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Reinstated Pro-homosexuality Pastor Organizes For Schism With Re-imagined "Professing Church" Proposal

[Excepts from In All Thing Charity July, 2000 Newsletter]

IATC Director’s Report

Our delay in sending this issue of our newsletter has been intentional. We wanted to wait until some time had passed after the adjournment of General Conference 2000. The idea was to give all of us some time to reflect, analyze and begin to formulate responses that might be faithful and appropriate. This process will continue for some time. However, some things are becoming clear.

In the article in this newsletter titled, "The Professing Church," you’ll read one analysis of what the actions of General Conference mean. This issue also includes a slightly edited version of a letter I wrote on May 13, the Saturday following General Conference. These are not the only analyses out there, but they have a place in the mix.

In the midst of our discernment, we had a decision to make about the next step in the evolution of In All Things Charity (IATC).

IATC was created as a movement by two people after the 1996 General Conference. At that time, it was sponsored by 15 United Methodists from across the country who distributed a "Statement of Conscience" for clergy. That statement gained over 1,200 signatures. It was soon joined by a parallel statement by and for laity. In a short amount of time, IATC’s mailing list and support grew.

In 1997 IATC came under the umbrella of Broadway Church where I was serving as pastor. The decision by Broadway to adopt IATC as a "national ministry" of the congregation enabled the resources of the church to be available to the movement. It also meant that contributors could make tax-exempt contributions to the movement and that financial accountability could be assured.

Following my Church trial and suspension in 1999, Broadway hired me to serve as Executive Director of IATC. The job description had three basic goals:

  • Make myself available for national speaking and organizing;
  • Initiate and respond to possibilities for cooperative or coalition work for the 2000 General Conference;
  • Serve as "staff" for a 17-member IATC Committee elected by the congregation from within and beyond its membership. That committee functioned as both the "Board of Directors" for In All Things Charity and the agency that designed and implemented its work.

From its beginning and in every one of its expressions, IATC directed its efforts toward the 2000 General Conference. The signal work of the movement with AMAR (see the article, "Whither AMAR?" in this newsletter) completed that direction.

The future? On June 30, 2000, my suspension and term as director of IATC came to an end. As you receive this I am serving again as pastor of Broadway Church. The congregation voted to maintain IATC for the next six months, during which time it expects to support further discernment and exploration for the future. The committee will continue to manage the database, and protect the assets of the organization. Sometime before July 2001, that committee will make a recommendation to the Broadway Church Council for the ongoing future of IATC.

That future could include any number of possibilities. IATC’s name, funds, database and other resources could be channeled to an existing group or organization addressing the issues that have defined our work. They could also serve as "seed" resources for a new movement.

The IATC Committee and Broadway Church welcome your input. YOU, after all, are In All Things Charity.

It is true that in 30 years of ministry I have never served with a harder working, more creative, more committed or more talented group of people than the IATC Committee and the volunteers who worked with them. Never have I seen such incredible work accomplished—both in volume and quality! Never have I seen Christian discipleship more faithfully expressed, in relationships more faithfully treasured. I could not even begin to list names because someone truly extraordinary would be missed, I know. These folks were amazing.

But so were you. I want to thank you for your support, your witness, and your faithfulness to the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not sure what shape this movement will take but I have no doubt that it will be richer for what you have helped to make it be. We all go on in the journey. Please stay in touch. I promise to try to do the same.

Grace and peace,

Gregory Dell, Executive Director

In All Things Charity

The Professing Church? One Option

Supporters of a more fully inclusive church have been trying to sort out the significance of our recent General Conference. It seems as though most of the analyses fall into two categories. There are those who believe that this assembly was not significantly different—except perhaps in consistency and degree—from all or most of the General Conferences since 1972. Others believe this was a significantly different meeting, that a "watershed" occurred and a character shift took place revealing a change in the identity and direction of the denomination. The IATC Committee tends to support this latter analysis.

For IATC and others who find themselves with a similar reading of our denomination, it seems there could be four types of responses:

  1. Leave the Church— – No one has the right to remain in an abusive relationship. Some among us have concluded that "despite its protestations of love" the United Methodist Church is now—if it hasn’t been for some time—an abusive family. It is a very personal decision to reach such a conclusion—even when done with consultation. Challenging such a response runs the risk of telling people that they cannot evaluate their own injury.
  2. Business Pretty Much as Usual—Continue doing what we have done; continue doing it well and even better. Sooner or later the bigotry and ignorance will crumble.
  3. Re-Claim or Re-Create the Church—Stay within the denomination, but radically shift the way we are organized. Interact with the denomination in some new way.
  4. Initiate a "Professing Church" model—The following "thought piece" attempts to address this alternative. What is written below is only one possibility of perhaps a number that should be pursued (including all of the above). Whether a response like this comes to light will probably depend on the degree to which other alternatives are pursued.

At this juncture it may be important to remind ourselves again that there isn’t necessarily one "best" alternative. We can differ and still understand ourselves to be about the same search for and expression of faithful ministry. Please respond with your thoughts.

