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After Cleveland: Letter To Evangelical Leaders In The United Methodist Church


To: [United Methodist Evangelical Leaders]
Sent: Friday, May 12, 2000 10:23 AM
Subject: After Cleveland

Dear Friends,

First, let me commend you all for your efforts during the General Conference. While I was not in Cleveland, I was able to follow events very closely via the internet. It appears the evangelical voice was heard loud and clear and we were represented capably by persons of genuine Christian character and grace. It was a stark contrast to the behavior of Soulforce, AMAR and other pro-homosexual groups.

Now that the final gavel has fallen (or will have fallen by the time you read this), I hope we can move forward with a positive and proactive vision for the church in the new millennium. I quote at length from two articles issued prior to General Conference. The first is from an article by Scott Field which appeared in the November/December 1999 issue of Good News. It was the transcript of his address at the 1999 Confessing Movement conference. In that address, he said:

"Unbind the church from dead-end dialogues. Methodists may be united, but we are united like three cats with their tails tied together. There is a lot of fussing and scratching going on. But we are confusing motion for action. Dialogue used to mean the open engagement of exchanging perspectives. Now it means, "Let's keep talking until I convince you I am right." Dialogue goes by other names such as, "There's room at the table for everyone," and "There are many rooms in the Jesus house," and "Let's follow a consensus model of decision-making." All of them have basically the same meaning: 'If you don't agree, shut up and sit down.' "We are going to be told at this next General Conference that we don't have a common mind when it comes to issues of sexuality. We're going to be told that since we can't come to that common mind, we should just remove all this negative language and we should just sort of wander off on our own pilgrimages as spirit-persons. But that is a long way from the truth.

"The General Conference has voted consistently on matters related to homosexual practice. In fact, our position was strengthened in 1996. It has been upheld by the Judicial Council. It has been upheld by a church trial. It is consistent with the broad ecumenical consensus of what the Apostolic Christian Church has always believed and always practiced. We are not of a mixed mind about this.

"Essentially we have two irreconcilable theological positions in our denomination and they lead to irreconcilable practices of ministry. Continuing tightly connected leads certainly to a violation of our integrity. We have spent more than 25 years debating homosexual practice. How many people have died during that 25 years within the shadow of a United Methodist church while we have been fussing about our sexual ethics? It seems to me that when you can get a verdict as strong as it as in the Rev. Greg Dell trial in a conference like Northern Illinois, it may be an indicator that the church is ready to move on to more central business.

"We've sometimes thought of dialogue as the fourth person in the Trinity and we are loath to show any disrespect. But tolerance is not always a virtue. Its time to simply move on and let those who cannot affirm the covenant of the United Methodist Church be allowed to get out.

"I'm not talking about being mean spirited, but I am concerned about what the General Conference might do on this point. I have a lay person in our local church, who said, "Scott, the problem with United Methodists is we have left the door open so long for so many things that when it comes time that we must close the door, we won't know how to find the handle." He's right.

"I think it is reasonable to say we are going to vote in Cleveland to reaffirm the existing standards regarding homosexual practice and the prohibition on same-sex covenants. Then someone who disagrees with those standards is going to stand up and say, "Are you going to start the cleansing of the church now and throw the rest of us out? Can't we disobey and still be part of the covenant?" And like the dysfunctional family we are, we're probably going to say, 'Oh my gosh! What are we going to do?'

"We are going to take a reckless, disobedient adolescent and run the whole family around allowing that person to continue disobeying. We'll pretend, we'll put-up with it, we'll pay for it, we'll put in the energy and the time. If we were just the Elk's club, it would be alright. But this is the Church of Jesus Christ and we have business to do on behalf of our Savior

"So why don't we unbind ourselves from dead-end dialogue. Let folks who can't live in the covenant leave and let the rest of us get on to our calling!"

The second quote is from a letter sent out by John Ed Mathison to Confessing Movement supporters:

"So we admit it is not with expectation and joy we approach the Church's General Conference. But we will be involved out of faithfulness. The Lord has called us for such an hour as this. We wish to be sensitive. We wish to be understanding. We wish to act with civility and respect to all people. BUT WE INTEND NO COMPROMISE. We will not agree that when the General Conference has spoken and the Discipline is printed that the Church "has no stand." We are willing to converse about how to be in ministry to homosexuals. We are willing to converse about how best to deal with homophobia that does not treat homosexual persons with respect. But we will not agree to endless "dialogues" and "studies" and "conversations" when they are only attempts on the part of others to convince us that the clear teaching of the Church has always been wrong about these issues."

I quote these two articles because, in them, two of our evangelical leaders make it clear that our resolve going into General Conference was that there was to be no more "dialogue" on the issue of homosexuality. Now that the conference is over and our position on the issue upheld, are we going to be people of our word and refuse to participate in the "dialogues" which the General Conference said should continue? Or, will we just be "good Methodists" and play along for another four years?

If we are serious about "unbinding" the UMC from "dead end dialogues," we will respond to any invitation to such exercises with a gracious but firm "NO!"

As evangelicals, we have better things to do than talk in circles with persons who have departed from the Faith. I hope I can have your assurance that we will stand by our pre-Cleveland statements.

Yours in Christ,

James Gibson
Marshallville United Methodist Church
http://sites.netscape.net/saginazmon/homepage

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