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Letter To Cal/Nev District Superintendent Informs Current State Of Opposition To Church Doctrine In West


From: Kyle Phillips
To: John Warrener
Sent: Friday, May 26, 2000 7:43 PM
Subject: Letter to CA/NV DS

John,

Find attached a very thoughtful letter engaging a pro-gay DS from David McKeithen, a thoughtful pastor. It helps provide good background to all that is before us.

Blessings,

 

Kyle


Rev. David G. McKeithen, Rockridge United Methodist Church

Rev. Bruce McSpadden, Bay View District Superintendent

Dear Bruce,

I want to put in writing some of the difficulties that I am having with you and our conference leadership in your support of "holy" unions. I do so with a little uneasiness because I don’t want to be baited by culture or church into a smaller than the whole gospel debate. Our ministry focus at Rockridge has always been on intentional discipleship for an urban church among the poor. That will always be my passion and focus. Yet, I want again to be clear with you where I am on the growing affirmation of same sex issues in our conference and culture.

Bruce, you and I have had conversations on this, so we are clear that we differ on the matter. I always appreciate your respectful listening to me, even when we hold different perspectives. I also appreciate the support that you and the conference show for the urban ministries that we do in Oakland I appreciate the pastoral support you offer as my DS, as I did the support of Nadine and Jonah before you. For the most part, I even enjoyed the work we shared on the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. The exception was when you asked candidates if they would support the bishop’s stand on "holy" unions.

I do lament the energy, over focus, and ink that we spill in the debate as a conference and denomination. While holiness in sexuality is important to the biblical witness, it occupies significantly less space in scripture than we give it in the culture and the church. It remains at the forefront for a number of reasons. The political energy of the combatants keeps it before us for sure, but the more significant factor in my mind, is the difference in how we listen to scripture. This difference impacts how we understand discipleship; develop pastoral strategy and target missional priorities. The difference at this key point of biblical interpretation has deep implications that do not go away.

The umbrella of theological pluralism that we've hoped would hold us together as a denomination and conference is tattered. Our disagreement on how the church can most faithfully love, care for and bring justice for persons who self identify as gay/lesbian is just one issue that exposes the increasing incoherence of our pluralism.

I want to lay the issue out regarding the affirming and transforming positions as I see them. I'll try to capture both our perspectives so you can hear why I am so troubled and perhaps wrong. Then, I hope we can have a conversation where you can correct, add to, or challenge what I see.

Holy union affirmers believe that Jesus would be a part of a holy union blessing ceremony. Affirmers see in Jesus an ethic of love that requires blessing of same sex unions. You believe that sexual orientation is a divinely given gift, which must be affirmed by the church. To oppose holy unions and full inclusion of self identified gay persons into the life of the church, is to oppose the ethic of love and the gifts of creation, as expressed in sexual orientation. To draw other conclusions is sometimes viewed as fundamentalist bigotry, driven by homophobic fear and hatred.

Am I close in representing key parts of your perspective? If so, then I understand why this issue is seen as significant and prophetic. I see why you stand against the mind of the historical church and the denomination on this matter, and why you believe that failure to take your stand would constitute infidelity to the gospel. Your conviction, with which I respectfully disagree, makes us strange bedfellows, in the annual conference sense.

I want to state again the perspective that I hold. While scripture speaks to issues of homosexuality on only a handful of occasions, it does speak uniformly against same sex relations. In the closely related area of marriage and sexuality, Jesus clearly affirms and seeks to protect marriage when he evokes the "male and female he made them" language from Genesis. While the Mark 10 context is a dispute about divorce, we see Jesus' assumptions about the created goodness of heterosexual marriage, which needs to be honored and protected. Paul, in care for the church at Rome, warns against giving up worship of the Creator for worship of the creature. This error he says, leads to futile thinking and numerous debasing acts and attitudes among which are same sex relations. I hear in Jesus and in Paul words that speak clearly to the issue.

