Friday, November 04, 2005

Iliff Prayer Vigil

Rocky Mountain News article
Iliff held a prayer vigil yesterday over the ruling of Judicial Council Decision 1032. It was nice to be a part of some sort of prayerful responce to this gross injustice.

The Council of Bishops also came out with a statement. Here is the UMNS account.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bishop Hoshibata calls for "Hospitality to All"

I am very proud to be a part of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in which our Bishop Robert Hoshibata issued this statement:

Dear Members and Friends of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference,

Grace to you in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us to love one another in his name!

I am writing to share about a matter of profound importance to all of us. As you read this, I am attending the fall meeting of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church. We are meeting at Lake Junaluska Assembly in North Carolina.

While meeting here, we received word of decisions of the Judicial Council, the highest court of our denomination. The Judicial Council was asked to rule on a number of issues, but one ruling in particular is the subject of this pastoral letter to you. As I understand them, these are the important facts to know about this case.

In December 2004, a person who expressed interest in becoming a member of a United Methodist Church in the Virginia Annual Conference was denied membership. He had been participating in the life of the Church in a variety of ways. The person wanting to join The United Methodist Church is a gay man and subsequently was denied membership on the basis of his sexual orientation and practice.

After consultation with his bishop, the district superintendent met with the pastor and informed him that he was not to refuse membership in the church to this man or anyone else who came with a willingness to receive the vow, affirm the vow, and to fulfill the vow of membership. Since the pastor would not agree to do so, a formal complaint was brought against him.

The complaint was referred to the Board of Ordained Ministry for review, as the Book of Discipline requires. As a result, the Board recommended to the Clergy Session that the clergyperson be placed on involuntary leave of absence.

Following the action of the Clergy Session of the Virginia Annual Conference, a question of law was posed to the presiding bishop asking whether it is within the authority of a pastor to exercise judgment in determining who may or may not be received into membership in the local church. The bishop ruled that the Constitution of The United Methodist Church offers church membership to all persons (Article 4).

The Judicial Council overturned Bishop Kammerer’s ruling and determined that the pastor of a local United Methodist Church does have the discretion to exclude people from membership.

I am saddened and profoundly disappointed by this ruling. You and I know good, faithful Christians who are on opposite sides of the debate about how the church considers homosexuality. However, regardless of what one believes about homosexuality, we need to think through carefully what this decision says about who we are as a body of Jesus Christ. To that end, I issue these calls to you who follow Jesus in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference:

I call upon us to continue to offer hospitality to all persons. The love we know in Christ knows no bounds. Thus, as we seek to be more like Jesus, we must emulate his desire to claim all persons as disciples. When we ask, “What would Jesus do?” we arrive at a place of love and acceptance and grace. When confronted by a decision between law and grace, Jesus took the high road and offered grace. Let hospitality be graciously offered in the same spirit in our United Methodist churches.

We might also ask ourselves, “What would John Wesley do?” Wesley preached that the church is the means of the dispensing of the grace of God. We offer that grace to all who come seeking it. All persons are in need of the grace which the church alone provides. For this very reason, I cannot support the decision of a pastor to exclude a person from membership who is willing to seriously take on the vows of The United Methodist Church. I call upon all who have the responsibility of welcoming new members to continue to reach out with an all-encompassing love which we know because we ourselves have received the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

There are many members of our United Methodist churches who are receiving the news of this ruling with sadness. There are many faithful congregations that are lovingly reaching out into the community and the world to invite all persons into discipleship. I will continue to do my best to insure that all persons are welcomed in our United Methodist Church. I call us again to the vision of a church with “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

I call us to dispel the fear of persons who are different from us. Let us set the bar high in our churches for the acceptance and appreciation of people who are different from us. Whether that means a person of a different race or ethnicity, or who is poorer or wealthier than we; no matter what a person’s culture; no matter a person’s sexual orientation, we are called by Christ to love all and hold each other in mutual respect.

