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Update: On Oct. 30, the Judicial Council denied requests to reconsider Decision 1032. The denial was issued in Memorandum No. 1158 (available here in PDF).

The United Methodist Judicial Council opened its fall session in New Orleans Wednesday with a heavy docket of 31 items (PDF), including several related to a controversial 2005 decision (Decision 1032) in which the council ruled that a pastor has the authority to gauge if a prospective church member is spiritually ready to take membership vows.

The Northern Illinois Conference is asking Judicial Council, the denomination’s “supreme court,” to reconsider Decision 1032, as are the Minnesota and Arkansas Conferences. Northern Illinois also is requesting declaratory decisions on four other matters related to membership.

UMNS graphic

Decision 1032, decided by a 5-3 vote, arose from a Virginia Conference case. In early 2005, the Rev. Ed Johnson, then pastor of South Hill UMC, counseled a sexually active homosexual man who wanted to join the South Hill church.

The man, an inactive member of a non-UM church in the area, had been attending South Hill UMC for several months and expressed a desire to transfer his membership.

Pastor Johnson made clear to the man that UM membership vows included both a renunciation of sin (“Do you…repent of your sin?”) and a profession of faith (“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord…?”).

Since homosexual activity is deemed by the UMC to be “incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F of the Book of Discipline, in light of Romans 1 and other passages), Johnson made clear that joining the church would have implications for the man’s involvement in homosexual relationships.

(NOTE: The 2008 General Conference adopted a change in ¶225 of the Book of Discipline that allows a baptized member of “another denomination” to transfer to the UMC without a specific renunciation of sin. Instructions that accompany the new official membership liturgy (PDF) refer to this as “being received into baptized but not professing membership.” More on this below.)

In January 2005, Pastor Johnson “began his usual pastoral practice of holding membership classes. He met with [the membership candidate] six times, called him on the phone, took homemade raisin bread to his shop, and offered to be the membership candidate’s ‘spiritual friend,’” according to the oral argument (PDF) presented at the October 2005 Judicial Council hearing by the Rev. Tom Thomas, Johnson’s counsel.

From the UM Baptismal Covenant

“In February 2005 meetings with the membership candidate, [he] acknowledged to [Pastor] Johnson his on-going homosexual practice and his intention to continue having same-sex sex.

“[Pastor Johnson] told the membership candidate he would regretfully have to postpone [the man's] membership candidacy until they worked through some issues,” Thomas said.

The following month, Virginia Conference Bishop Charlene Kammerer sent an administrative complaint against Ed Johnson to the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, citing the pastor’s “unwillingness or inability to perform ministerial duties” (Book of Discipline ¶362.2). Later, Johnson was suspended without pay.

In Decision 1032, the Judicial Council ruled in Pastor Johnson’s favor, noting that the Book of Discipline “invest[s] discretion in the pastor-in-charge to make the determination of a person’s readiness to affirm the vows of membership.”

In a dissenting opinion, council member (now council president) Susan T. Henry-Crowe argued that the decision “compromises the historical understanding that the Church is open to all.”

Johnson was appointed to a church in another city. A new pastor sent to South Hill, the Rev. Barry Burkholder, allowed the man at the center of the membership controversy to join by transfer from a nearby Baptist church.

In a recent commentary, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, described what happened after Decision 1032 was issued and offered background on the moves to revisit the decision.

[The UM Council of Bishops] made a statement [four days after Decision 1032 was rendered] defending the bishop of Virginia, implying that the Judicial Council decision was wrong.

Dr. Riley B. Case

The bishops followed this with another unprecedented action: they would not renominate for re-election any of the Judicial Council members who voted with the majority in the decision.

In 2008 the General Conference elected a new slate of Judicial Council members whose views were more in line with the “progressive” element of the church….

[Further] an amendment to Article IV [— the "Inclusiveness of the Church" article of the UM Constitution] was submitted to the 2008 General Conference and approved (with very little debate) by that body with the necessary two-thirds vote.

The amendment sought to [alter the language of Article IV] so that “all persons” meant all persons, regardless of what persons believed or practiced, or even whether they had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, supposedly, in the name of diversity a blow would be struck for the condoning of homosexual practice…. “[D]iversity” would now be inscribed in the constitution as the basis for membership, taking the place of confession in Jesus Christ.

