Group of United Methodism clergy call for statement of conscience
Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.
CONTACT: Ralph E. Baker (Release #8) (615) 742-5470 Jan. 6, 1996
by United Methodist News Service
A group of 15 United Methodist clergy from across the nation are circulating a "Statement of Conscience" concerning the denomination's position on homosexuality.
The group sent the document, "In All Things Charity," dated Jan. 1, 1997, to several hundred people asking clergy who are so inclined to sign it and pass it along to other potential signers. Lay people who receive the document are asked to give it to a clergyperson to read and act on. The intent is to gather an initial group of signers by Easter.
The statement "is offered as an expression of conscience and commitment," it says. Although the signers declare that they will continue to present to their congregations "the positions of the denomination as adopted by the General Conference," there are times when the clergy's covenant to uphold the Discipline and the ordination to be a representative of the whole Gospel are in tension.
"In the face of the decisions of the General Conference of 1996 regarding homosexuality, we are moved to a statement of conscience and commitment," said the statement.
Among six principles stated, signers pledge affirmation of "liturgical support for covenantal commitments between same- gendered couples" and to "pray and work for ordination of gay men and lesbians who are otherwise called to and qualified for ordained ministry." The denomination currently prohibits its pastors from holding services of union for same sex couples and prohibits the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."
"We believe that public dissent from a teaching of the church must be done only prayerfully and with humility," the statement concludes, "However, we also believe that when we are confronted with an injustice, we must not remain silent."
Original signers of "In All Things Charity" are:
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As United Methodist Clergy, we are bound in covenant to uphold the Discipline of our denomination. By ordination, we are also "committed to becoming conscious representatives of the whole Gospel and are responsible for transmission of that Gospel to the end that all the world may be saved." (¶330, #1, '96 Discipline) There are times in history when those two expectations are in tension with one another.
In the face of the decisions of the General Conference of 1996 regarding homosexuality, we are moved to a statement of conscience and commitment. The classical ecumenical watchword, "in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity" challenges us and the Church to be both clear and gracious about our differences.
While faithfully presenting to our congregations and constituencies the positions of the denomination as adopted by the General Conference, we will also witness to the following:
1. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience convince us that "the practice of homosexuality" is not in itself "incompatible with Christian teaching."
2. The distinction between "being" and "practice" in our Social Principals gives rise to confusion. The statement in paragraph 65 that homosexual persons are of "sacred worth" but that the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" is not acceptable. One does not "practice" one's sexual orientation, one lives it.
3. We affirm appropriate liturgical support for covenantal commitments between same-gendered couples. The Church has called itself to be a ministry to all persons regardless of their sexual orientation. To withhold rituals of support and accountability for committed relationships is unconscionable. The standards for preparation and celebration of such services with same-gendered couples should be the same as for weddings of heterosexual couples. Standards of sexual morality and wholeness in relationship are not differentiated by gender or sexual orientation. Fidelity, mutuality, and the rejection of "all sexual expressions which damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as a birthright" (¶65g) are to be expected equally of all persons regardless of sexual orientation.
4. We will continue to initiate and respond to opportunities to enter into dialogue with those whose point of view on these matters is different from ours. We recognize the sincerity of those who hold other views as a matter of faith. While we do not agree with them, we insist on respect for other viewpoints. such respect does not extend to tolerance for actions which demean or harm through exclusion of injury. We commit ourselves to resist such actions.
5. We will pray and work for the ordination of gay men and lesbians who are otherwise called to and qualified for ordained ministry.
6. In all other matters regarding homosexuality, we are committed to charity, grace and accountability of the same character as applies to heterosexuality.
This statement is offered as an expression of conscience and commitment. We believe that public dissent from a teaching of the Church must be done only prayerfully and with humility. However, we also believe that when we are confronted with an injustice, we must not remain silent.
By God's grace we pray we may be able to forgive and be forgiven and move forward toward God's vision of a reconciled human family.
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