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Statement from Maxie Dunnam Regarding
The United Methodist Bishops’ Statement

by Maxie Dunnam

May 4, 1998

Scores of people have written – e-mail and otherwise – expressing concern about the bishops’ statement. I understand that concern. I doubt, however, if the bishops could have produced a statement that would have completely satisfied the Confessing Movement. I think we need to stay aware of the context in which the statement was made. In that context, with the obvious division in the Council, I feel we got the best possible statement.

There are four very positive things in the statement that we need to underscore. One, the bishops are agreed that the Discipline is clear in stating our churchs’ position on homosexuality. They put the disciplinary statements together – on equal footing – even though they are recorded in different places in the Discipline.

Two, "in covenant with one another" they voiced their commitment to uphold the General Conference’s action on theological, ethical, and polity matters, "including the statement on homosexuality . . . the prohibition of ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions."

Three, they named the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith and Wesley’s Sermons and Notes as our doctrinal foundation, and committed themselves to developing a teaching paper as a means of identifying "critical doctrinal and ecclesial foundations for addressing current and other issues."

Four, they expressed their individual and corporate commitment to proclaim, defend, and live the doctrines, order and mission of the church, and call for prayer as "together we seek to anchor the church more firmly in our Biblical and theological foundations."

I have had conversation with some bishops who have brought me into their confidence. I cannot quote them, but I can share my own feelings as a result of these conversations. I asked this question: Do you feel that the tone and the mind of the Council is that they are going to hold each other responsible on this issue? The response was, "Absolutely!"

I was told there was no effort to advance the homosexual cause in the discussion or statement. With the exception of two or three of the fifteen "Denver bishops," the rest were amazingly silent. I am told that the tone of the meeting was one of serious grappling with issues that threaten the division of our church. I am also told that there was more participation on the part of most bishops than there has been in the past, and that the international bishops expressed themselves in a remarkably convincing way – in favor of classic orthodox Christian faith – and in opposition to the effort on the part of some to change the position of the church as it relates to homosexuality.

I still believe that the bishops are the key to our dilemma. They have made their statement. We must now hold them accountable, and continue to encourage them to hold each other accountable. Wherever the doctrine and order of the church is violated, we must confront the issues, and if necessary, bring charges.

The decision of the Judicial Council in August is crucial. We need to be prepared, somehow, to be responsive to whatever the Judicial Council rules. The decision of the Judicial Council will not change the mind and will of the church. That mind and will is clear, and I think the bishops have made that clear in their statement. The only thing that might happen if the Judicial Council rules in the way many people think they will – that the Social Principles and this particular item in the Social Principles are not binding – there might come a rash of performance of same-sex weddings. If that happens we will have to call our bishops to be responsible in relation to the issue, because the Discipline is enough to prevent that action if we will not allow legal technicalities to hinder us.

I am convinced that we have done everything we can legislatively. Though I urged the bishops to call a special session of the General Conference, they may be right in not doing so. Without the will of the church to uphold its doctrine and discipline, legislation is limited at best. Again, the bishops are the key. Let’s pray that enough of them are now sufficiently aware of the gravity of the crisis, and the necessity of their concerted corporate responsibility, that some positive leadership will emerge and we will begin to see a new day in Methodism.

I believe the statement of the Confessing Movement is still on target. We must now fast and pray for guidance. More than anything else we need to discern God’s leading. We need to fast and pray for our bishops and the Judicial Council.. If we believe that the church is of God and United Methodism has been called into being by God as a part of His church; and if we believe, as I certainly do, that the vast majority of United Methodists across this world of our identify themselves with classic orthodox Christian faith, then we can’t surrender now. And we can’t leave to a small radical minority that which is the legacy of faithful lay Christians and preachers, some who have labored and given sacrificially through the years.

I want to be a faithful Christian disciple, and I believe I am a faithful Methodist. Be assured that whatever leadership I have I will exercise for what I believe is the sake of the Kingdom. That is my passion. Along with that passion, I am committed to the Methodist movement, and want to do my part in her renewal. Pray for me.

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