It was a tough and taxing day at Conference today. I don't have a great deal of energy to offer critique on the adopted resolution. So, here's the resolution - I'll post more later.
--- The Resolution (excluding the text in bold):
This Conference of 2007, in considering the ongoing same-sex discussion, declares its determination not to permit different viewpoints among us to further divide our church. In the face of our differences we recall and reaffirm the 1958 Conference resolution declaring that "it is the will of God for the Methodist Church that it should be one and undivided."
In the light of that declaration, and informed by the 2001 Conference commitment to being "a community of love rather than rejection," and the 2005 Conference resolution inviting Methodists embracing "many different and even opposing views on the issue? to ?journey together," this Conference seeks a way forward that both respects and holds in tension differing views among our ministers and people.
Conference therefore resolves:
i) That the grace, affirmation of diversity, and commitment to the unity of the church central to the same-sex resolutions of the 2001 and 2005 Conferences be re-affirmed;
ii) That our ministers and people continue to engage this issue in Christian conversation and respectful listening, so that all of us may more fully understand and articulate the variety of viewpoints held within our church;
iii) That we will seek to be a Christ-honouring community:
Celebrating the rich diversity of those called to follow Jesus, honouring the sacred worth of all people and practicing our Wesleyan heritage of warmth, welcome and hospitality;
Recognising the authority of Scripture, and noting that in our quest for understanding, there is no one, monolithic and incontrovertible interpretation of it;
Acknowledging that there are therefore some issues upon which there may never be total unanimity within the church and upon which we must "agree to differ" without reducing our respect for, and trust of, one another;
The following piece was removed from the original resolution we sent through (you can see the original word document in an earlier post on this blog). Here's what was removed:
Affirming Methodism's long-held practice of trusting our ministers to decide who they will or will not marry, and trusting them to exercise their pastoral judgment with integrity in deciding which relationships they will bless, governed by their understanding of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience;
Covenanting to gracefully and equally protect the consciences and actions of those ministers who do not wish to conduct same-sex unions as well as those who wish to do so.
iv) That, in consequence of all the above, the Presiding Bishop and Secretariat of our church be requested to take whatever appropriate legal or other measures necessary to fully implement this resolution.
The removed section above was replaced with the following text (below):
Conference approves the publication of Bible Study material which will assist members of the Church to reflect on the issue of Christians and homosexuality and same-sex relationships;
Conference directs that a meeting be convened to consider the wide spectrum of viewpoints on the civil unions of same-sec souples in order to listen to each other, identify points of agreement and differences and seek a way forward that will enhance the unity of the church. DEWCOM is mandated to convene this engagement;
Conference recognizes that any decision and subsequent action on the issue of civil unions between same-sex partners must await the outcome of the ongoing process of engagement as specified by Conference 2005 (Yearbook 2006, 8.3, p.75) and, in the interim, expects Methodist ministers to continue to offer pastoral care to homosexual individuals as to all others.
What was of great interest to me is that the original resolution that our commission sent forward to the main group ended with the words "to offer pastoral care to homosexual couples as to all others.
" However, the Conference changed it to "homosexual individuals
" since there was a feeling that the use of the word 'couples' would send a message that the Church accepted and affirmed gay persons.
There are both things to celebrate, and things to mourn, in the final resolution.
Firstly, I mourn the fact that even though the first part of this resolution, that I worked very hard to word with care and respect, that was tempered by the wisdom of Prof Peter Storey, and that made great concessions to those who hold a different view from me, was accepted - the spirit of it was negated by making the radical distinction between 'the right to think differently', yet denying many of us 'the right to act differently'. So, it would seem that the fraility of the Church ensured that once again we were willing to SAY what we should be, did not have the courage to DO what it would take to become what we should be... Secondly, the exclusion of the word 'couples' is simply a ' head in the sand' decision... It shows that our Church does not yet accept that there ALREADY are gay and lesbian members and clergy! While one is dealing with the concept of homosexual Christians you can objectify them as individuals. However, I don't know very many gay and lesbian Christians who are not in some relationship, and so are seen as more than just individuals. Here in Africa the denial of community is a denial of belonging and of course a denial of true identity. Sadly we were party to that today.
However, it is not all bad news! The great news is that we ensured that the Church remained united! Secondly, we also reaffirmed that at least our desire is to be a Church of affirmation and acceptance, and not a Church of rejection. Thirdly, when we voted on this resolution I noted the hands of a few Bishops, some ministers, and some laity - persons of different genders, races, and ages, voting in favour of the acceptance and blessing of same sex couples. That is a significant stride! Lastly, the right to offer 'pastoral care' to homosexual persons is now enshrined in our Church's policy. I cannot think of anything more pastoral than seeking God's gracious acceptance and blessing of persons of any gender or sexual orientation who lovingly commit themselves, and all that they are and do (including their relationships) to live under God's blessing. So, I shall continue to offer Pastoral prayers of blessing for gay individuals, and if they should happen to be together, it will be the individuals that make up the couple that will be engaged and cared for.
As a final thought - have any of my colleagues ever thought how ludicrous it is to think that we can exclude our gay and lesbian Christian members from being blessed in our services? Every time that I conclude a service with the Benediction I am asking for God's blessing on the whole of the congregation before me - I know for a fact that in my congregation at Bryanston there are a number of gay persons. If I were to apply the letter of the resolution above without interpretation I would have to ask all gay persons either to leave the Church before I pronounced the blessing, or ask them to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary, so that it is clear that I am asking for God's blessing on the individuals, and not the couples.... Not very likely.
Well, this is the news today. We have won a small space that we can inhabit in humble love. We have chosen to live in the small space where people who are rejected by society can find at least some blessing, love, and pastoral care - that is significant. There is much work ahead before SYNOD next year.
Please could you take a look at my good friend Dr Wessel Bentley's blog? His reflection is better than mine, AND he has pictures!!! You can read his blog here http://www.wesselsplace.blogspot.com
In the picture on the right (thanks Wes), you'll see (from Right to Left) Dianne Moodie (Edenvale), Ken Carr (East London), Barry Marshall (Port Elizabeth), me (from wherever I happen to be), Wessel Bentley (Pretoria), Alan Storey (Midrand, Johannesburg), and my good friend Kevin Needham (Cape Town)! What a great evening!
Tomorrow we celebrate the future of our Church as we ordain 29 Presbyters and 4 Deacons - a third of them are women. We celebrate with joy that God still calls persons to the ministry, we give thanks that these people are gifted, that they could have chosen to do, and be, many other things, but that they have chosen to respond faithfully to God's call to give their best, and be their best, for God. We will pray that God's Holy Spirit will fill them with power and the conviction to live out the Gospel values of Jesus Christ, and that through their faithful and loving ministry the world will be changed and recreated to God's glory.
Then, I fly home! I can't wait!!!
Labels: Cape Town, Conference, Methodist Church, same sex