Subject: "Hearts on Fire" conference
Bishop Davis writes-
"Since so many of you continue to receive comments from clergy and laity in
your districts concerning the "Hearts on Fire" Conference at Lake Junaluska,
I want to share some information which I hope you will find helpful.
1. This event does not violate The Discipline of the United Methodist
Church. The Discipline does not prohibit such a group from meeting on United
Methodist property. The Discipline simply insures that no United Methodist
funds shall be used by any gay caucus or group or otherwise used to promote
the acceptance of homosexuality. The "Hearts on Fire" conference is not the
recipient of any Church funds. The General Council on Finance and
Administration has sent a memo prohibiting the reimbursement of expenses of
Church officials, including Bishops, who participate in this event.
2. The scheduling of this event was discussed by Rev. Jimmy Carr with the
Executive Committee of SEJAC over a year ago when the initial contract for
the rental of the space was completed. It was the judgment of the Executive
Committee that we ought to be gracious in our treatment of this group as we
have been with other caucus groups in the past. The Discipline in paragraph
161 says that "we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all
persons". We interpreted this section of the Discipline to mean that we
should exercise the fruits of the spirit especially love, goodness and
gentleness with these persons. It is very easy to be hospitable to groups
with whom we happen to agree. It is quite another challenge to be gracious
to groups that foster a point of view that is so different from our own.
We made the decision to be gracious; we were reluctant to refuse the group
knowing that such a decision would be seen as a sign of inhospitality,
homophobia, and the fear of conversation and dissent by Southern United
Methodists. This debate should not be framed around issues of hospitality.
Our differences are clearly theological and that should be the basis of our
conversation on these matters.
3. One of the broader questions has to do with how we deal with controversy
and dissent within the life of the Church. The issue of homosexuality has
been very divisive in our denomination and other mainline Protestant
communities for several decades. I have no doubt that this controversy will
continue, but the broader question is, how will we deal with it? I also
believe that the Church needs to provide a place for debate and expressions
of perspective on these controversial issues. Our Church has always been a
place where people could freely speak their mind and seek the discerning
wisdom of God. I'm not fearful of such a discussion, nor am I fearful of
providing space for such discussions to take place.
4. Let me simply caution all of us against over-reaction. There are a
variety of groups within the life of our Church that love to take advantage
of these kinds of situations. There are persons in our Church that have
become single-issue individuals. I expect all of us to engage in these
conversations in a spirit of mutual respect and love for one another. We do
not have to agree on the broader issue of homosexuality, nor do we have to
agree on the decision to allow the "Hearts on Fire" conference to take place
at Lake Junaluska. However, we do have a high calling from God to be
involved in making disciples for the transformation of the world. To devote
enormous amounts of time to conversation about this event distracts us from
our primary purpose. I appeal to you to help our people keep all of these
issues in proper perspective.
5. There are some individuals in churches who are talking about withholding
apportionment money from Lake Junaluska because of this event. I believe to
make such a decision is a tremendous over-reaction and does nothing to build
the Kingdom of God. I hope you would encourage your people not to be so
unwise as to "throw the baby out with the bath water". There are individuals
within the life of our Church that would use controversies like this one to
more widely divide our Church - I do not believe such actions are consistent
with God's vision for our future. Exercise mature leadership and seek to be
a non-anxious presence in the midst of controversy.