Finally, I call upon you to pray with me. As your Council of Bishops continues to converse and pray about this ruling we need your prayers. As I lead our Annual Conference into our future, will you pray for me? Pray for gay and lesbian members of our churches and our communities and the parents and families of gay and lesbian persons. And will you join with me to hold in prayer all our laity and clergy! I hope and expect that our Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference will be open to the Spirit of God leading us faithfully as we “Boldly Make Disciples of Jesus Christ!”

Robert T. Hoshibata

God, our Grace-filled Creator: We give you thanks for Jesus Christ, who taught us to love one another. We give thanks for Christ’s assurance that dispels fear, even the fear over death and evil. We thank you for his teaching and healing ministry which models for us a life of faith reaching out to all persons. In these times of uncertainty, be with us. Rekindle in us the passion for making disciples, of spreading the Good News wherever we are; of caring for all of your children in every place. May we open our hearts and minds and thus our church doors to all persons, that your love may be made available and your grace might be known by all. We pray in the peace of God, Amen.

Furthermore, my friend Brian whipped up this lovely:

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Decision 1032

You can read the full decision here.

The Judicial Council's ruling seems to hang on the interpretation of two Discipline text. In my opinion, one of these decisions is correct, but the other is wrong. Here is the first quote from Decision 1032:

Paragraph 225 states: "Transfer from Other Denominations – A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church may [emphasis added] be received as either a baptized or a professing member by a proper certificate of transfer from that person's former church, or by a declaration of Christian faith, and upon affirming a willingness to be loyal to The United Methodist Church (see ¶¶ 214-217) . . . ."

The Council is right here in saying that Paragraph 225 does not say that all transferring members must be accepted. They "may be received." The church is not required to receive them.

Here is a second quote from Decision 1032:

Paragraph 214 states: "Eligibility – The United Methodist Church is a part of the holy catholic (universal) church, as we confess in the Apostles' Creed. In the church, Jesus Christ is proclaimed and professed as Lord and Savior. All people may [emphasis added] attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments and become members in any local church in the connection . . . . ” The operative word in connection with the phrase "become members in any local church in the connection" is "may." Decision 930 established the premise that "shall" cannot be used to replace "may" in the Discipline. Thus the General Conference has determined that any person “may” become a member of any local church in the connection.

Here they are using the same argument about the word "may." However, there is a problem. In Paragraph 225, the verb was in the passive voice: "may be received." An outside authority, presumably the pastor or local church, is the entity that gets to decide whether or not "may" becomes reality. However, in this case, Paragraph 214 has an active verb: "All people may attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments and become members in any local church in the connection." The "may" is attached directly to "All people." It is the "all people" who have the power over the "may." The persons presenting themselves get to decide whether they will or will not become members, not the pastor.

Furthermore, if we take the Judicial Council's ruling as it is, we must assume that the pastor is able to bar people from more than just membership. The pastor decides whether someone can "attend its [the UMC's] worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments..." So, if we believe the Judicial Council, all UMC clergy can bar anyone they don't like from worship, refuse to give them the sacraments, or kick them out of church programs. This is not only against the Discipline, but it is against the very heart and nature of The UMC.

Judicial Council Screws Up

This news was enough to rouse me from my long blogging slumber. The UMC Judicial Council has ruled that a pastor has the right to refuse church membership to a person because they are gay. See the UMNS report here. I don't care where you stand on the issue of homosexuality, this is just plain wrong. The UMC has always had open membership. This strikes at the very foundation of what it means to be Church. And there is absolutely no justification for this ruling. Listen to the dissent position from Council member Rev. Susan T. Henry-Crowe:

"This decision compromises the historic understanding that the Church is open to all. The Judicial Council cannot interpret something that is not stated in the Discipline. Nothing in the Discipline gives pastors discretion to exclude persons presenting themselves for membership in the Church."

This is just pure bigotry, and as far as I can tell, has no biblical, theological, or ecclesiastical justification. How ironic that on the Feast of All Saints, when we are supposed to be celebrating the contributions of the entire Body of Christ, that the Judicial Council decides that it needs to make some amputations. For shame.