The amendment to Article IV, which needed to be ratified by two-thirds of the voting members of annual conferences, failed spectacularly. Needing a two-thirds vote in the annual conferences, it failed even to muster a majority. [This] was, and is, a sharp reminder that the leadership of The United Methodist Church is disconnected from the local church, from the annual conferences, and from the overseas church….

Now a new strategy…. The North Illinois Annual Conference petitioned the Judicial Council to consider whether Judicial Council Decision 1032 is superseded by ¶225 in the Discipline.

From the UM General Board of Discipleship

Paragraph 225 now states that “a member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to be united with The United Methodist Church shall be received” [rather than "may"] as a member of the UMC. The 2008 General Conference added the word “shall” to the paragraph in an effort to institutionally force “inclusivity.”

The question is moot, of course, because Decision 1032 was made before the word “shall” in ¶225 was placed in the Discipline. It would be a relevant question only if a similar Ed Johnson case were now presented to the Judicial Council.

But ¶225 illustrates the problem of ambiguity that characterizes so many parts of the Discipline. The same paragraph that uses the word “shall” also uses the word “may” (persons may be received).

The intent of the paragraph is to recognize the validity of church membership and baptism in other denominations. Is it now to be re-interpreted to mean much more than it was ever intended to mean — namely, that a church or a pastor may inquire into the faith of a person being received into membership by profession of faith, but may not inquire into the faith and beliefs of a possible transfer?

And what is a “Christian” denomination? Do we include Mormons, Unitarians, Seventh-Day Adventists, and United Pentecostals (who do not baptize in the name of the triune God)?….

And who is “a member in good standing”? In the actual Ed Johnson case that was an important part of the issue. The person seeking membership was hardly in good standing in the previous church (actually two churches) which basically asked him to leave because he was being disruptive.

If the Judicial Council decides at this week’s meeting to revisit Decision 1032, the actual reconsideration would not occur until the council’s spring 2011 meeting.

Also on the docket this week, the Judicial Council is also being asked to rule on whether the secretary of the General Conference has the authority to determine the number of delegates to quadrennial General Conference.

Another case asks the council to determine if a 224-year-old year old rule that that allows Methodist ministers to marry (Article XXI of the Articles of Religion) supersedes the church’s prohibition against same-sex marriage for clergy.

In addition to its request regarding Decision 1032, the Northern Illinois Conference is requesting that the council permit each annual conference to adopt its own definition of the term “status” in Article IV of the Constitution (“All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible…upon baptism [to] be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking the vows declaring the Christian faith, [to] become professing members in any local church in the connection”—italics added for emphasis). Northern Illinois specifically seeks to include “sexual orientation and transgender identity” in its definition of “status.”

The Judicial Council rejected a 2006 request to reconsider Decision 1032 (filed by Bishop Charlene Kammerer and the Virginia Conference Board of Ordained Ministry). But as noted above, the make-up of the nine-member council has changed significantly since then as a result of the election of new council members at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

As reported in the April 29, 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (article no longer online), “The council previously had a 6-3 conservative majority. But only one of the council members elected…is conservative, joining the sole conservative member remaining on the council.” Even though approximately 30 percent of United Methodists live in Africa, no African was elected to serve as a primary member of the council (two Methodists from Africa were elected as “alternate” members).

According to a report by the California-Nevada (Conference) News Service, the election of “progressive” members was the result of a coordinated effort.

Richard Bentley, a clergyman in the California-Pacific Conference [and convener of the California-Pacific Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action], was instrumental in developing the winning progressive slate. He was one of three men who called together contacts from annual conferences in each of five U.S. jurisdictions to give input on candidates who progressives affirmed will be, in their terms, “fair and balanced.”

Consensus developed based on theological perspectives and existing base support that could be augmented….

The slate was printed and distributed to nearly every annual conference delegation.

An editorial (no longer online) in the May/June 2008 Good News magazine noted that distribution of the slate appeared to be in violation of General Conference guidelines.

A matter left unexplained after the election of the new Council members was who exactly was responsible for a brochure placed on the desks of many delegates the morning of the elections.

