What I Would Have Said

Posted: June 14, 2009 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
Tags: , , , , ,

By Matt Horanyellow%20card

          I raised my hand, holding high my big yellow card.  When you hold up your big yellow card at a meeting of the Florida Annual Conference (FAC) of the United Methodist Church, it is a way to signal the bishop that you have something that you’d like to say.  So I held up my big yellow card.
          We were discussing “Ammendment #1.”  Feel free to read about it here, but in short, the motivation was arguably to make membership in United Methodist Churches more accessible.  This may have a variety of ramifications, but most notable to those discussing it at FAC 2009 was that it might lead to the admission of more gay members to UM churches.
          There’s a discussion procedure where three speakers are allowed to speak for a motion, and three against.  Then, a vote is taken to see if those in attendance (all of the UM clergy in Florida and an equal number of lay delegates) want to continue the discussion.  Three spoke for, three against, all mentioning the typical points of view on both sides of the homosexuality debate.  I raised my card to speak for the amendment, but the bishop called on three other people, as is his prerogative.
          Then he polled the delegates and asked them if they wanted to continue discussion.  Since discussions are never, ever extended by these several hundred people in attendance with impending lunch plans, the discussion was ended, and I was left with something in my soul that would not be let out.  So, I’ll write it here, thankful for the couple dozen faithful readers of Reemergent Church who will give me this kind moment of catharsis…

          Homosexuality makes us all so mad, doesn’t it?  People on one side, people on the other side, both thinking very little of each other.  We’ll go to lunch in a few minutes and probably talk about the people on the other side, and not in the kindest of terms.  It’s sad what this topic does to us.  It’s sad also that, according to the statistics, during my alotted three minutes something like 25-30 children around the world will die of starvation.  But let’s talk about homosexuality some more.
          I speak today in favor of this amendment.  Perhaps you think homosexuality is not a sin.  If so, you probably have little problem with the amendment.  Some others think that homosexuality is a sin, and if someone approaches membership and baptism unrepentant of this sin, they should not be admitted, because if we turn a blind eye to unrepentant sin in our midst, we do so to our own peril.
          Since you can find people far smarter than me and with far more education than me into the nuances of Bible translation–and many of whom love Jesus far more than me–on both sides of this debate, I’m not likely to say anything to change your mind here, regardless of what side you’re on.
          What disappoints me most is when I consider how little faith you have in the power of the church to be a transformative vehicle in the lives of those who are a part of it.  Wesley called the sacraments “means of grace.”  Do you really believe that, if homosexuality is a sin, that the grace of God and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit within the church of Jesus Christ cannot reach them and give them the healing that they need?  And if it’s not a sin, then, well, we shouldn’t worry about it anyway.
          Lastly, I speak about our aging, shrinking denomination.  Perhaps we will ride on our principles until the Last of the Methodists breathes their last, a few short years from now.  But we talk about our desire to welcome the younger generations that are coming after us.  If we hope to do that, we have to learn that you don’t reach them the way that most of us were reached.  We were taught that you believe first, and then, once you believe, then you can be baptized and belong.  But that’s not how it is anymore.  Those coming after us need to belong first, and then, once they belong–serving and learning and journeying in community alongside us–then they will begin to believe.
          If we vote down this amendment, what we’ll be doing is giving pastors more control over who gets in and who doesn’t.  But if we vote down this amendment, what we’ll be saying to those who are not yet a part of the church is that there are people who don’t belong in United Methodism.  If we get in the habit of saying that, well, enjoy yourselves, because United Methodism won’t be around much longer. 
          I believe that the world is our parish, and that the whole world, therefore, would be better off as a part of us, rather than left out, unworthy of us.  Therefore, I will support any motion that makes membership in the United Methodist Church more accessible to people, and so I support world%20in%20handsAmendment #1.

Postlude
A few hours later, the Florida Annual Conference voted on Amendment #1.  It was defeated, 406-587.  It appears that the world is not quite our parish yet.  Maybe next year.

