Thursday, November 03, 2005

FROM THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS...

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.

14 comments:

Joel Thomas said...

Even though the Bishops can't overturn a Judicial Council decision, I think their pastoral letter is a pretty clear rebuke of the JC and sends a signal that they expect pastors to refrain from excluding practing gays from membership on that issue alone. The Bishops very clearly disagree with the idea that there is no supervisory or episcopal review of a pastor's decision on membership.

Craig Moore said...

Joel
I disagree, I think they do not like the challenge to and loss of their authority. If another pastor refuses membership to a practicing gay and they file charges against him, will it not have the same result? They could maybe make it clear that pastor's who refuse membership to gays can expect to be appointed to the 3 point charge in the middle of nowhere. So, you see it all will balance out in the long run.

Joel Thomas said...

The Bishops can't legally overturn a JC decision but they can make some of those decisions virtually worthless, for practical purposes. That is what I was getting at. Regardless, the reinstatement of the removed pastor stands.

The Book of Discipline says the pastor has sole authority on membership but it also says that everything a pastor does as part of his or her official duties is subject to supervisory review. Those provisions aren't easy to reconcile. The Book of Discipline also provides that a pastor must act in good faith. If the pastor alone decides the meaning of "good faith" then the term doesn't mean anything. As a liberal, within the confines of doctrine, I have the right to preach very liberal views to a very conservative congregation and I can't be disciplined for such preaching. But I can surely be moved elsewhere on the basis that the appointment doesn't "fit."

Zoomdaddy said...

To quote a fine '80s song, "The politics of dancing./ The politics of, oooo, feeling good./ The politics of moving, uh huh./ Is the message understood.". All three of those politics are demonstrated here. What controversial line is going to be danced around next? How do feel-good theologies influence the outcomes? And where will that dancing pastor be moved next? (And I never thought a silly pop song would ever have bearing outside the discoteque.)

Thunder Jones said...

I'm speechless.

That's a first.

St.Phransus said...

my pastor and i were talking about this just a couple of hours ago. if a pastor feels that someone ought not become a member and it is questionable they maybe ought to consult with their advisor- their district superintendent, before making rash decisions.

and i wonder, if a person is a member of one umc and decides to transfer membership to another umc- can a pastor deny membership status? if yes, then what does that do in regards to being a connectional system?

the church is not built on individualism but community, it seems that to give a pastor the single authority to make these decisions is poor theology- it is at least not a trinitarian understanding of theology, but defintely rooted in gnostic individualism.

Craig Moore said...

Jonathon

The UMC is the first community that I have belonged to that gives the pastor the authority to solely make these decisions. In The Wesleyan Church new members were voted on by the Administrative Board. As a young person I was a Baptist and the congregation voted to receive members. I personally don't mind having the say-so and it was really not even an issue until now. I too would caution using wisdom and seeking input from others, but I still do not like the idea of a DS or Bishop demanding that I receive a member that I do not believe is ready or truely repentant of sin.

DogBlogger said...

Craig, I daresay that every single human being has at least one sin he or she remains unrepentant of. Holding to that standard would leave us with no church whatsoever.

St.Phransus said...

yes i undestand what you are saying but elders are supervised and held accountable by District Superintendents and ultimately the Bishop.

I'm not saying that it is always right,but its the structure that Wesley set up. He never intended for pastors to be an island unto themselves nor for local churches to be such.

this is why we are connectional. Elders are stewards of the congregation, but they are not members themselves of that local church. elders will come and go but the members of the congregation are there as long as they want to be. so i don't agree that a pastor should have the "sole" authority of who is and who is not ready- input yes, sole authority no.

these decisions should be made in a communal context not an individualistic context. a pastor/elder may have some baggage/issues that he/she brings to a situation that a communal discernment of a potential member might be able to see differently.

God acts in community- its called the Godhead- father, son and spirit. We as a church are always to act communally, as well when discerning such matters.

Craig Moore said...

Jonathon
i really have no problem with what you are saying. I agree. I don't think authority should be given to a DS or Bishop to make individual local church membership decisions either. I think the local congregation should have some say. Maybe someone should propose a change of church procedure and cut the laity in on helping decide who is ready to join and who isn't, what do you think about that?

Zoomdaddy said...

Regarding membership,
my wife, who is Church of God Anderson background, thinks the whole idea is silly since anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is a member of His Church anyway, but she'll go along with membership wherever I serve anyway because it will make both of us more effective in ministry there.

Regarding "readiness" for membership,
historically there has always been some sort of catechetical process a person has undergone for preparation for full-on membership with all rights and priveleges in almost every church. This includes confirmation, CCD, membership classes, etc. Obviously to various extents we want people who join our churches to be "ready" to join according to a variety of standards. The problem in the UMC is the lack of uniform standards. In one church, I can meet with the pastor for a couple of sessions and then sign my name on the books and have a little 2 minute interlude on a Sunday morning to make it "official." In another, the CE team has set up a highly systematized class of 12 weeks, plus a pastoral interview and an interview with the lay leader. The person is then recommended to take a few weeks to pray about whether they are willing to enter into a membership covenant with the church that includes a commitment to tithe, to volunteer to serve in at least one ministry of the church, and be in attendance on Sundays and a small group at least 70% of the time. The person prays and senses God challenging him/her to step up to this covenant level of commitment and he/she joins the church, with a service especially structured to celebrate covenantal commitment with a luncheon to follow. Obviously, these churches are on two different wavelengths with regard to their view of church membership, but the connectional system permits the person at church one, with a less covenantally-informed view, to transfer to church two, with a more covenantally-informed view, and expect things to "work out." Unfortunately that will unlikely happen, as the person who transfers now has issues with tithing (isn't that an out-of-date concept?) and is unable to attend a small group due to work schedule conflicts.

Regarding "who decides," obviously both the pastor and the congregation need to be involved in the process. The pastor is the "hired professional" who is ideally someone who is sensitive to issues of spiritual formation and discernment. The congregation, however, is who will have to live with the person on their books for the next 40 years, even if they get a new pastor every 2 years. If it leans too much on either side, then you run the risk of a "totalitarian regime" on one extreme, or a case of "the masses are asses" (thank you Alexander Hamilton) on the other.

St.Phransus said...

i would have no problem with that. i would like to see more of a confirmation process for adults, just we have for youth and children-- a process of membership so that people can learn about the historic life of the church, its practices and how to be a better disciple.

shoot, i'd want to go through that and i know there are lay members who would want to do just because they really don't know what we believe as united methodists and the basics of the christian faith.

jason said...

i think the bishops do want to send a strong message - bishop gwinn here in nc conf sent the response to everyone on the conferences mailing list - bishop willimon has posted the response on his blog - i think they want to get their 2 cents in

Thunder Jones said...

Making the confirmation process the role of the episcopacy also solves this problem. I never understood why confirmation/membership is done locally in the UMC when it is an appointment based system for elders. I get that the congregation is supposed to do the heavy lifting, but the rite is performed by the elder, not the laity.

Is it a historic thing?