The Confessing Movement Response to the Council of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter
The Judicial Council recently ruled on two issues, making clear our church’s
position that practicing homosexual persons cannot be ordained in our
church, and our conviction that the practice of homosexuality is
incompatible with Christian teaching. The recent pastoral letter of the
Council of Bishops responded to these rulings.
Though the Bishops’ letter did not question the validity of the Judicial
Council ruling, they sent a confusing message about the pastor’s
responsibility in determining who is to be admitted into the membership of
the church. The tradition of Methodism has always made the determination of
the membership in the local congregation the responsibility of the pastor.
The Discipline of 1968 spelled that out clearly and has not significantly
changed in United Methodism since. Nor has any of the Disciplines of the
United Methodist Church since the 1968 merger have anything to say about
pastors being accountable to Bishops, superintendents, and other clergy in
matters of membership.
The truth is pastors have been too lenient, not too stringent, in the
requirements of membership. To deny someone membership in the church is not
to withhold the ministry of the church from them. If we truly believe that
all persons are of sacred worth, then ministering to them means seeking to
save them from destructive behavior and sinful practice.
Making disciples, which is the mission of our church, requires that we
extend the message of salvation universally. It also means our congregations
are people “going on to salvation,” spiritually and morally disciplined
seeking always not to be conformed to the world but transformed.
The pastoral letter sent a confusing message, thus we feel the Bishops are
contributing not to our unity but to disunity. When will we hear a clear
word from our Bishops speaking with one voice, upholding the doctrine and
discipline of our church?