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Comments
  1. Joel Ledbetter says:

    Matt, you make a very great point. Sounds like myself in the end though…well the whole not trusting in the spirit of God within a church to change people (even in the frozen chosen’s church 😉 ). I hardly if ever trust the Word of God to change people..obviously i am not alone. However, I know I am wrong, and all the other out there in need of God’s mercy are as well. But what is true is that God’s word is sharp (not to sound cliche) and makes people “doers” of the law. good post, the end.

  2. Jay Therrel says:

    Matt, I appreciate your words and viewpoint. I trust you know how deeply I respect you and love you as one of my brothers, but I’m afraid I cannot agree with you. I was one of the 587 votes that voted no from our Conference. Of course we do not know if the amendment will pass until all of the ACs vote.

    My reasons for voting no are precisely because of what the amendment would “do” rather than “say.” As a local church UM pastor, I don’t think there’s anyone better than me to know the context of someone wishing to join the church. I am gravely concerned when I am mandated to do something with no discretion. This amendment has much wider implications than just homosexuality. While it may sound absurd, this amendment may well prevent me from keeping a satanist from joining the local church. As an elder charged with, among other things, protecting the church, I couldn’t vote for the amendment for that reason alone.

    Moreover, in my opinion, the amendment is not needed. Without the amendment, I may very well decide to allow a homosexual person to join the local church trusting that in doing so God’s grace would be at work in their lives. Why do we need this amendment to force to me to do so – regardless of the circumstances involved in a particular situation. The authors of this amendment, I am told by others who were present at General Conference (I was not) was a back-door attempt to change the church’s position on homosexuality as a whole. The hope is that if this amendment passes the new Judicial Council, which is more liberal this quadrennium, would then have an amendment that could be used to strike down our social principles, and the Disciplinary paragraphs concerning ordination standards and chargeable offenses. I think it’s naieve to think that wouldn’t happen.

    The argument that the younger generations need to belong and then believe, I think is probably true. I agree with you that our postmodern shift is taking us in that direction. But why does belonging equate with membership? I know plenty of people who simply “attend” my local church who have never joined for various reasons. They are strong Christians, heavily involved, and tithe – yet have never joined. If you told them they didn’t belong, they would be greatly offended. I don’t necessarily equate memership to belonging. In fact, I wish we could find another concept than membership. I think it’s atiquated and often not helpful. Maybe you and I, together, one day will.

    Lastly, I think your description about needing to belong before believing is correct…for the Western church. Truth be told, however, the non-Western church probably wouldn’t agree with that. Our Methodist church (not United, but Methodists globally) is growing at the rate of over 1 million people a year (according to the World Methodist Council). There are over 80 million Methodists (of all varieties) around the world. Soon, the majority of Methodists and Christians will be found in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Those Latin American, Asian, and African Christians likely would identify better with the concept of believing first, then belonging. But regardless, they are generally far more conservative, and dare I say orthodox, than Western Christianity, and they would most likely never support Amendment I. (I prefer orthodox and non-orthodox to the labels of conservative and liberal) If that is where the church is growing – and growing rapidly – I think we need to take an honest look and realize that just because openess to homosexuality is growing in the US it doesn’t mean our views should be imposd upon what will soon be the majority of Christians and our church.

    Orthodoxy (or conservatism if someone wants to use that term – although the two aren’t necessarily synonymous) is causing our church to grow rapidly outside the US. And truth be told, it is the more orthodox churches in our US branch of the denomination that are growing. Just look at the churches in the Western and Northeast Jurisdictions. They have by and large abandoned orthodox doctrine and are in serious decline.

    The new president of Asbury Seminary made a great point in the article he wrote in The Asbury Herald. He wrote that our African and Asian brothers and sisters hear some of the positions we take and they are confounded. They ask, “Have you read the Bible?” I think there’s a good point there.

    That said – you know I have great pain over the issue of homosexuality. In the end I come down on the side that it is a sin, but I also agree with the old proverb that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints – including me, a sinner. Just don’t tell who I must allow in the doors without trusting me enough to inquire into the context and prayerfully be led by the Holy Spirit to allow membership vows to be taken by people who are ready. To me this isssue is about homosexuality – but it’s also about a whole lot more.