The goldenrod flier listed candidates who were “recommended by a politically unaffiliated group of fifty jurisdictional and central conference delegates” but didn’t say who these fifty were — it wasn’t signed. It simply appeared on the desks of many delegates. (A conference rule prohibits materials being placed on the desks of the delegates.)

The flier’s…recommended candidates were all elected, and in the order listed on the brochure.

Following the elections, a delegate raised a question about the official-looking flier, but the report back was that no rule had been violated.

Dan Johnson with flier

Dan Johnson with flier

Use the audio player below to hear delegate Dan Johnson (clergy member, Florida Conference) raise a question about whether the flier, apparently distributed in violation of General Conference rules, had affected the outcome of the Judicial Council elections.

Bishop Mike Coyner (Indiana Conference) is the presiding officer.

The interchange is about two minutes.

The nine current members of the United Methodist Judicial Council are:

  • Susan T. Henry-Crowe (Council president, clergy, South Carolina Conf.)
  • — Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory Univ. in Atlanta

  • Jon R. Gray (Council vice president, lay, Missouri West Conf.)
  • — attorney, former circuit court judge

  • Angela Brown (lay, California-Nevada Conf.)
  • — asst. district attorney in San Francisco, board member—National Center for Lesbian Rights (PDF-see page 7), past vice president—NIA Collective, an organization for lesbians of African descent

  • William B. Lawrence (clergy, North Texas Conf.)
  • — Dean of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology

The alternate members:

  • Joe May (first clergy alternate, Mississippi Conf.)
  • Jay Arthur Garrison (first lay alternate, Holston Conf.)
  • J. Montgomery (Monty) Brown (clergy, West Virginia)
  • Thomas K. Byerly (lay, West Michigan Conf.)
  • Mary A. Daffin (lay, Texas Conf.)
  • John Harnish (clergy, Michigan Conf.)
  • James D. Karblee (clergy, Liberia Conf.)
  • Raymond Mande Mutombo (lay, North Katanga Conf.)
  • Deanell Tacha (lay, Kansas East Conf.)
  • William F. White (lay, Wisconsin Conf.)
  • Rodney E. Wilmoth (clergy, Rocky Mountain Conf.)
  • Vicki Woods (clergy, New England Conf.)
Related posts
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related information
Jurisdiction and powers of the UM Judicial Council | ¶2609, Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church — 2008
Rules of practice and procedure (PDF) | UM Judicial Council (Revised April 2010)
Top court takes up membership issues | Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service (via UM Reporter — Aug. 9, 2010)
Docket for the Oct. 27-30, 2010 meeting of the UM Judicial Council (PDF)
New membership vows and ritual (revised and corrected) | Taylor Burton-Edwards, UM General Board of Discipleship (effective Jan. 1, 2009)
The services of the Baptismal Covenant in the United Methodist Church (as revised to align with the 2008 Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions) (PDF) | UM General Board of Discipleship/United Methodist Publishing House (2009)
Decision 1032 | UM Judicial Council (Oct. 29, 2005)
A pastoral letter to the people of The United Methodist Church | UM Council of Bishops (Nov. 2, 2005)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, General Board of Higher Education & Ministry Consultation on Decision 1032 (February 2007)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
By what power? S.C. asks Judicial Council to decide authority of General Conference secretary | Jessica Connor, South Carolina United Methodist Advocate (Sept. 1, 2010)
Five new members are elected to Judicial Council | Neill Caldwell, UMNS (April 28, 2008)
Judicial Council election excludes Africans (PDF) | UMAction (April 30, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Debate at the 2004 General Conference on various legislation related to homosexuality (includes audio) | 2004 General Conference Archive
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
Good News’ response to Cal/Nevada’s dismissal of complaints against 68 clergy involved in same-sex covenant | James V. Heidinger II on behalf of the Good News Board of Directors (Feb. 14, 2000)
Good News board urges bishops to preserve unity of church | United Methodist News Service (Feb. 2, 1999)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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The latest MethodistThinker Podcast features an address by Bishop Alfred Norris, currently interim president of Atlanta’s Gammon Theological Seminary.

