28 Complainants Respond To Dismissal Of Sprague Heresy Charges—UM News Refuses Publication
From: Brad Knepp
Attached, you will find the official response of the 28 Sprague complainants. The UM Reporter is to have an article, but the UMNS has declined to do a piece on it thus far. Newscope mentioned it.
A RESPONSE TO THE DECISION TO DISMISS COMPLAINTS
By the Signers of the Complaint
March 6, 2003
As signers of the complaint filed December 30, 2002, against Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, we are responding to the February 17, 2003, decision by the Supervisory Response Team to dismiss our complaint.
Response to Bishop Sprague’s Statement
We welcome Bishop Sprague’s assertion that he affirms the primacy of Scripture and the historic doctrines of our church. We share his desire to make the Christian Gospel accessible to "spiritually-searching and critically-thinking people." We affirm his stated goal "that individual believers and the whole church will repent, believe the Gospel, and lead transformed personal and institutional lives worthy of Jesus the Christ." We want to make it clear that we have never in our complaint questioned Bishop Sprague’s standing as a Christian; we believe that is a matter between him and God, and not for our judgment. We have never questioned that Bishop Sprague sincerely believes everything he has said and written.
In light of Bishop Sprague’s statement, however, we must continue to question whether his doctrinal teachings are consistent with the doctrinal standards that Bishop Sprague affirms. He describes the historic doctrinal statements several times as "benchmarks," which implies that they form a standard by which our doctrinal formulations are to be measured. This agrees with the statement Bishop Sprague quotes from Paragraph 104 of The Book of Discipline, that "our doctrinal perspective" is to be subject to "testing, renewal, elaboration, and application." (Page 75) However, it appears to us that Bishop Sprague in his lecture and book is not attempting to test and renew his doctrinal perspective according to the doctrinal standards. Rather, he seems to be testing and renewing the doctrinal standards according to his own doctrinal perspective. His benchmark, then, is not the doctrinal standards, but Bishop Sprague’s own doctrinal perspective.
We are not "unaware of the issues raised" by his statements. Rather, our awareness of these significant issues leads us to a deep concern that, in his zeal to make the Gospel accessible to some, Bishop Sprague may be abandoning the Gospel itself. We look forward to engaging Bishop Sprague further on these issues in the context of the dialogue on theological and doctrinal issues recommended by the Supervisory Response Team.
Response to the Supervisory Response Team Decision
We welcome the Supervisory Response Team’s recommendation for a "third party facilitated dialogue on the theological and doctrinal issues presented in this case" and that "this dialogue be open to the public." We also welcome the Team’s proposal that the Council of Bishops provide leadership to the Church in serious theological reflection. We hope that these measures will help our people to understand and embrace the significance of doctrine and theology in the life of the Church. We also hope that such dialogue and reflection will enable us to "talk to each other across theological lines" and move toward a common understanding of the faith we proclaim that is in line with our historic doctrines and beliefs. The original purpose of the early annual conferences was to build doctrinal unity and identity in the Methodist movement, and today we suffer sorely the consequences of abandoning such "conferencing."
We regret, however, that the tone of the decision was quite hostile to those of us bringing the complaint. We do not believe our complaint got an objective hearing. Instead of being an objective arbiter of dispute or agent for reconciliation, the Supervisory Response Team chose to band together in defense of the person and institution of the episcopacy. It appears to us that, as far as the Supervisory Response Team was concerned, the complaint itself was on trial, not the theological formulations of Bishop Sprague.
The Supervisory Response Team missed the opportunity to exercise its Discipline-mandated role, taking instead the role of the committee on investigation, but without the processes in place to ensure a substantive and impartial investigation. The Supervisory Response Team fails to offer any specific grounds for dismissing the complaint, substituting instead an assessment of "the denomination’s current ethos." They affirm several times "the seriousness of the complaints," but they fail to take our complaint seriously by grappling with the issues it raises. Instead, they accept at face value Bishop Sprague’s affirmation of our doctrinal standards and his own assertion that his theology fits within them. That is precisely the issue before us, yet the Supervisory Response Team has declined to pursue any thoughtful or substantive investigation of these matters.
We object to the implied misrepresentation of our position and the veiled defamation of our motives contained in the written decision. These include the following:
Response to the Issues of Confidentiality
The third recommendation made by the Supervisory Response Team was that "the group of complainants offer a public apology for disregarding the spirit of confidentiality intended in the supervisory response process." Furthermore, the decision states, "it is regrettable and unconscionable that Bishop Sprague first learned of the December 30th complaint through the press." (Page 1)
For the record, we sent Bishop Sprague a copy of the entire complaint at the same time that we sent it to Bishop Ough for the College of Bishops, on December 30, 2002. We received a return receipt indicating that Bishop Ough had received the complaint on January 2, 2003. We released our statement to United Methodist News Service and The United Methodist Reporter on January 7, 2003. We reasonably believed that by that time, Bishop Sprague’s office would have received the copy of the complaint. We made an intentional, good faith effort to notify Bishop Sprague of the complaint as a courtesy to him, so that he would not hear about it from the press. We are frustrated that that did not occur.
Our decision to publicly announce our complaint was prompted by three considerations:
Based on our understanding of the Discipline-mandated complaint process and the need for the Church to be aware of the actions that were being taken to address widespread and deeply held concerns, we respectfully decline to apologize for publicly disclosing our complaint.
As we face openly the issues that divide us in The United Methodist Church, we hope that by God’s grace, we will be able to move toward a common understanding of the message we proclaim and the mission and ministry Christ has entrusted to us. We regret that circumstances have forced us to use an adversarial process to get these issues on the table. Now that they are here, we join the Supervisory Response Team in urging us all to "enter into a season of listening deeply to the Holy Spirit and one another" and to "reclaim our mission of ‘spreading scriptural holiness over the lands.’"
Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht
For the Signers of the Complaint
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