Mass Lesbian Wedding Participant and Northern Illinois Evangelical Discuss Prespectives
RECONCILING / TRANSFORMING DIALOGUE
This dialogue is between
Thanks for writing to me concerning my article which was printed in CORNET and thanks you for giving me permission to send this dialogue to other individuals. You are also welcome to include anyone you wish into our dialogue. I believe that it is the lack of dialogue which has caused this denominational war we seem to be fighting.
Jim: I was one of the Sacramento Co-officiants, and thus obviously a part of the California-Nevada Conference which, as everyone is aware, is "not of one mind" in the issue of the nature of the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church.
Kent: First, I believe both sides wish to include individuals with Same Gender Attraction in the church. I am the first to admit that the evangelical track record for being in ministry to the homosexual community is terrible. But it is insulting and divisive to accuse us of wanting to exclude individuals simply because we disagree on the question of whether Same Gender Behavior is sinful or not. There are many others things (i.e. cohabitation, gambling, etc.) which we also think are sinful activities, but you certainly can't say that we exclude them from the church. It may further your cause to use such language, but it is damaging to the church body. This is not an issue of challenging some government involvement you might disagree with or some local social system which you oppose. When you attack our side with such words, you are attacking yourself.
That is unless to wish to exclude us from your midst. As one who has intentionally participated in a Discipline breaking activity, you have broken covenant with me so that possibility must be considered.
Some say that my side wants to prevent individuals from being in ministry to the communities they serve which have Same Gender Attracted parishioners. We are also accused of being the aggressors in this conflict. But neither are truth. I have listened to Rev. Greg Dell (Who was suspended for a year for performing a same sex commitment service) tell another person how he has advised clergy for many many years on how to be in ministry to the homosexual community without raising problems for themselves with the denomination. (It was while waiting to debate him on Different Drummers at the TV station in Chicago.) It might surprise you to know that I really don't have a concern for what he did privately within his local ministry. It was his public activities which that were objectionable. He allowed himself to be interviewed repeatedly and in doing so made his rebellion against the Book Of Discipline into front line news. It was as if he publicly dared the denomination to take action. Maybe it was all a coincidence how it turned out, but to many it seems contrived and planned far in advance. He is found guilty and removed from his pastorate (made into a martyr), then hired back by his church as an advisor to the replacement pastor, who will take care of his duties while he travels around giving speeches. Then after General Conference is over, he will be returned to his pulpit as a conquering hero. That wasn't punishment, that was a promotion. All with the help of denominational leadership.
We now continue to see an escalation of the public denominational war and are suffering from its damage. There has begun an exodus by some evangelicals from the denomination as a result. This is partly because of the public press this subject has received, but there are other factors. Also a factor is the liberal control of our news sources along with bishops who refuse to enforce the intent of the discipline and hold individuals accountable for their actions. (Including your actions)
Jim: Obviously, to a significant degree, the national church also is "not of one mind." Into the midst of this deep division, the General Conference, and subsequently the Judicial Council made one mode of ministry (i.e. blessing the relationships of gay and lesbian couples) "against the law." You, and others, see those of us who can or will not abide by that prohibition as "undermin(ing) the commitment (we) made before God to uphold and defend (the Book of Discipline)."
Kent: Yes, you are breaking a covenant. You have broken fellowship with myself and the other clergy within the denomination. What makes it even more heinous is the fact that you didn't do it to be in ministry to parishioners ( I assume your were not the presiding minister), you did it to undermine the Discipline. I know that probably isn't your view on the subject. You probably see yourself as a courageous protester who was challenging an unjust system.
Jim: You express the fear that "it is only a matter of time before ministers who promote the position that homosexality is incompatible with Christian teaching will be hounded out of the ministry or bullied into silence."
Kent: It is already happening within the Northern Illinois Conference. As evangelical pastors are retiring, Reconciling pastors are replacing them in their large mostly Discipline supporting churches. I have personal knowledge of this kind of thing happening within our conference. Discipline supporting evangelicals on the other had often receive "lateral appointments" and are circulated around the same group of smaller churches. Our bishop has several times declared that he has not punished any evangelical who supports the Discipline and I believe him. However, I don't believe that he promotes them into larger and more significant ministries unless he absolutely has to and that he purposely promotes those who support the Reconciling cause to more significant ministries.