Bishop Alfred Norris in 2005 (via UMNS)

Born in Louisiana in 1938, Alfred Lloyd Norris was educated at Dillard University (New Orleans) and Gammon Seminary.

After serving for 16 years as a United Methodist pastor and district superintendent in his native state, he was named president of Gammon in 1985.

In 1992, he was elected to the UM episcopacy and assigned to the New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences. Later, Bishop Norris moved to the Texas Annual Conference, where he served until his retirement in 2004.

In 2006, he was asked to return to the active episcopacy to fill the term of North Texas Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure, who had died in office. After leading the North Texas Conference for two years, Bishop Norris retired again from active status in 2008.

Earlier this year, he returned to Gammon Theological Seminary when asked to serve as the school’s interim president and dean. Gammon, founded in 1883, is the United Methodist part of a consortium of six historically African-American theological schools in the Atlanta area collectively known as the Interdenominational Theological Center.

This podcast features Bishop Norris’ address, edited for length, presented at the 2005 ordination service of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Listen using the audio player below (18 min.) — or download an mp3 file (8.2 MB; on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Podcast: Maxie Dunnam on ‘The Pastor as Prophet, Priest, and Evangelist
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Bishop James King on ‘Preaching Authority’
Podcast: Tom Atkins — ‘We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit’
Podcast: Bishop Robert E. Hayes on ‘A Long Fight with a Short Stick’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’

Related articles and information
Interim president-dean for Gammon Theological Seminary appointed | General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (March 22, 2010)
Bishop Alfred Norris to lead North Texas Conference | United Methodist News Service (Sept. 13, 2006)
Biography of Bishop Alfred L. Norris | Council of Bishops Gallery, United Methodist Church

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To reverse the United Methodist Church’s decades-long membership decline in the United States, local UM churches must embrace innovation and commit themselves to constant improvement, according to Adam Hamilton, leader of one of the UMC’s largest and most successful churches.

Hamilton, founder and senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kansas, was the lead speaker at COR’s 12th annual Leadership Institute, attended last week by nearly 2,000 pastors and leaders.

Even if local churches are willing to embrace innovative change, a net membership increase in the UMC is still likely to be at least 10 years away, Hamilton predicted, because the next decade will see heavy membership losses due to the deaths of tens of thousands of older members.

“If we act now, in 10 years we might actually see that we begin to reverse the decline,” he said during the conference’s Friday afternoon session. “In 10 years, we’ll actually start to see that we have a future with hope.”

He did not address the serious doctrinal disagreements or sharply differing approaches to social concerns that have roiled the denomination over the past four decades and have helped fuel membership decline.

Adam Hamilton illustrated the need for innovation and improvement at the local church level by looking at how computers have changed during the 20 years since Church of the Resurrection was founded.

I bought a computer for us four weeks before our first worship service. It had just come out…. It was a Macintosh Classic…. And this was the hottest computer you could buy in 1990….

And I want you to imagine if Apple Computer had said…, “We have just built the best computer that anybody could ever build.”… [Or maybe they said,] “We’ll make if faster, but we’re going to keep it [looking] just like this.”…

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

Instead, they developed laptops… that had the capacity to do things that nobody had ever dreamed of when [the Mac Classic] was built….

And [now in 2010 they’ve] invented a whole new way of doing computers…[with the release of] the iPad….

[T]hey studied how people used computers, they studied to try to understand…the needs of people, and then they formed a product….

And so [as the church,] part of this [is] in our hands. We have to be able to ask: “What needs to change [so that we can better speak to people’s needs today and connect with them]?”…

[M]ost of our churches [haven’t] had leaders who understood that and we [have] just kept doing the same thing over and over and over again. And we’re realizing that can’t work. It simply can’t work for the future.

You either…innovate, you improve, or you’re going to die. That’s a [Church of the] Resurrection classic principle we use around here….

[W]e’re not changing the gospel, we’re not changing the Scriptures. But we are changing how we talk about faith. We’re changing how we help people experience the presence of God in their lives.

Hamilton also focused on ways new communication technologies are improving the ability of local churches to connect with people — and with other churches.

