How did it happen?
For many years the United Methodist Church has struggled with the compatibility of homosexuality with traditional beliefs. During 1997 and 1998 church members met to study and pray over issues of sexuality as they relate to Christian teachings.
During the fifteen months of study, members examined all aspects of homosexuality with particular reference to what the Bible says or doesn’t say on the matter. (It was interesting to discover that Jesus never uttered one word on the subject. His unconditional love reference was a great influence on our deliberations.) Biblical references were placed in the context of history and intent of the texts. Also studied were a more modern aspect of homosexuality: lifestyles, scientific theories, prejudice and acts of hate.
At the conclusion of studies, it was felt that the entire congregation should confront the issue of “reconciliation”. A statement of Reconciliation was written for the consideration of everyone. At a special meeting on March 1, 1998, the entire congregation was invited to discuss and review the statement. After questions and comments, a vote was taken to accept or reject its adoption. Of the 45 eligible voters present, 44 voted “Yes” and one abstained. While the vote represents the preponderant thinking of our congregation, there are some who are not comfortable with our reconciling status. It is their right as United Methodists to disagree.
Statement of Reconciliation
The John Street United Methodist Church affirms that all persons are important as human beings created by God and loved by and through Jesus Christ. We recognize that this God-created universe includes a multitude of unique individuals of every age, economic status, race, sexual orientation, religious background, and social standing, each of whom is a recipient of God’s unconditional love.
In this complex world where diversity can easily divide and separate us, we must, as a people of God and followers of Jesus Christ, reach out to all people. Therefore, we affirm that all who seek to experience the power of the Christian Gospel are welcome to participate fully in this congregation’s life pursuant to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church without regard to their sexual orientation, race, gender or other conditions which generate discrimination.
We proclaim our welcome to all and affirm our faith in the love of Jesus Christ, mindful of the prejudice and hateful acts which persist today, particularly against gays and lesbians. Therefore we join with other United Methodist Churches in the Reconciling Congregation Program to ensure access to all who have felt excluded from our Christian Community.
Approved by the Church Conference, March 1, 1998.
When we walk down the road
The following was quoted by Rev. Robert L. Plaisted in a sermon delivered at the John Street United Methodist Church on February 18, 2001, to celebrate the anniversary of our decision to become a reconciling congregation. The definition of “reconciliation” comes from an unpublished paper written by Dr. Virginia Todd Holeman, Professor of Counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary.
“Reconciliation is an active commitment to the restoration of justice and trustworthiness by both injured party and transgressor so that the relationship may be transformed. Reconciliation is not a return to the way things were. Instead, it is a bold re-engagement by injured parties to create beauty out of the ashes of their relationship. Reconciliation does not just conserve the former relationship, it transforms it.”
This definition points out several facts about reconciliation. First, reconciliation is a process. It doesn’t just happen, but rather it must be worked, step by step, over time. Second, reconciliation can only take place if both sides of the disagreement are willing to make an active commitment to work through the process. Third, reconciliation is just plain hard work. It’s both physically and emotionally demanding. Fourth, the process of reconciliation changes us. It leaves both parties of the disagreement different from what they were at the beginning.”
Late in 2002, the validity of our Reconciling Statement was challenged due to language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality. The Church and Society Committee responded with an interpretation which was presented to and adopted by the Church Council in November 2002.
It reads as follows:
The John Street United Methodist Church Reconciling Statement with regard to issues concerning homosexuality means that:
- We affirm that anyone who enters our church will be welcome to participate fully in the life of this church and to participate in the functions necessary to keep us growing in spirit and in outreach.
- We affirm human sexuality and understand homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality to be good gifts of God. We believe that the current statement in the United Methodist Book of Discipline that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” represents only one Biblical/theological perspective. We commit to proclaiming that homosexuality (no less or more than heterosexuality) is compatible with Christian teaching.
- Words of hate or intolerance for homosexuals, lesbians or transsexuals will not be preached from our pulpit.
- We affirm that loving, monogamous, intimate relationships between persons of the same or the opposite gender are an expression of God’s love. Recognizing that commitments of faith to each other by a homosexual couple are a positive force in our society, we will be sympathetic to their need to enter into formal covenant. While the Book of Discipline prevents our pastor from performing such commitment ceremonies and also prohibits the use of United Methodist property, we will be helpful in assisting persons in finding clergy and settings where these services can be held.
- We will declare our Reconciling status consistently in materials that publicize the events and ministries of the Church. We will make available Biblical study materials and opportunities for dialogue explaining our position as a Reconciling congregation. We will support other congregations in their efforts to become reconciling.
- We will work to achieve changes in the Book of Discipline so that the United Methodist Church attitudes about homosexuals, lesbians, and transsexuals will be in the spirit of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
Adopted by the Church Council, November 2002.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”2 Cor. 5:18-19 (NRSV)