Unofficial Report: Diversity Dialogues
By John Gardner, Tue, 24 Feb 1998
The dialogues were among the more interesting experiences of my life. I have been a member of the United Methodist church for approximately three decades and have the following observations.
First, the members of the dialogue from the Confessing Movement wing of the church were very impressive individuals-lay and clergy alike. Maxie Dunnam and William Abraham (our two members on the Design team) are calling the church back toward orthodox Christianity and deserve everyone's thanks.
They will be part of the process of finishing and perfecting the document which will be issued and signed by at least 22 of the dialogue participants. The document will explicitly state the differences between the wings of the church and the action steps (see Les Longden's news release) will provide some basic(but very limited) steps toward reconciliation.
Second, I would commend the actions of Bishops Looney and Edwards who provided leadership at the meeting. These men are faithful members of the church and are both very orthodox.
Third, I do not think it will be possible to paper over the differences within the church any longer with feel good Christianity which ignores(or at best minimizes) key differences over Scripture, authority and key doctrinal positions such as Christology, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection.
Fourth, the more classically Christian wing of the church (a characterization I prefer rather than conservative) should look for alliances with various renewal groups throughout the church and with the middle of the church which is still theologically sound (or at least sometimes sound) as we try to bring the the United Methodist church back to its roots. It will be necessary to realize that this process will take a long time and that we must not compromise over the fundamental doctrines of the church or over the defining characteristics of Christianity itself.
The Confessing movement is not (and should not be in my opinion) a movement which takes social or political positions. We must maintain unity within our own membership which draws from traditionalists within the church, those of a more fundamentalist bent, and those who would supplement Sola Scriptura with Tradition (such as myself).
I have decided that we should just say no to the skeptics and those within the church who want us to vary from two thousand years of Christian doctrine, liturgical practice, and beliefs. We must be able to distinguish between the essence of the faith and between those areas which(within a broad orthodox consensus) may be open for discussion(e.g. different theories about the atonement of Jesus Christ).
I came to appreciate (from the dialogues) that there are individuals with whom I disagree who are very sincere. Unfortunately, these individuals (at least from the perspective of historic, classical consensual Christianity, e.g., the position of Tom Oden), are mistaken at best.
Everyone should thank the members of the Confessing movement who participated in the dialogues. These individuals include Rev. Joy Moore(a United Methodist elder and a member of the Confessing movement board and a firm orthodox Christian who has great insight into the problems of the denomination), Attorney Mary Daffin(from Houston, Texas and also on the Confessing movement board who is a great speaker), Rev. Greg Stover(an impressive, irenic individual who played a key role at the dialogues), and Rev. Les Longden(who worked very hard and is a brillant theologian). Other individuals who were impressive include Rev. McCallister Hollins from Atlanta (who has a high Christological view) and Rev. Eradio Valverde from Texas (who wrote an insightful memo regarding the role of sin and the current problems in our denomination).
Finally, I would encourage the members of this list and throughout the church to stay allied with each other. Do not shoot Confessing movement members over minor matters and understand that members of the Confessing movement have more in common with each other than with persons with minimal interest in the historic doctrines of the church. I appreciated the opportunity to participate and look forward to seeing some of you in person in Tulsa.
In Christ, John Gardner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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