The world is changing. Are you willing to shape the future by embracing technology?…

I think our future [in the United Methodist Church is] rooted and grounded in our past. When the early Methodists went to start churches across the United States, here’s what they did: they sent circuit riders out, and those circuit riders were given two books — they were given a hymnal and a book of John Wesley’s sermons.

And they would preach in a place and they would form a church, and after three weeks they would say, “Now, you’re in charge while I’m gone…. Here’s a copy of John Wesley’s sermons. And while I’m gone, why don’t you just read one sermon a Sunday when the people gather together for worship?” So the circuit rider would go start five or six or seven more churches and would circle back around 12 weeks later….

How do you think John Wesley would do this today? Would he give them a book of his sermons? No, he would say, “Why don’t you log on…online and then you can join me and I’ll look in the camera and I’ll say ‘Hey’ to all of you….”

Circuits were the groupings of churches that worked together and they shared one pastor and then they had lay leaders and they would work together for the discipleship of the people….

Is it possible that there are super circuits in the future where there are multiple churches, not bound geographic areas — they may be in different parts of the country — and they join together voluntarily and become connected to one another in these circuits?

Some of them [would] have ordained pastors who are overseeing. Some of those ordained pastors [might be] excellent preachers and some of them, maybe not so much. So sometimes they [would] use the sermons from another congregation…. Maybe some of them [would] only use the sermons from the largest church.

They [would] all share the IT resources of that [largest] congregation, and all of the churches [would] work together and bring their strengths to the table to help them all be more effective and stronger congregations….

There are 19,600 churches in the United Methodist denomination in the U.S. that have less than 60 people a Sunday in worship. Currently, most people say those churches have no future. They’re going to have to close because they can’t afford pastors, they can’t afford benefits, they can’t afford apportionments — they simply are going to die.

But what would happen if each of those was seen…as a place that could be [connected by technology]? And…it costs nothing to do it in this place. The building is already paid for. And if we get 25 people and over the next three years we can grow it to 30, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in attendance in that place in three years, as opposed to closing it down….

What could you do with this? How could you help other churches in your community? Is there a way that you could create a voluntary circuit in which you are helping support and nurture one another in being healthy, vibrant congregations?

Renewing the church is going to require all of us looking at how we do share we share the resources we have so that other might have a chance to have future with hope.

Use the audio player below to listen to Adam Hamilton discussing the need for innovation and improvement in United Methodist churches (this 12-minute excerpt has been edited for length).

The purpose of the annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to about 17,000 today with multiple meeting locations.

DVDs of this year’s Leadership Institute will be available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.


Related posts
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Podcast: Billy Abraham on connecting doctrine and evangelism
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’

Related articles and information
The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’: A conversation with Adam Hamilton (video) | Faith & Leadership (Duke Divinity School) (March 31, 2009)
Institute gives UM churches renewed hope | Robin Russell, UM Reporter (Aug. 22, 2008)
How to grow a church: Kansas pastor offers tips at Methodist gathering | David Yonke, The (Toledo) Blade (via Google Newspapers) (June 16, 2007)
Fewer whiffs: Too many sermons are ‘swing-and-a-miss’ strike outs | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Fall 2007)
4-H sermons: Connecting with your audience | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Summer 2007)
Reaching the unchurched | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2007)
‘Should we fret the back door?’ Why the departure of church members hurts me so | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2006)
Opening closed minds | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2004)
Christmas Eve at Adam’s house: Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection enjoys the fruit of the season | Kendrick Blackwood, The Pitch (Dec. 19, 2002)
Purpose, passion drive church growth, pastor says | Michael Wacht, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 26, 2002)

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In response to reader requests, we have launched a MethodistThinker “Facebook Fan” page.

The page mirrors the ThinkerTwitter feed, seen in the column at right. So if you already “follow” us on Twitter, there is no need to “Like” the MethodstThinker Facebook page unless you prefer the functionality of Facebook.

The link to our new Facebook page is here (and at the top of the right column).

Thank you for reading MethodistThinker.

