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United Methodist Bishops Affirm Church Membership Open to All

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    From United Methodist News Service United Methodist Bishops Affirm Church Membership Open to All Nov. 3, 2005 By Tim Tanton* LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) -
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2005
      From United Methodist News Service

      United Methodist Bishops Affirm Church Membership Open to All
      Nov. 3, 2005
      By Tim Tanton*

      LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) - Homosexuality is not a barrier to
      membership in the United Methodist Church, the denomination's bishops
      said Nov. 2, two days after the church's top court supported a
      pastor's refusal to allow a gay man to join.

      "While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for
      membership, homosexuality is not a barrier," the bishops said in their
      pastoral letter to the people of the United Methodist Church.

      In a ruling announced Oct. 31, the Judicial Council supported the Rev.
      Ed Johnson of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church in his decision
      not to allow a gay man to join his congregation. The man was a choir
      member and had been meeting with Johnson about transferring membership
      from another denomination.

      Johnson was placed on a yearlong involuntary leave of absence by
      fellow pastors during the clergy session of the Virginia Annual
      (regional) Conference last June. The Judicial Council upheld Johnson's
      action, citing the authority given to clergy by the church's Book of
      Discipline. The court ordered that the pastor be reinstated to his
      previous status.

      The ripple effect of the court's decision was felt immediately in Lake
      Junaluska, where the Council of Bishops is holding its weeklong fall
      meeting. The council spent at least four hours in closed session
      working on a statement responding to the ruling.

      "With the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, we affirm
      'that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live
      together in Christian community,'" the bishops said, quoting from the
      Social Principles in the Book of Discipline. "'We implore families and
      churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.
      We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.'

      "We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to
      the bishop, superintendent and the clergy on matters of ministry and
      membership," the bishops said.

      The Council of Bishops unanimously adopted the pastoral letter in
      closed session.

      The announcement of the court's ruling caused "considerable
      conversation within the council," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who
      led the seven-bishop writing team that worked on the statement. Huie
      oversees the church's Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

      Many of the bishops had received calls and e-mail from pastors and lay
      people in their conferences who were "greatly troubled" by the ruling
      and were asking for clarification, she told United Methodist News Service.

      "We wanted our response to be thoughtful, prayerful and to speak to
      the church," she said.

      As the bishops worked on the statement, it became clear that there was
      unity within the council regarding the membership of gays in the
      United Methodist Church, she said. "I don't think it's going too far
      to say the council is of one mind that gay and lesbian people can be
      members of the United Methodist Church."

      The Book of Discipline affirms homosexuals as people "of sacred
      worth." It also holds the practice of homosexuality incompatible with
      Christian teaching, and it bars the performance of same-sex unions by
      the church's clergy and in the church's sanctuaries.

      During oral hearings before the Judicial Council Oct. 27, the Rev. Tom
      Thomas of Virginia, speaking for Johnson, argued that the pastor "drew
      the line not at the homosexual person but at homosexual practice."
      Johnson, who was at the hearing, did not address the court.

      Virginia Bishop Charlene Kammerer defended the suspension of Johnson,
      stating that the Constitution emphasizes inclusiveness and not
      exclusiveness, and that only allowing participation in the church
      "amounts to second-class citizenship."

      In their pastoral letter, the bishops said they "uphold and affirm"
      that the church's top legislative body, the General Conference, "has
      clearly spoken through the denomination's Constitution on
      inclusiveness and justice for all as it relates to church membership."

      The bishops cited the Constitution's declaration that all people shall
      be eligible to attend the church's worship services, participate in
      its programs, receive the sacraments, be admitted as baptized members,
      "and upon taking the vows declaring the Christian faith, become
      professing members in any local church in the connection."

      "The invitation that this (Judicial Council) ruling gives to all of us
      is to think carefully about the meaning of United Methodist
      membership," said Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the council and
      leader of the church's New England Conference.

      The ruling provides an opportunity "to think about how we are
      inclusive of persons who are in our communities and how we make
      disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," he
      said. Making disciples is a theme of the bishops' fall meeting and
      their focus for 2005-08. Weaver noted that earlier on Nov. 2, the
      council had heard a major presentation on evangelism by a Duke
      Divinity School theologian.

      Regarding a pastor's authority to make decisions about membership,
      Weaver said: "The local pastor does have authority, but it's in the
      context of the theology and values of the United Methodist Church."

      The bishops will discuss other possible responses to the ruling as
      their meeting continues, he said. The meeting, which began Oct. 30,
      ends Nov. 4.

      Weaver is already responding in his own New England Conference by
      setting up four regional opportunities for Christian conversation
      about the Judicial Council ruling.

      The Council of Bishops comprises the top clergy leaders in the nearly
      11 million-member United Methodist Church. The council has 69 active
      bishops and about 100 retired bishops from the United States, Africa,
      Europe and the Philippines.

      *Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.

      News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or
      newsdesk@....



      The full text of the letter follows.



      A Pastoral Letter to the People of The United Methodist Church
      From the Council of Bishops

      By grace you have been saved through faith.

      -Ephesians 2:8

      Grace to you from Jesus Christ who calls his church to welcome all
      people into the community of faith as it proclaims the Gospel.

      The Judicial Council, our denomination's highest judicial authority,
      recently issued a decision regarding a pastor's refusing a gay man's
      request for membership in the church. In the case, this man was
      invited to join the choir at the United Methodist Church in the
      community. As he became more active in the choir and the church, he
      asked to transfer his membership from another denomination to The
      United Methodist Church. Because he is a practicing homosexual, the
      pastor refused to receive him into church membership. The Judicial
      Council upheld the pastor's refusal of membership.

      While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for
      membership, homosexuality is not a barrier. With the Social Principles
      of The United Methodist Church we affirm: "that God's grace is
      available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian
      community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn
      lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in
      ministry for and with all persons." (Para. 161g, 2004 Book of
      Discipline of The United Methodist Church)

      We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to
      the bishop, superintendent, and the clergy on matters of ministry and
      membership.

      The United Methodist Church is committed to making disciples of Jesus
      Christ with all people. We, the bishops of the Church, uphold and
      affirm that the General Conference has clearly spoken through the
      denomination's Constitution on inclusiveness and justice for all as it
      relates to church membership:

      "The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of
      sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national
      origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its
      worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments,
      upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking the vows
      declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local
      church in the connection." (Article IV, Constitution of The United
      Methodist Church)

      We believe the ministry of the local church, under the guidance of the
      Holy Spirit, is to help people accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord
      and Savior. We call upon all United Methodist pastors and laity to
      make every congregation a community of hospitality.

      Nov. 2, 2005

      Lake Junaluska, N.C.
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