The Professing Church

Revised from ideas in a note sent on May 18, 2000

At the May 2000 General Conference, the United Methodist Church determined its position and identity not for just the next four years but for at least the coming decade. It was not only the decisive and consistent vote totals on issues relating to sexual orientation that support this conclusion. It was at least three other factors:

  1. The vote margins reversed the trend of gradual improvement seen since 1992. With the exception of more concerted work around elections of delegates at Annual Conference sessions, the religious right organized no better than supporters of full inclusion did. However, they organized a church constituency more inclined to express their "moderate" leanings in conservative directions than in progressive directions. That was clear in the character of the elected delegates and in the character of the decisions those delegates made. The church had every opportunity to explore alternative perspectives, analysis and scholarship. Delegates heard and saw the lives of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) folks and their supporters who are part of the church. They even were presented opportunities to reaffirm the majority position while providing room for the minority to continue in the church. They decisively rejected it all. It wasn’t that some persons weren’t moved by what they experienced. They were. But tears and anguish are empty emotional indulgences without response. The only response was a resounding declaration of a new identity for the United Methodist Church. The large vote margins were not only about sexual orientation— they were about establishing a new character for the denomination. The result is a denomination of mean-spirited rigidity. Grace has all but disappeared in favor of law.
  2. The new formula determining the distribution of delegates for the next General Conference assures that the vote margin will be greater in 2004 than it was this year.

  3. The newly elected Judicial Council is far more conservative than the one currently sitting. The greatest insult to the Rev. Dr. Larry Pickens of Chicago—who was the first clergyperson elected to the Council—is that Good News, the Confessing Movement and the Southeast Jurisdiction didn’t even bother to oppose him. Some of that was because his candidacy was so strong. The way he had campaigned and the support he had as he arrived at General Conference were formidable. But the religious right never bothered opposing him—not even playing the easy trump card of "exposing" his role as counsel to the Rev. Gregory Dell in Rev. Dell’s church trial. The insult was that the conservative movements believed they had the Council "locked up" and that they thought Dr. Pickens’ presence wouldn’t make much difference. They certainly underestimate him. But they do know how to count the numbers and assess the balance on the Council.

The irony is that the movement for full inclusion of persons without discrimination based on sexual orientation is far more faithful to Wesley’s style of ministry—the quadrilateral—and the United Methodist denomination’s historic way of dealing with difference than the majority is exhibiting. The movement is more Methodist than the newly defined United Methodist denomination!

So what is to be done? Two alternatives have already been suggested.

One proposal is that supporters of full inclusion just leave the denomination. As many have eloquently written, one doesn’t remain in an abusive relationship and this has become abusive. Perhaps movement folks join the United Church of Christ or just find individually satisfactory congregations. Some have had it with the church and are leaving institutional Christianity altogether.

The other proposal rests on the indignant insistence not to give "the other side" the satisfaction of throwing out the "undesirables" and dissenters. "Hell no, we won’t go!" is the rallying cry. "We will stay and keep on doing what we have been doing or maybe just do more of it." Such a stance takes the form of everything from converting the church individual by individual to invading the unfriendly geographic regions with teams of folks to share perspectives with people who have previously done the rejecting.

There is a third possibility: to create a "Professing Church" within our denomination. In candor, some would prefer simply to begin a new Methodist denomination. But, even if desirable, there are currently neither the resources nor the readiness to do so. A Professing Church would not presume that it would end up within the denomination or as a separate denomination. It simply

puts into process a vision that gets shaped by the people who are part of it and the events that occur within and around it. Part of its gift is that it does not presuppose its eventual relationship with the United Methodist Church.

A Professing Church would be a movement similar to the Confessing Church in Germany preceding and during World War II. The Confessing Church remained "Lutheran" but rejected the

apostasy of the Nazi-collaborating official Lutheran Church. A Professing Church would do the same in its relationship to the United Methodist Church.

It would be a movement of progressive UM’s who—while remaining in the denomination—would focus their efforts on aggressively recruiting from within the church and beyond people who are ready for a truly inclusive Methodist movement. Depending on its development the Professing Church could, like other groups have done, develop its own alternative structures and its own curricula for all levels and areas of Christian Education.

It would not be a "one issue" church. It would have as its foundation four assumptions:

  1. It would be from the start in composition and direction committed to racial, gender and sexual orientation inclusiveness. It would be committed to battling the demons of heterosexism, sexism and racism as well as the other "isms" that tear down people because of their identity.
  2. It would be Methodist in its identity.
  3. It would embrace a biblical understanding and theology that reclaimed and affirmed the balance in the Wesleyan quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience) and the importance of new expressions of theological imaging.
  4. It would have a national board with no less than half persons of color and no less than half GLBT folks. It probably would need a full-time national director and at least some additional staff assistance.

Such a movement could have at least a "collegial" relationship with the Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP), the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and Affirmation. That could allow for those groups to continue their own identities as United Methodist movements. In All Things Charity, United Methodist Persons of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, and other groups and movements could be part of the Professing Church or choose a relationship to it. In fact one or more of these groups and movements could be part of the call for the Professing Church. Such a call could be in the form of a national convocation to shape the design and detail of the Professing Church.

The Professing Church movement may not focus much energy on trying directly to affect the United Methodist Church. It might not even do much work for the next General Conference. Its primary purpose would be to build a movement of sanctuary, preparation and witness for either a new denomination split from the UMC or an ongoing witness within it. That choice would be determined by the experience of the movement.

Is there readiness and energy for such a movement? If you have interest, questions or thoughts, please respond to: In All Things Charity. Email: IATC98@aol.com. Snail mail: IATC, 3344 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657

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