But that is only the subtle aspect of this situation. Here is a blatant example of the coming persecution. I am talking about the Des Plaines Campground situation. The campground allowed both Reconciling and Transforming speakers to preach from their pulpit. (I was about to go into details, which I have intimate knowledge of, but cannot because the lawsuit.) The campground was accused and condemned by the Board of Church and Society as having "a atmosphere of intolerance and inhospitality" and a "pattern of discrimination". There was an attempt (outside of the board) made to submit a Minority Report challenging the other report, but the bishop refused to receive it. Having the inside knowledge on the situation, I do not believe that any of those accusations are true and the campground did everything in its power to try to be accommodating to the gay couple who are now trying to sue them out of existence.
I stood and watched as the chair of their trustees (a retired kindergarten teacher) stood shaking and crying after she tried to talk to the chairperson of the Board of Church and Society and he simply turned and walked away. So what was the "atmospheric conditions" they found which gives others license to do a character assassination on the campground and try to force them into bankruptcy. That's simple, they allowed people both from the pulpit and at the campground to publicly say that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christians teaching". They are now being victimized because of it. So please kind sir, tell me just how we are supposed to live together in peace and allow each other to be in ministry when this kind of thing is allowed to happen?
The campground's lawyer has asked for a summary dismissal of all charges against the campground. (The Northern Illinois Conference is also charged in the suit and would be subject to paying monetary damages if found liable.) In December, Judge Thomas Durkin said this about the case: "...this Court finds that the Commission's claim, if allowed to proceed, would require the Commission and this Court to inquire into matters of church faith and doctrine." He found no cause to prevent the actions of the campground. So dismissing the case would provide a real opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation between the campground and the conference, since it would allow for a full disclosure of all the facts of the case. At present the campground and supporters like myself have our hands tied and our mouths taped shut because of the litigation, while the UM Reporter and Reconciling supporters continually bombard them with insults and unproved accusations which they repeat continually as facts. But even I wasn't ready for what came next. Our Reconciling bishop actually took an official stand against the summary dismissal. I have asked a conference official for an explanation of that action, but have not yet received word on that one. If I hear from them I will let you know. To me that would mean that he was taking a public stand not only against the campground, but also against the best interests of the conference he serves as bishop. The conference stands to lose a large sum of money if this law suit is successful. But even more important is the violation of biblical principles this lawsuit represents. I Corinthians 6:4-7a tells us this:
Isn't it funny how nobody seems to have criticized the couple for dragging fellow believers into court? Isn't is odd that a bishop would apparently seem to be against ending such a travesty of justice and the breaking of biblical admonitions.
Jim: In our conference, clearly many evangelical pastors feel themselves to be in just such a beleagered position. However, there has never been any action taken which would prohibit those who, like you, are "Transforming Pastors" to pursue and carry out the ministry to which they feel called, of working and praying for the transformation and "healing" of homosexual persons.
Kent: Yes, you're right. But what about all the parishioners who read about what's happening and leave their churches because of it? How can you be in ministry when the people leave the church and cripple the church's ability to be in ministry to everyone? I will predict that before this whole business ends that it will result in churches being closed and others being seriously damaged by loss of membership.
Jim: My question (which you may choose to answer, or simply regard as rhetorical), is this. What if the legislative majority of the General Conference chose not just to acknowledge that we are "not of one mind," and to allow room within the church for conscientious disagreement?
Kent: I believe that will be the case. In fact, I predict that the language will be strengthened in favor of the stand the Discipline now takes. But that certainly isn't news to anyone is it? I have heard Reconciling supporters within my conference talking about how they were already planning for the 2004 session and that they didn't think that anything would be changed in 2000. Of course there are always those who are doing wishful thinking. In my conference (Northern Illinois) the Reconciling supporters practically swept the elections, even electing Rev. Dell to General Conference. The evangelicals like myself were grief stricken over the whole thing and the great celebration drowned out the cries of grief. One dear sweet woman sitting next to me looked at me with tears in her eyes and said: "How could this be happening to our denomination". I comforted her with the knowledge that the Northern Illinois Conference is not representative of the attitude of the rest of the denomination. So I guess we will probably have another four years of denominational wars to look forward to with an ever increasing level of intimidation and confrontation.
