Monday, November 07, 2005

United Methodist Church Doing Some Damage Control

The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, just days after the church’s Judicial Council defrocked a lesbian minister and reinstated a suspended minister who barred church membership to gays and lesbians, reaffirmed the church’s long-standing policy of opening its membership to homosexuals. The seemingly contradictory statement from the bishops is an apparent effort to quash unrest in the church and the negative publicity it has received over its two recent anti-gay decisions. It could also be viewed as an attempt to rebuff Senator Pat Miller (R-Indianapolis) and her Confessing Movement’s anti-gay agenda, which is proving to be a divisive force within the church.

In a pastoral letter to the church’s members, the bishops unanimously said: “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' (quoting from the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline). 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. We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to the bishop, superintendent and the clergy on matters of ministry and membership.”  

In their pastoral letter, the bishops said they "uphold and affirm" that the church's top legislative body, the General Conference, "has clearly spoken through the denomination's Constitution on inclusiveness and justice for all as it relates to church membership." According to the United Methodist news service, the recent anti-gay rulings had caused considerable consternation among pastors and lay members, resulting in calls and e-mails to the church’s bishops.

Senator Miller can be comforted by the fact that the Methodist Church has not abandoned its Book of Discipline which states that the “practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” but it also affirms that homosexuals are people of “sacred worth.” Senator Miller and the influence her Confessing Movement has had on her legislative agenda in Indiana was front-page news in this past Saturday’s Indianapolis Star, a topic Advance Indiana first reported on more than a week ago.  

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