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Week of soul-searching ahead for United Methodist leaders

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  • U.M. Cornet
    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE The following perspective is on the web at: http://www.sacbee.com/neighbors/show_story.cgi?20000423/mt-133474Q.txt We are
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 26, 2000
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      CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE

      The following perspective is on the web at:
      http://www.sacbee.com/neighbors/show_story.cgi?20000423/mt-133474Q.txt

      We are sending it to CALLED OUT with the permission of the author Chuck
      Myer. Do not reproduce it further without his permission.

      Chuck Myer describes his article as follows: "My Easter morning column in
      the Sacramento Bee-Neighbors section is from the point-of-view of a new
      General Conference delegate's reflection on the 'calm before the storm' in
      Cleveland."

      ------------------------------------------

      Week of soul-searching ahead for United Methodist leaders
      By Chuck Myer

      Easter dawn breaks onto the third millennium of Christianity. Subtle rays of
      light illumine new ways to interpret the Easter story to a world of DNA and
      MTBE, NATO and NASDAQ.
      Yet a dark cloud continues to haunt organized religion in America. The
      cloud, so often hidden, is the long history of heterosexism in the church.
      Now, even on Easter, it is emerging overhead, and it's threatening to rain
      very soon.

      Rain can be refreshing.

      *

      For the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination, Easter 2000 arrives
      during an anxious prelude to a major confrontation in a conflict that tears
      at the very foundation of church beliefs. Next week, 992 delegates to the
      General Conference of the United Methodist Church will leave their homes all
      around the world and converge in Cleveland, Ohio, the site of the
      quadrennial forum where the church's "Book of Discipline" is examined and
      updated. Nearly 2,000 proposed changes will be considered and debated.

      In somber reflection and anticipation of the weight of this responsibility,
      United Methodist bishops called for a 40-day regimen of prayer and fasting �
      not for Lent but for the 40 days before the opening gavel in Cleveland.

      The bishops, who are admittedly split on the issue, understand the weight of
      the burden on the delegates. For it is the delegates, not the bishops, who
      ultimately vote in May to decide the church's stance on acceptance or
      nonacceptance of gays and lesbians. The debate is multifaceted, but
      basically involves the degree to which those in same-sex relationships will
      be included in church membership rolls, in seminaries,in ordination
      proceedings, and at altars where blessings of committed love relationships
      take place.

      *

      Easter morning brings a calm before the storm in Cleveland. Delegates pray
      and try to discern the voice of God amidst the cacophony of controversy.

      But in the 21st century the voice of God is reduced to catchy slogans
      plastered on freeway billboards:

      "Will the road you're on get you to my place? * God."

      "Have you read my No. l best seller? There will be a test. * God."

      *


      The debates rage across denominational lines, as the traditional differences
      begin to blur. In Sacramento, a renewed ecumenical spirit has blossomed from
      the ashes of the synagogues destroyed by arson last June. Three weeks ago,
      local rabbis invited all Sacramento-area clergy to share in the traditional
      seder meal in a sign of solidarity and renewed efforts to support and
      understand one another.

      This past week, those of the Jewish faith observed Passover, a tradition
      much older than Easter. That same sundown, members of St. Mark's United
      Methodist Church in Sacramento also sat down together to share their own
      seder meal to celebrate the common bonds of tradition they share with their
      Jewish brothers and sisters.

      On March 29, Reform Jewish leaders overwhelmingly approved a resolution
      giving rabbis the option of presiding at gay commitment ceremonies. In doing
      so, the 1,800 members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
      representing 1.5 million Reform Jews, became the most influential religious
      group in America to sanction same-sex unions.

      Yet it is the pastor of St. Mark's, the Rev. Don Fado, who sits at ground
      zero of the same-sex covenant service controversy. In January 1999, the
      long-term commitment of two women from St. Mark's Church was celebrated at a
      service at the Sacramento Convention Center. The service was conducted by
      Fado and more than a hundred other ordained clergy. The two women hold high
      positions in the regional leadership of the denomination.

      The January 1999 event in Sacramento will be the touchstone of the debate in
      Cleveland. Like Lucy Ricardo, the 12 delegates from the Northern California
      know they're going to have some "splaining to do" when they get to
      Cleveland.

      Foremost on the minds of the more Orthodox members of the denomination will
      be asking how the pastors who co-officiated at the January 1999 event
      escaped punishment from the committee on investigation that oversees clergy
      misconduct in this region.

      The answer lies in demographics: The California-Nevada conference area, and
      most of the denomination's Western jurisdiction, leans heavily on the side
      of weaving gays and lesbians into the tapestry of the church. But when the
      numbers are counted, the Western jurisdiction accounts for only 5.6 percent
      of the total number of delegates worldwide.

      Because the formulas for delegate selection are based on church membership
      rolls, the power bloc of delegate votes lies in the Bible Belt, where the
      joke is there's a church on every street corner.

      And those folks often take a jaundiced view of the smarmy liberalism they
      see infesting the churches in the West. For the Bible Belt, the sign reads:
      "What part of 'Thou Shalt Not...' didn't you understand? * God."

      *

      The 12 delegates will assemble their airline tickets for their flights from
      Sacramento or San Francisco to Cleveland. Twelve is a powerful number in
      scripture: 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles. But they know 5.6 percent will
      be a weak number in Cleveland.

      Unlike the apostles, only two of the 12 are white males (Fado and I). The
      rest represent the rich diversity of ethnic backgrounds in the United
      Methodist churches. An Asian clergywoman from San Jose is the delegation
      leader. Susan Hunn, a laywoman from Pollock Pines, is a part of the
      delegation for the first time. Betty Suzuki of Sacramento's Japanese United
      Methodist Church has been in leadership positions at the national level. At
      21, Erin Dunning of Weimar is among only 3 percent of delegates representing
      the all-important under-30 age group. Blacks, Hispanics and Pacific
      Islanders are also well represented in the mix of Northern California
      delegates and reserves. Some are evangelicals. Some are gay.

      For two weeks in May, 992 people from around the globe will sit at tables in
      the Cleveland Convention Center with their hands on the levers of the voting
      machines. And decide.

      "That 'Love Thy Neighbor' thing ... I meant it. * God."

      Somewhere out there there's probably someone who believes it was, in fact,
      the hand of God that wrote on those billboards.

      The Easter sun rises overhead. It is a new day.

      Chuck Myer is a planning consultant and free-lance writer. His e-mail
      address is cmyer@....

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