You can understand why I will not affirm same sex unions, nor pastors or churches that do. To do so would be nothing less than to "exchange the truth for a lie," as Paul states, and real love for false love and false affirmation. Christian pastoral strategy allows scripture to define the terms of faithfulness. In love we address sin head on, and call for repentance and turning from sin. This turning requires the compassionate partnership of a truth telling community of believers, who know themselves as forgiven sinners in the lifelong process of sanctification. I take this same approach when I pastor all folk who wrestle with the powerful, creative and wonderfully messy gift of human sexuality.

When the biblical definitions of sexual faithfulness are turned upside down, we disconnect the churches pastoral care capacity from the healing power of the Lord of the Scripture. So, I see that in affirming same sex unions, our conference has done nothing less than exchanged the truth for a lie. I believe that the affirming perspective and actions, promote false love and false affirmation, that leads to disease for the church and continued disorder for Christians bound in sexual brokenness and sin.

The work of forming faithful disciples in the area of sexuality is not easy work. It is certainly not work in which the church has been particularly effective. It is good work however, and leads to transformed lives. A number of Rockridge lay pastors and I participated in a church based training program led by persons who have come out of gay/lesbian relationships. The program, called Redeemed Lives Training Program is based and run by staff and lay persons from the church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. The program coherently weaves together theology, psychology, and church based pastoral care. We found this yearlong intensive training for pastors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists who work with persons struggling with sexual brokenness most helpful. RLTP also offers a successful, yearlong program for persons who want to come out of same sex relationships. The program roots people deeply in the life of a church and engages them in small discipleship groups, where healing is experienced. If you want to know more about either program, I can give you details.

Bruce I think that the divide between us is great. You and I use the same words, ‘reconciliation’ and ‘transformation’ for example, and we give opposite meaning to them. Are we able to engage in fruitful discussion and is discernment really possible? What is the cabinets thinking and plan on this divide? What will it look like to walk together? Will conference leadership, cabinet and the bishop affirm ministries to persons wanting to come out of the gay lifestyle? What forms will that support take?

These fundamental differences, in how we read the scripture, and how scripture then shapes our vision of faithful discipleship, puts a great strain our connectional life. I had hoped that the General Conference would speak clearly on this matter and would have called our conference leadership to turn around on this matter. I suspect that you have hoped and prayed for the opposite.

In the recent past, I lived with conscience in our conference because I thought I was hearing you, the bishop, and the cabinet say that while opposed to the mind of the church, that you would uphold it’s will. That seemed to me to have integrity. I could be in partnership and continue to serve under your leadership with less constriction in my soul. In the leadership’s statements around the dismissal, it is clear to me that your course has changed. I hear you say that you disagree with the mind of the church, and have no intention of obeying and upholding it’s will and order. I hear you now claiming authority to decide on this matter as your conscience or the annual conference’s majority culture dictates. As a practiced conscientious objector, I understand and respect the style of action that the bishop, the "67", and our conference leadership is choosing.

However, I hope to hear how you and the conference leadership intend to support the remaining pastors in our conference, who differ from you. How will you honor pastors, seminarians, laypersons and churches that still believe in and walk out the historic and current mind of the larger church? How will you support those in the ordination process who differ from you? I want to hear how, in the light of General Conference; you intend to respond to the same sex unions ahead. What stance will you encourage BOOM to take concerning the ordination of homosexuals? These are issues that I hope we can discuss.

So here we are, as I see it. Our differences on the most faithful ways to care for persons in our churches, who identify themselves as gay, are profound. We at Rockridge will be in conversation about the way forward, and I want to keep you posted on our conversation and process.

I'd like to have coffee with you soon after General Conference. I will give you a call and hope that we can set up a time. If you would like to share this letter, please feel free to do so. I am sending a copy to your cabinet colleagues and Bishop Talbert.

Respectfully,

 

David McKeithen

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