    I love you, brother.

  3. Terry Horan says:

    I can tell you have put a lot of thought into and struggled with this issue. Beautifully written from the heart.

  4. matthoran says:

    Fantastic post, Jay! I too am so thankful for your friendship, and am glad to journey alongside you as our lives in ministry unfold. Looking forward to working together–I’d love to work together to redefine our terms with regard “belonging” and “membership.” I have often struggled with that. There are some non-members at Hyde Park that participate far more faithfully than some of the members that we only see once or twice per year, but just never got around to taking the new member class.

    Since we offer infant baptism (as we should, in my view), there is not a clear “joining event” that signifies a move from outside to inside the church of Jesus Christ for adults beyond membership. Flawed as it might be, this is all we’ve got at the moment.

    I did fail to see the value in being able to deny membership to the Satan worshipper or other cult member who wants to infiltrate the church and disrupt it’s ministry. That gives me new food for thought, testing my faith in the ability of “membership” in the church–empowered by the Holy Spirit–to be a transformative force. Do I believe that the Satan worshipper could meet Christ as a member of His church? Yes. Do I believed that church membership is required for the Satan worshipper to meet Christ? No. Perhaps the biggest question for me is thus: Is there some level of acceptible risk that I should permit my congregation to face in order to be in ministry to the “others” of this world? What is that level?

    If amendment #1 is not the vehicle by which we can “say” something to homosexuals and others who long for belonging with Christ but have traditionally had it denied them by the church, what vehicle is available to us? How can we say, not just in word but in tangible deeds, that anyone who wants to follow Christ will find in us committed companions for the journey?

  5. Jay Therrell says:

    Matt, thanks for your thoughtful response. I think we’re in agreement on the idea of membership. Surely one day we can begin to find a different way to think about that idea.

    Maybe I can clarify what I was trying to say with the satanist. Under our current Discipline and Constitution, the satanist couldn’t be admitted to membership as one of the membership vows is to profess Jesus as Lord of the church and savior of the person taking the vows. A satanist can’t, by definition, profess Jesus as Lord of the Church, when, by definition, the satanist believes Satan to be Lord. Nonetheless, this amendment would very likely require me to admit someone who does not even profess following Jesus as a member. I entirely agree that the church just may be the best place for the satanist. Hopefully experiencing the grace of God actively at work in the stanist’s life would lead to trasnformation, but only then, at least in my opinion, would membership (in its present form – which I have vowed to uphold) be appropriate. I simply cannot conceive allowing a satanist to stand before the chruch and either lie about professing faith and Lordship in Jesus, or simply ignore it all together. That said, the doors would be open to the satanist, as long as the satanist didn’t impede the safety or security of the church.

    To me the appropriate vehicle for saying and showing God’s grace and love to homosexuals and everyone else, for that matter, is to show radical hospitality by practicing what we preach when we say that our hearts, minds, and doors are always open. Having open hearts, minds, and doors doesn’t have to mean membership is open – and truthfully – in many respects – who cares? As you and I have already agreed membership is probably an antiquated term that is quickly losing its meaning. To me leaving the status quo the status quo allows the local pastor who best knows the context of a situation to make a decision. The remainder of our social principles and Discipilne AND marketing requires us to have open and congenial hospitality to allow people to belong to the community we lead and hopefully experience the redemptive love and grace of God. And it also prevents a back door attempt to change our church’s doctrinal and theological stances in a way that, to me, is inconsistent with Scripture and would quite likely lead to a schism.

  6. Thomas says:

    I stumbled up on this and felt compelled to ask a few questions.

    We are all sinners, we are not all repentant sinners. Would you allow an unrepentant murderer into the church? How about a repentant one? God’s charge to the church is to be a light and a witness to the world, not to become like the world. Repentence is a qualification for belief. How many times does scripture call us to ‘repent and believe’? How then can we allow unrepentant people into the fold of believers, a contradiction of God’s word. We who are have repented and believed have repented of a myriad of sins: homosexuality, murder, coveteousness, lies and on and on. None are forbidden. But is the church to openly allow unrepentant sin, whether it be liars, thieves, fornicators, or the homosexual? I think the clear teaching of the Bible would be ‘NO’.

