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North Carolina Bishop Disturbed by California/Nevada Disobedience

A Pastoral Statement to North Carolina Conference United Methodists

Bishop Marion M. Edwards

Recently the Committee on Investigation of the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church (working much like a grand jury) decided that 68 clergy members of that annual conference should not be brought to church trial for their participation last year in a service celebrating a same-gender union. This action was taken although recently trial courts in the Nebraska and Northern Illinois Conferences have either suspended or withdrawn credentials from clergy facing similar charges. In our church polity, such decisions are made within individual annual conferences.

This ruling in the California-Nevada Conference challenges The United Methodist Church's injunction in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church against celebrating homosexual unions. The Church has stated as clearly as possible that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." In spite of this direct statement in our Church's Discipline, the Committee on Investigation in this one of our 66 annual conferences declined to refer the matter to church trial, so the complaints have to be dropped.

As a bishop, I am charged with upholding the doctrine, discipline and covenantal relationships of our Church. I stand in support of our Church's position on this issue. It is my view that the infraction of Church law by these 68 clergy is not a minor offense. I find it difficult to understand how the Committee on Investigation could regard it as such. The upcoming General Conference (May 2-12, 2000, in Cleveland) must find ways to make certain that the will of the Church is not circumvented, that we hold one another accountable to the highest standards, and that persons throughout the denomination all accept the same rules. To do otherwise will severely attack the fabric of our connectional life.

Nevertheless, it is important that we be reminded of the larger theological context for this issue provided in the Social Principles in our Discipline.

"Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth... Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."

Based on my study of scripture, church history and doctrine, I believe our Church has stated a position that reflects appropriate balance in the midst of a complex issue. In my judgment, it is crucial that we maintain this vital balance.

However, I acknowledge that committed Christians at all levels of our Church differ on this subject. Some, with whom I have a "lover's quarrel" on this subject, I observe daily bearing faithful witness to the gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). I am trying respectfully to listen carefully to those with whom I disagree as well as to those whose position I affirm. As I listen, I am sensing significant pain within United Methodism, both within those persons and families who feel the Church closes a door on homosexual persons and within those persons and families who fear the Church does not take seriously its own biblical and disciplinary standards for discipleship. My earnest prayer is for the power of Christ to indwell in us as we reach out to one another in our differences. Now is the time for what Wesley called "holy conferencing." I welcome such conversations.

Our Council of Bishops has called our denomination to a season of fasting and prayer 40 days prior to our General Conference in Cleveland. I urgently call upon the United Methodist Christians of our North Carolina Annual Conference to pray fervently that this 2000 General Conference will be a setting where the mind and spirit of Christ will preside over our diversity in order that we might find unity in our Lord and Savior.

While homosexuality is the most volatile and potentially divisive issue we face, it is not the most important issue in our denomination. The most important issue is for the people called United Methodist to move forward in our many disciple-making ministries and thereby share the love of Christ in a hurting world. There is no time for us to be sidelined from this primary mission.

God is clearly using the global United Methodist Church in so many wide and wonderful ways. The presence of His Holy Spirit is bearing fruit throughout our denomination! (We in eastern North Carolina have seen this connectional love so clearly in the response to the fall floods.) May our Lord find us faithful and use us fully as we claim the harvest fields awaiting our outreach.

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