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Dateline: October 19, 1999

by Rev. Kent L. Svendsen

Question: What did this United Methodist minister do to celebrate his birthday? Answer: Attend a dialogue concerning homosexuality and the ministry of the church. In all honesty, that choice seems rather odd doesn't it? Although it might not be that strange a choice since I will be beginning my Ph.D. studies this month in counseling and will give special emphasis to the study of reparative therapy (sexual orientation change). But it was my birthday and I needed to celebrate it with my wife. So as a compromise, I took my wife out to her favorite restaurant (which just happened to be on the way to the program) and we went to the program together. I guess you could call it a special birthday present from her to me.

The biggest surprise of the day did not involve the presentations or the small group discussions. All of that went about as good as could be expected under the circumstances. After all, the overwhelming majority of the planners and trainers were documented as supporters of either the Reconciling Congregations program or signers of “In All Things Charity” (That's the organization whose purpose is to change the language in the Book Of Discipline in order to affirm the homosexual lifestyle.) The presentations for the day did not offer a balanced set of views as implied by the advertisements. Mrs. Lewis, a sex educator and a proponent of retaining the present language within the Book Of Discipline, was the first of three presenters. The second and third presentations where from individuals supporting the Reconciling cause. This meant that not only was equal time not given, but that the Reconciling supporters would also have the last word. In that last presentation, there were included numerous assertions concerning scripture, ministry, and sexual orientation that were allowed to stand without challenge. So much for a balanced presentation which offered the views of both sides on this issue.

A Reconciling friend chose to sit next to me at the event. (She asked me if she could sit next to the enemy, then gave me a big sheepish grin.) I made a comment to her concerning the imbalance of the presenters. She told me that she had heard that the planning committee had a hard time getting presenters from the transforming perspective and that is the reason why is was not balanced. I informed her that when I read a statement in the United Methodist Reporter indicating that problem, I immediately phoned a planning committee member and volunteered to speak. I was told that the planning committee turned me down. It is reportedly said that I was “too high profile” to be given that opportunity. In reality, none of this really surprises me very much. After all, it had the appearance of equality and they could honestly say that they tried their best for balance even if it didn't turn out that way.

But what did surprise me was my wife and her reaction to the program. When we arrived at the site, my wife literally told me to go my own way. She wanted to sit by herself, so she could be completely detached and a neutral observer. I have interviewed her for this article and thought our readers might be interested in what she had to say about the day. Before I quote her, let me give you a little background on her credentials.

First, my wife is an accomplished musician and theater performer. She is experienced as an accompanist, vocal soloist, piano and voice instructor, choir leader, and actress (both amateur and semi-professional). She has years of experience in theater productions and has not only been a musical director, but has also designed and put together from scratch an entire musical production. She knows how programs and services can be put together in order to produce a desired affect.

This is what she had to say about the day's events:

Greetings to all those who converse with Kent,

I am “ the wife “. Kent has asked me to relate to you what I experienced this weekend at the dialogue concerning the homosexuality issue within the UMC.

To begin with, I must say that being married to Kent makes me aware of some of the things that were presented. I do not get on the Internet, send e-mails, or any of that. I read the Methodist Reporter, listen, watch, and pray . . . a lot.

At the beginning of the service, I sang “ This is the Day “, but as the next song came up, I couldn't proceed. All of my spiritual alarms went off. It was impossible for me to sing. Why would we be singing an unknown tune about a new church? I'm not interested in a new church, new ideas, or a new interpretation of the Bible and God's laws. My heart was heavy. It was all I could do to keep from bolting for the door, as the service proceeded . . . A Day of New Beginnings . . . Help Us to Accept Each Other . . . prayer about acceptance, caring, change . . . do they think most of us couldn't see the hidden agenda ? Didn't they think we were listening. The program, as a whole, made me think of the way cults work by getting the unsuspecting person to come and join them, talk about getting along, love, acceptance, and then before you know it, the individual is brainwashed into believing something that they would have rejected, if it had been presented straight on.

As the service continued into communion, I was perplexed as to what to do. I knew in my heart that I could not participate in communion, under these circumstances. It was the first time in my entire 49 years that I had this emotion. I was unprepared for it. I am not a rabble-rouser. I don't know what others will think of me for saying this, but I just couldn't in clear conscience support it. When the prayer of confession was said, I felt like the planners thought that we should be asking God to forgive us our sins for not accepting homosexual behavior, and that we have been behaving badly . . . homophobic . . . whatever that truly means. As our children would say, “ Are you trying to guilt us into believing things your way ?”

My last comment is on another song, “SIYAHAMBA, WE ARE MARCHING IN THE LIGHT OF GOD” that was used within the service. It was another song that was not familiar to most. I knew it simply because I was an accompanist for a high school choir, and they performed it, as many school choirs have. I have enjoyed this piece, but when I heard it used in relation to the topic of the day, I felt it being used as a rallying song for gay rights.

At the end of our discussion group time, we were asked what we thought of the day. I was able to relate what I had felt. There were many in our room who were grateful that I had the nerve to say what they were thinking. END OF QUOTE

Wow! Was I ever surprised at her response! As for me, I happily sang the music and participated in the service. I was even pleased that they had included a confession of sin. Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that when we have conference gatherings (that include communion) we simply use the liturgy and receive communion. There is usually never a confession of faith or a confession of sin. Maybe that's just my bad memory of things, I don't know? I do know that after listening to my wife's reflections on the day, I began to see this particular confession and the prayers of the day in a somewhat different light.

There is much more that happened which I would like to share, but the rest of the story will have to wait until another time. But one final thought on something that was stated by one of the presenters: “Jesus never said anything concerning the issue of homosexuality.” I wonder how it is that they know everything that Jesus ever said? While it is true that there is nothing recorded in which Jesus addresses the issue directly, isn't it also a fact that much of what Jesus said didn't get written down? I guess we will just have to wait until he returns and ask him. Considering the way the world is changing, I find my self looking for that event to be sooner then we think.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Northern Illinois Conference Coordinator
Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church