Homosexuality, Worship and Christian Unity

Members of the Good News organization may choose
to not worship of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to
demonstrate against worship leaders who are gay.

I read with interest that some bishops in the Anglican church refused to participate in communion with the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. church at a meeting in Tanzania. That’s a saddening act. When I was told I could not receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at a Roman Catholic monastery in my seminary years, I felt deeply aggrieved. With Roman Catholic seminarians, my class had shared theology and personal faith. We had eaten and worshipped together, but we could not share the sacrament that unites all Christians in the belief that Jesus is the self-emptying, incarnate love of God for all peoples.

It was only then that I understood the scandal of separation. It’s scandalous that the Christian community is divided, yet it inherits a message of unity and lives in the embrace of a loving God, an embrace that includes the whole creation. But division has marked the church from the beginning so it comes as no surprise.

Never the less, I feel a sense of grief when I hear of division in the church today. Whether it’s homosexuality, abortion, evolution or simply the distance between the grassroots members and those who are in the structures that we in The United Methodist Church call “the general church,” division is a grievous thing.

Some United Methodists who are members of a group called Good News have said they might not participate in worship at the 2008 General Conference because some of the worship leaders are gay or lesbian. (For readers who are not United Methodist, the General Conference is the highest governing body of the church. It meets every four years and is the only authorized body to speak for the whole church.)

The position Good News is taking is consistent with their position clearly stated in past years. And it’s important to acknowledge this. This message has been delivered.

In fact, it’s old news. Reporters who know the church and its long term discussion about homosexuality can write this story from home and phone it in. They know the various opinions, the primary actors, and the ways the story gets played out in General Conference. Opinions are formed and attitudes are set. No news here.

What is news, however, is the seeds of revitalization and renewal that are being to be sewn in this denomination. General Conference delegates will have a chance to water and tend them. If care is given to these seeds, the church could be at the threshold of a new period of creative mission, growth and energy–perhaps even of new unity.

Mainline denominations have been characterized as moribund and in decline. That story can be phoned in as well. It’s been framed the same way for years, and few, if any, have delved deeply enough into the context in which they exist to shed light on their viability and challenges. I don’t think the cliches capture their realities.

The data used to measure mainline denominations were formatted in the 1950’s under entirely different cultural and social circumstances. But to say the world has changed is to repeat a truism and to understate the context in the same breath.

Growth in the suburbs parallels the upward mobility of some mainline members, and it reflects less outreach to immigrants and those in urban core neighborhoods. this is an isue of theology
I’ve talked with people who chalk it up to mistrust in government which was damaged by Watergate, Iran-Contragate, and more recently by the Katrina fiasco, WMDs and partisan posturing about Iraq while people are dying by the score. Others chalk it up to executives of United Way who abused public trust and the Red Cross scandal after 9/11. And some ask “Why would anyone want to go aboard a sinking ship whose passengers are fighting with each other while the world around them goes to hell in a handbasket?”

So that’s why these new conversations are news. They indicate a yearning to change course, reclaim key values that has propelled this movement forward and open the doors to new ways of being the church in this new century.

The people of The United Methodist Church are starting a conversation about how they address poverty, particularly caring for children; they are discussing stamping out malaria and other diseases of poverty; they are reaching out to people in new ways to create new faith communities where people can find support to grow in their faith, search for meaningful answers to life’s important questions and worship; and they are asking themselves what leadership skills are needed to effectively conduct the mission of the church in the 21st. Century.

Are there problems? Of course. Are we slow to adapt? Yes. Is there hope? There is hope and more. There is a developing conversation that is seeking to discover how the faith tradition is relevant in this new context, and how Christians can negotiate in uncharted waters in this new century. That’s not only hopeful, I find it very exciting.

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