    The Bible is relevant to all cultures at all times. It is sufficient to save. We cannot go outside of the Word of God (His design for the church) and expect His blessing. Isn’t that what Saul did? He wasn’t willing to wait for Sammuel, as was God’s plan and design, and lost his annointing. We need to be faithful to teach and live the word and trust that God will work out His plan for salvation for unrepentant sinners. God’s concern isn’t with the growth and prosperity of the Methodist church, His concern is with the church at large– the faithful, the saints. To the extent that the Methodist church is faithful to God– that is His concern whether growth comes or not. HE is the builder of the church.

    I trust that God is honored in the understanding and preaching and living out of His word and I appreciate that you are struggling and wrestling with these big issues. May God faithfully bless your understanding of His Word and its application to your churches.

  7. matthoran says:

    Thanks for stumbling and offering your thoughts, Thomas. I trust as well that our struggling and wrestling together to try and clearly hear from the Spirit pleases God. This struggling together, when we commit to stay together despite our differing views, builds community. When we are in community, we are at our best.

    The problem with endeavoring to hold the line on “unrepentant sin” is that we pick and choose, making some sins worse than others. While faithful followers of Jesus wrestle with whether or not homosexuality is even a sin; it seems to have been ranked among the most egregious by those (I don’t include you in “those,” Jay) who would be the gatekeepers of membership. If we’re to really keep out anyone with “unrepentant sin” in their lives; think about the number of bouncers we’d need! Is homosexuality worse than living with excesive debt? Worse than gluttony? Worse than greed? Worse than divorce? Would you keep anyone out that is still in the grip of these? Who will be the one to decide how much indebtedness is appropriate? Will we have a scale at the altar to weigh in our new members? What is the standard for generosity that we’d require before agreeing that a person was not greedy? Is there no place in the church for those who have been divorced?

    We do ask new members if they “earnestly repent of their sin” when they join the United Methodist church. But is salvation an end, or a beginning? Can a person begin to follow Christ with further to go on the journey, or will we require that they enter with complete knowledge of all that is sin which may have touched their life? I assure you that there were sins in my life that I did not set to work on until long after I had begun to follow Christ. How good do we have to be to become a part of the church? The church is at it’s best when it is a hospital for the broken, rather than a club for those who have it all figured out. It is imperative that we work with people to heal their brokenness and not leave them that way, but I’d rather work on that once they’re in, rather than asking them to work on it in order to get in.

    I think Jay is right. Perhaps our efforts to offer radical hospitality will involve a redefinition of what “belonging” or “membership” even means. Until then, I pray that we err on the side of inclusion, rather than exclusion.

  8. Wayne Cook says:

    Matt

    Thanks for your thoughtful words, I appreciate them and I know that in what I am about to write, I put my “career” on the line. I was one of the votes for the amendment and the young man that spoke in favor of the amendment, for any who did not already figure it out, was my son John. I have never been prouder of my son. I guess I see in the comments of the other side, and yes Jay that includes you although I appreciate your comments and will defend your right to say them with my life if necessary, the old american express understanding of “Membership has its privileges” not the what should be the church’s understanding of Membership has its responsibilities. We allow men and women in the church who are unrepentant already according to Jesus teaching they are called divorcees. They have been married divorced and remarried and they can be members, serve on boards, and even be our pastors, now don’t go give me the they have repented stuff, they are still married to their second or third or ….spouse. Additionally, I disagree with Jay on the concept of who better to judge the readiness for membership, I know I am one of the sinners and I believe on the Holy Spirit is able to determine readiness for membership in the institutional church which is what we are talking about. None of us mere mortals gets to make that decision about the Church, for it is the body of Christ both inside and outside the institution. Someone mentioned that this christmas we will celebrate 225 years as a denomination. Sadly I wonder if we will kill it before we reach 250. Just my humble thoughts and observations. IN Christ, Wayne

