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Opposing Groups Share Similar Experiences, Bishops Learn

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    Opposing Groups Share Similar Experiences, Bishops Learn Nov. 1, 2005 A UMNS Report By Victoria Rebeck* They advocate vigorously for very different views on
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2005
      Opposing Groups Share Similar Experiences, Bishops Learn
      Nov. 1, 2005
      A UMNS Report
      By Victoria Rebeck*

      They advocate vigorously for very different views on scriptural
      interpretation and, more specifically, the church's stance toward
      homosexuality. Yet members of the Confessing Movement and the
      Reconciling Ministries network share similar experiences that lead
      them to their perspectives, say three United Methodist bishops who
      attended gatherings of both groups this fall.

      In early September, Bishops Sally Dyck, Scott Jones and John Schol
      attended the convocation of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a
      group that advocates for full participation of gays, lesbians,
      bisexuals and transgender people in the United Methodist Church. Three
      weeks later, they attended the conference of the Confessing Movement,
      a group that promotes faithfulness to church doctrine. It also opposes
      the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and
      clergy-blessed unions of homosexuals.

      "I found most compelling the stories I heard at both meetings about
      their deep disappointment at how the church let them down," said Dyck
      of the Minnesota Area. "Many expressed the deep hurt they feel at how
      the church did not rise to what it says it is or is supposed to be.

      "Some said they believe the church did not equip them for their
      spiritual journeys. A person spoke of how her father, at the end of
      his lifetime of active church membership, did not feel assured of his
      salvation. Others spoke of the rejection they felt from the church
      they love and that nurtured their faith," she said.

      "I learned that the very different opinions these two groups have on
      particular issues reflect some very similar concerns," said Schol of
      the Baltimore-Washington Area. "One of those is the Scriptures. The
      Confessing Movement's key emphasis is scriptural authority.
      Reconciling Ministries' emphasis is scriptural understanding. They are
      both looking at many of the same things, but through differing
      experiences, understandings and commitments.

      "Both groups love the United Methodist Church, are deeply committed to
      it and want the best for it," Schol said. "That came through loud and
      clear. Both groups are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ,
      although there are nuances on how they look at that."

      The church's stands on ordination of homosexuals and unions of gay
      couples have become a focus of disagreement across the denomination.
      While the denomination's Book of Discipline describes homosexuals as
      people of sacred worth, it also says that homosexuality is
      incompatible with Christian teaching. "Self-avowed practicing
      homosexuals" are barred from ordination, and clergy are prohibited
      from performing liturgical blessings of homosexuals.

      Disagreement about these stands has become so polarized that it has
      led some to question whether the church can accommodate opposing
      views, and even to suggest formal division. Jones, leader of the
      Kansas Area, was surprised to learn by attending both meetings that
      not everyone highly values church unity.

      At 2004 General Conference, an informal, unsigned paper circulated
      that proposed an approach to dividing the church. Conference delegates
      followed up by passing a resolution affirming the unity of the church.

      Responding to the General Conference resolution, Confessing Movement
      members in September approved a proclamation welcoming "serious
      attention to the denomination's unity and the basis of that unity."
      Unity requires official doctrine, careful teaching of the apostolic
      faith by the leaders of the church and the maintaining of the Book of
      Discipline as a covenant of trust, the document says.

      The three bishops agreed that achieving unity requires more than a
      resolution.

      "Many are asking, can we get to unity by talking about it?" Schol
      said. "What is the method for getting there? Is it about shared
      mission: getting clear about mission, living it out and working on
      issues around that mission?

      "Unity had always been necessary to carry out the mission," Schol
      said. "We needed unity and harmony in the faith community so we could
      model Christ to the world. Unity and harmony had not been the goal;
      our mission was the goal."

      Simply identifying mission as the location of unity is not enough,
      Schol said. "I think many people in the Confessing Movement would
      agree that we need to be unified by common mission, but would add that
      there must be a common understanding of doctrine as to how we carry
      out that mission. And many in the Reconciling Movement would also
      agree that we need to be unified in mission, but if not everyone can
      fully participate in that mission, do we have a common mission? We are
      talking about the same thing - mission - but different groups look at
      it through different lenses."

      Further, promoting unity can appear insensitive to people's deeply
      felt concerns. "There were people in both the Confessing Movement and
      Reconciling Ministries who expressed that an emphasis on unity
      subverts their concerns," Dyck said. "Many who are part of Reconciling
      Ministries believe that the unity emphasis stops us from moving
      forward on justice. Others believe that unity talk stops us from
      moving forward in doctrinal purity.

      "Maybe unity should not be the focus, but mission and ministry," she
      said. "Sometimes unity talk emphasizes what we don't have in common
      rather than what we do have in common."

      The heated nature of conversation around controversial issues is
      failing to shed light, Dyck said. She urges church members to be more
      judicious in how they speak - and how they listen.

      "Toning down the rhetoric is key to renewing the spirit vitality of
      the church," Dyck said. "There is no room for calling people
      homophobes or damning them to hell because they hold different
      perspective than ourselves.

      "Rather, we should seek to understand the personal journey that brings
      people to their perspectives," she said. "When you find out what
      brought people to their perspective, it helps to see what that brings
      to the table of the whole church. It is another piece of the answer on
      how we move forward."

      That road forward is a demanding one, Jones said. "Strengthening the
      unity of the church is a difficult process and will require
      intentional effort and great deal of patience. It's important that we
      continue the dialogue among leaders of the church. And we need to
      include centrist groups in the dialogue."

      Response to the three bishops' visiting both groups was mostly
      positive. The three intend to continue visiting with groups that
      advocate change in the United Methodist Church.

      "We think this is something bishops ought to be doing," Jones said.
      "It is important to demonstrate our concern as bishops for the whole
      the church. I am deeply grateful for Bishops Schol and Dyck for making
      this journey with me."

      *Rebeck is director of communication for the United Methodist Church's
      Minnesota Annual Conference.

      News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@....
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