we entrust special priviledge, but isn't it up to the community (ie. the church congregation) to receive people into membership. not the pastor ceo. this is shortsighted and i feel as people discuss this more will be rewritten again.

St.Phransus said...

lenny, i'm behind in my thoughts, sorry. i promise to have pt. 3 and 4 soon.

Steve said...

In response to your hypothetical situation, if the youth in question was baptized as an infant he/she is already a full member of the church. Confirmation does not make him or her a "member" of the congregation. Rather, in confirmation he or she takes the vows of membership for him or herself and becomes a professing member of the church.

If he or she can honestly answer the questions and wholeheartedly embrace the expecations and responsibilities contained in the vows of the baptismal covenant, he or she should certainly not be prevented from doing so.

However, if, for example, he or she is an unrepentant bigot who is a member in good standing in the KKK, while at the same time is a lifelong, contributing member of the church, and the pastor is aware of the behavior, wouldn't the pastor have a responsibility to the youth, to the church, and to Christ to withhold Confirmation until there is true repentance and behavior is changed?

Please know that I am in no way equating bigotry with sexual orientation. I'm simply trying to get you to see this from another perspective.

Witholding membership or confirmation does not exclude persons from participating in the church's life. It does not mean witholding fellowship, hospitality, and love.

All this is to say that membership in Christ's church is a gift. In it we are "incorporated into God's mighty acts of salvatin and given new birth through water and the Spirit." It is a gift that is free. But it cost God the death of God's Son. Regarding membership in Christ's church as an entitlement, which, if we are honest, is how most of us regard it, cheapens the gift and demeans the sacrifice that makes the gift possible.

I don't know if the jurisdictional council ruled correctly today. But it has got me, and I hope many others, thinking about the meaning of church membership and the role and responsibilities of the appointed pastors who are given authority to administer the sacraments.

Joel Thomas said...

I found the decision about church membership to be about the saddest day I've ever experienced in church life.

On his blog, John poses the question about amiacable separation. But the question isn't whether I want to be in the same church with John (I'm not sure I do) but whether God wants us together.

St.Phransus said...

steve, thanks for giving me a different angle from which to look at the situation. that definately puts it in perspective.

however the ruling yesterday seems to have been done in such a way that perpetuates our targeting a specific group of people and has nothing to do with whether the pastor thinks one is read to take the vows.

but i do suppose the blessing that comes out of this is that we all take membership and the vows we make, as an individual and community supporting that individual, more seriously.


John said...

I'm glad you're reading hauerwas though, although I don't think Hauerwas would agree with your interpretation of Resident Aliens completly.

Doesn't matter. Meaning is given by the reader, not by the author. Text itself has no meaning.

St.Phransus said...

"Doesn't matter. Meaning is given by the reader, not by the author. Text itself has no meaning."

I suppose...? (with a confused look on my face)

I hope that if dig Hauerwas, which if you are citing his thoughts I'm assuming you do, then you may want to check out- A Community Of Character and Sanctify Them In Truth: Holiness Exemplified. He deals with holiness as the cultivation of a life through practice.

You might like it.

John said...

Don't mind me! I'm just having fun with postmodernism ;)

The other day one of my emergent professors was going on and on about how it was impossible to really know what a text was saying -- that meaning was so indiscernable to be, well, meaningless. So I asked him that if this was so, was it really possible to accurately grade a mid-term exam (which we had just turned in).

Mike said...

Hauerwas was at one time working on the idea of "holy friendships" as a model for a homosexual relationships.

I think the greatest problem we have is that there are a lot of people that know who John Wesley was and what his classes and bands looked like (thanks Outler and Heitzenrater!). But we do not have a clue as to how we got here. Welsey is our spiritual "mentor." And we want to be in-line with him; however, most Wesley scholars agree that the UMC is nothing like he would have wanted, primarily because we are an institutional church.

How Wesleyan should we be? Is the "original" Wesleyan model what the world needs? Or have we become something more -- something that the world needs in this different world?

I would LOVE IT if someone attacked this issue with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral from both "sides." Then we could see how the "reader" interprets the "reading" -- or in this case, the "author" of the UMC

St.Phransus said...

thanks mike. thought provoking words to reflect on. i was talking to someone from emergent several months back and the discussion was about- is emergent a movement, an emerging denomination. i said that maybe it's more a society of renewal- much the way wesley intentioned the methodist societies.

Zoomdaddy said...

John, you silly goose, the concept of the intentional fallacy is fallacious. Otherwise Stanley Fish would never have been so influential a literary theorist, because his words about the meaningless of the text would have been meaningless. I just love the snobbery of academia; it always contradicts itself in the end. I think the Bible might say something about pride going before a Fall (or maybe that's the meaning I brought to the text?).

Thunder Jones said...

That kind of authority being instilled in the local pastor, which in some UMC churches means someone with no formal training, is scary. It sounds downright baptist with the local church being the highest form of ecclesial authority.

I think the UMC may be in worse shape that the ECUSA. We're struggling with this issue in a rather public manner, but I think our polity has a better ability to deal with it than UM churches. I've living in Boston and was trained at a Methodist seminary up there and I can tell you that what I learned there has nothing in common with this decision. It seems like there's real danger for fracture.

I'm amazed that this issue gets the kind of play it does in the church. I mean, I know that it is a hot button cultural issue, but this shouldn't be how we do church. We're worried with a lot of other things and homosexuality isn't front and center in Scripture the way economics and war are, but they're issues that require "realism" whereas homosexuality is an abomination! What the hell...

That said... I oppose war and American economic practices, but am ambiguous on homosexuality. I know lots of amazing gay Christians and they're no less Christian than I am. Scripture is a little squirmy when it comes to this issue, I think, and deserves contemplation, not severe polemics.

jason said...

i agree with thunder jones re: the fact that there are more important issues than homosexuality in our churches - it seems this issue has been politicized in the last couple of election cycles and we have taken an agenda of division from politicians - i know this oversimplifies the problem and that there are issues of biblical authority and church polity at stake but talk about homosexuality often moves quickly from contemplation to polemics with little care for all involved

St.Phransus said...

no no, i agree wholeheartedly with thunder. in fact, i declare him my official blog agent. all further inquiries should go straight to him.


Thunder Jones said...

Okay everyone. I'm going to make this Kool-Aid and we'll all sit down and drink it together...