Jim: What if it went so far as to turn Paragraph 65c on its head (which to my knowledge no one is proposing) and said, "Ministries of transformation and prayers for "healing" of homosexuals shall not be conducted by our pastors and shall not be conducted in our churches." Would you a) leave the United Methodist Church because the church "had spoken" on this issue?
Kent: I came to the United Methodist Church from another denomination because God sent me here. I studied and became an ordained minister because that is what God showed me that I was to do. I have taken a public stand on this issue because I truly believe that God placed me here for this very purpose. Whether I stay or leave is not up to me, but to God. If God were to tell me tomorrow that it was time to leave, I would turn in my credentials and go. Why? Because I am not my own, I was bought at a great price. My decisions are not based on what I want to do, but what God wants me to do. So I guess you will have to ask God that question. If I were to stay, I would not break the covenant I made at my ordination.
Jim: b) Cease the healing transforming/healing ministry
to which you feel called because the "order and
Kent: I would not break the covenant I made before God to honor church discipline. To do so would be a dishonorable action.
Jim: c) Continue the ministry to which you are called, knowing that the church could choose to expel you for doing so, in hopes that the church would in fact come to its senses and allow the ministry which you know has helped and freed many in Christ.
Kent: I would not continue to do so. If I felt that it was a ministry which God had called me to and God showed me clearly that I was to continue doing it, I would take that as a sign from God to leave the denomination. But think about what you have asked. Where does the Discipline say you can't be in ministry to the homosexual community? Is doesn't. It only says that you can't perform a same-sex commitment service. What your asking for is not the ability to be in ministry, what you want is an official blessing on same sex behavior. A commitment service is not a legal action, it is only ceremonial. There is nothing that says that a gay couple can't make a commitment to each other and there is nothing to prevent you from being in ministry to them.
Jim: It seems to me the path of "criminalizing" either reconciling or transforming ministries does not serve our church or our Lord.
Kent: Again, reconciling ministries are not criminalized. Many pastors have been doing that type of ministry very effectively for many years. It is one clergy action which is restricted, that of performing same sex commitment services. The problem is that pesky little sentence in the Discipline that says that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching". If that were to be eliminated from the Discipline, there would be public proclamations made that we no longer officially support that position. By default that would make us Reconciling. Reconciling supporters have so demonized and attacked those who disagree with them, that I cannot see anything other than that happening.
Jim: And just as we support both those who concientiously serve in the military, and those who conscientiously object to military service in times of war (the other thing which the Book of Discipline says is "incompatible with Christian teaching," can't we allow room for both?
Kent: You happen to be talking with a reserve chaplain for the Illinois Army National Guard. (An Air Assault Infantry battalion no less.) You notice that is doesn't say that serving in the military is "incompatible with the gospel". I teach the soldiers that war is something we must pray never happens and I too believe it is incompatible with Christian teaching. My role is to remind them of the sanctity of life and that all people are or sacred worth. I tell them that we must be so prepared to fight that no enemy force is willing to risk forcing a confrontation. That if we go to war and they are required to kill as part of the mission, that killing is still always wrong. (I am also pro-life and against the death penalty because killing is killing.) I teach them that they need to ask God's forgiveness for being forced to kill in order to protect our nation. I talk to them about how too many solders return home and how the unforgiven sin of killing destroys many of them through alcohol, drug addiction, suicide and along with that many marriages and families.
I will also stand behind and support anyone who is a conscientious objector. I would help them in trying to be exempt from military service and if that failed, I would encourage them to accept their punishment honorably and be jailed. Because if your willing to break the rules, you should also be willing to face the consequences and accept the punishment.
Jim: I chose to send this to you personally
rather than on the CORNET or any other list, but would gladly have it be a part of further
dialogue if you would choose to make it so.
Kent: Thank you for writing. I'm anxious to see if it continues.
Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
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