  9. wayne says:

    Just as a secondary note, the congregation I serve does not and will not use the “open hearts, open minds, open doors” as long as I serve here. I refuse to put that out for the public to see and then live the opposite. The film we saw stated “there is a place for everyone in the United Methodist Church” sadly for some it is outside. For them it might come across as “hard hearts, closed minds, and locked doors”

  10. John says:

    I appreciate the viewpoints of all here. It reminds me of John Wesley quote that “But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.”
    Iif the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors slogan doesn’t completely work for everyone, perhaps we could all be striving towards it. I believe we have to have that bar set or else we won’t reach it. Perhaps we are still at “many open hearts, lots of open minds, and doors are usually open,” but let’s hope that we are striving to help open them all completely.

  11. Ruben Velasco says:

    I have really enjoyed reading all your post and have wanted to read these comments the moment Matt pointed them out on his Facebook! I also, have struggled with the issue of Homosexuality and the Methodist Church. I have some long term friends who are gay and lesbians and I love them dearly. Also, as the Pastor of our Methodist Church in Key West I live within this issue almost daily. The problem I had with this amendment is the “Pandora’s” box that I believe it would open.

    I fell reassured by my denominations current stance that the homosexual life style is one that is not Biblical. But at the same time we are to love all people and accept them for who they are. I know I have Homosexual Members of my congregation and I too believe in the “Life Transforming” power of the word of God as well as His Sacraments. I felt this amendment would open the door to eventually going against the word of God in terms of this issue.

    When looking at Church Amendments or resolutions I often look at what practical implications these votes will have. I see voting against this amendment as a way to say to my church members that “Life style” does not fit within the beliefs of our church but that they as people are accepted (this is true of many other issues which from what I understand we do not need to have an individual Amendment for) . After all, we are more than our sexual orientation first and for most we are children of God.

    That being said I do believe we have many great men in woman on both sides of this issue who earnestly love the Lord and their fellow man.

  12. Matt, thank you for an enlightening discussion of the recent Annual Conference meeting in Florida, and its deliberation about the all means all amendment.

    I’m not a United Methodist, but I am a gay believer who is concerned about the churches’ continuing message of unwelcome to me and my brothers and sisters. I reflect about this theme, and your posting, in a posting today on my blog at Bilgrimage.

    It’s at http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/06/sunday-tidbits-cyber-bullying-and.html, in case you or others are interested. Thank you for your vote for the all means all amendment.

  13. Matt Horan says:

    Thanks Bill! Enjoyed your post at Bilgrimage, and appreciate your mention of the ReEmergent Church blog! Replied already on your site–hope my comments help further the discussion! -MH

  14. Blake Garner says:

    Matt,

    Thank you for your information and your perspective. I would love to visit with you more about ways we can work in the coming year to create a more inclusive church. As a gay man, a lifelong Methodist, and one of the three who spoke in favor of this amendment at Conference I value your view but remind you that this was not about homosexuality alone but about language that opens our doors and hearts to all people. Danger rests in believing one group attaining parity ends the discussion. Too many times, one group gains ground and abandons those still climbing.

    Would love to hear from you soon. Thanks again for your posts and to all of those who have commented thus far.

    Grace and peace…..Blake Garner

  15. Julie A. Arms says:

    Very nice and well thought out blog, Matt – I found it through Bill’s blog. I was at General Conference and I do know one of the writer’s of the original petition that became this Amendment. I also worked towards getting it passed in North Georgia (FL had a better percentage for it), was present for our voting, and know of delegates who had wished to speak for it, but as in FL, were limited to 3/3. Oddly enough, being in an equally conservative Annual Conference, no one here spoke for or against the Amendment in context of homosexuality, though that and pastoral authority were the common thoughts of its purpose and/or intent.

    Your “what disappointments me most” paragraph is key – it shows our dividing line as a denomination, as clergy (from Bishop to newest provisional), as laity, as members, as visitors, and as observed by others.

    Thank you again for your post.

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