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The Church Wins - Methodism Lost: A Day of Listening in the North Texas Annual Conference

On September 12, 1998, the North Texas Conference gathered in Denton, Texas for "A Day Of Listening." This day was not a called session of Annual Conference and not an Annual Conference Session. Bishop Oden requested the day and worked with a group of people to propose the "Day of Listening" at the June session of Annual Conference. A motion was approved at Annual Conference in June to have a "Day of Listening" after the Judicial Council meeting in August.

There are those who are of the opinion that Bishop Oden felt that the Judicial Council would rule the Social Principles as advisory only. This "Day of Listening" was his plan to be able as a conference to deal with the results of the Judicial Council ruling. Some of are of the opinion that, after the Judicial Council ruled that "homosexual unions" are prohibited, Bishop Oden had some reluctance for the "Day of Listening."

I originally had no desire to attend another day of "listening." In my 20+ years in Methodism, I have learned that these days are generally days in which nothing good is accomplished, and we slide further into error. However, those involved in the planning of the day for whom I have great respect said it would be different this time. And it was. I am glad I attended.

The morning session consisted in a time of worship, opening remarks by Bishop Oden, a presentation by Dr. Leighton Farrell concerning our present stance as a denomination, and presentations from four persons, Rev. John Thornburg, the Chair of our Order of Elders and pastor of Northaven UMC, a reconciling congregation, and Laura Echols-Richtor who represented the Creech constituency; and Dr. Richard Dunagin and Rev. Fred Durham who represented the long held historic position of the church.

Dr. Farrell presented the various phrases that have been added to the Discipline since 1972. He then elucidated the happenings of the Creech incident. I was very disappointed in Farrell's presentation. He never spoke about the reality of the situation in Methodism. He did not state that "homosexual unions" have been held for a number of years. He did not state that known practicing homosexuals have been ordained and are presently serving under appointment in Methodism. He did not point out the current dilemma in Methodism concerning the confusion over the meaning of the phrase "self- avowed." His presentation seemed to go along the bureaucratic party line of saying our Discipline does not condone homosexuality.

Both Thornburg and Echols-Richtor shared how personal encounters with homosexuals had led them to come to accept the homosexual lifestyle as valid within the Christian view of "love." Thornburg did state that he understood that the biblical passages concerning homosexuality condemn it but that these are culturally bound and are not now today relevant or authoritative. Echols- Richtor threw confusion upon the biblical texts by stating that they are not talking about loving and committed relationships between two people of the same gender.

Durham and Dunagin gave an inspired apologetic of the Christian faith espousing the inspiration and the authority of Scripture, the saving and transforming power found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that Christian love as revealed in Scripture is not tolerance but rather a love that compels us to warn others and ourselves of our sin. Both stated that if the Methodism moves to accept the homosexual lifestyle as a valid Christian lifestyle, they will leave Methodism and remain faithful members of the holy catholic and apostolic church. Dunagin proposed that the phrase "self-avowed" should be deleted from the Discipline. Durham stated that within Methodism two houses are being built on two different foundations represented by one opinion which holds to scriptural authority and another which does not hold to scriptural authority.

In the afternoon, we broke up into small groups. There were about 12 in my group. Only one other person in our group held fast to the truth, the biblical and historic confession of the church. I was not surprised.

For me the day was not meaningless. It was a day that truth was fully proclaimed. Any day the truth is proclaimed as ably as Revs. Durham and Dunagin proclaimed it, is not meaningless. The day also made clear that many of us are not satisfied with the current situation knowing that we must continue to contend for the faith. This was made clear. The Judicial Council decision is not a sign of final victory but an encouragement to continue to contend for the faith.

One of my personal problems over the past few months is how to put a handle on and talk about Methodism in its apostasy in contrast to the church, the bride of Christ. I am not much of a theologian and I do not want to get into the old visible/invisible church debate. I've asked for help in understanding these inspired and true words, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us." (I John 2:19 NASB)

It seems to me that John clearly states that there are those who at one time appeared to be a part of us, the church, but really were not. And this has been made known. In Methodism, there are those who appear to be a part of the church but in reality are not. This weekend, I've decided not to talk about the United Methodist "Church" any more. Instead of saying the "United Methodist Church," I am now trying to use the word "Methodism." Methodism is not at all representative of the Church.

With this in mind, Methodism lost at the Day of Listening. Bishop Oden told us that the purpose of "conferencing" was to come together and talk. The purpose of the "church" conferencing is to discern, not discover, the truth. In my small group, the concluding remarks of one of the conveners was that we were on the right track because we had come together and "listened" to one another. Again, this is a sign that Methodism lost. Truth is to be our goal, not listening, for truth is Jesus.

The Church won because truth was clearly and apologetically proclaimed.

Should Your Annual Conference have a "Day of Listening"? I would encourage you to have one and attend if a significant, uninterrupted time is given for the historic, apostolic, catholic, biblical faith to be presented.

Joe Florence
Pastor Casa Linda UMC

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