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Following a four-month period of “prayer, study, [and] discussion” billed as the “Summer of Great Discernment,” one of United Methodism’s most prominent churches has concluded that the United Methodist Church’s restrictions on homosexual marriage, and by implication the Christian faith’s long-held doctrines related to marriage and homosexuality, are “inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Foundry UMC's main building

A policy statement (PDF) approved last week by Washington, D.C’.s Foundry UMC argues that a United Methodist rule prohibiting clergy from officiating at union ceremonies for same-sex couples “exclude[s] gay and lesbian members from the full life of the church” and therefore is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.

The Foundry statement does not cite any specific teaching from the gospels or the other New Testament books in which the words of Christ are recorded.

The United Methodist Church’s prohibition on officiating at a union ceremony for two men or two women is found in Paragraph 341.6 of the denomination’s Book of Discipline. That paragraph also prohibits conducting same-sex union ceremonies in UM church buildings.

Foundry’s statement, passed by a 367-8 vote, further asserts that the UMC’s prohibition on homosexual marriage violates the denomination’s own Constitution. By failing to affirm same-sex unions, the United Methodist Church is contravening Article IV of the UM Constitution, the Foundry policy statement argues. Article IV says (in part) that “no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition.”

In a “special edition” of the Foundry Forge newsletter (PDF) published just after the vote, the church’s senior pastor Dean Snyder, who has served at Foundry UMC since 2002, said the congregation’s decision to reject Paragraph 341.6 and embrace homosexual marriage is “the right thing” to do.

“We’ve studied, discussed, and voted. We’ve done the right thing,” he wrote. “We will have beautiful weddings here for all of our members and friends who want to be married here.”

The outcome of Foundry UMC’s “Summer of Great Discernment” was not unexpected. In 2008, Foundry began “recogniz[ing] same-sex unions in special ceremonies that [fell] just short of an official wedding,” according to a United Methodist News Service report.

A year later, Foundry was one of seven churches that sponsored a resolution on human sexuality that was approved by the Baltimore-Washington Conference but was later overturned by the United Methodist Judicial Council.

The resolution, which said United Methodists are “divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality,” effectively “negated the church’s clearly stated position,” the Council ruled.

Foundry UMC has been affiliated with the homosexuality-affirming Reconciling Ministries Network since 1995. RMN is an unofficial group that “mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.”

The Reconciling Ministries Network has been involved in repeated attempts to change official United Methodist doctrine related to sexual practice. “RMN works for full equality in membership, ordination, and marriage for God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children,” according to the group’s website.

Earlier this year, shortly after same-sex weddings were declared legal by the District of Columbia City Council, another RMN-affiliated church in D.C., Dumbarton UMC in Georgetown, announced it would “honor and celebrate” weddings between two men or two women (text of statement by the Dumbarton UMC church council). “We celebrate love and loyalty wherever it is found,” Dumbarton’s pastor Mary Kay Totty said.

In a 2009 case arising from the California-Nevada Conference, the United Methodist Judicial Council effectively ruled (Decision 1111) that even in states or jurisdictions where same-sex unions have been deemed legal, UM clergy who perform such unions are nonetheless acting in disobedience to the Book of Discipline.

Last week’s action by Foundry UMC, though focused on United Methodist policy, challenges nearly two millennia of church teaching on homosexual activity.

Some of the earliest-known examples of such teaching — from church leaders such as John Chrysostom, Cyprian, and Theodoret of Cyrus — are summarized by UM scholar Thomas C. Oden in Staying the Course: Supporting the [United Methodist] Church’s Position on Homosexuality (Abingdon Press, 2003), a collection of essays by UM leaders and theologians.

Below are excerpts from Dr. Oden’s essay about the church’s historic teaching on the first chapter of Romans, in which the apostle Paul discusses homosexual behavior as an outgrowth of humanity’s tendency toward idolatry.

The [Romans] passage divides itself naturally into two parts: the foolish and idolatrous exchange of God for creaturely images; and the exchange of natural for unnatural passions….

Dr. Thomas C. Oden

Paul writes in Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.”

Paul first clearly asserts that they (all humanity, of whatever sexual practice) “knew God.”… Yet precisely those who knew God as God “did not honor him as God.” This is the tragic story of all humanity enmeshed in the history of sin…. In this way all humanity… “became futile in their thinking.”….

The foolish exchange is set forth in verse 22: “Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.”… “Having a high opinion of themselves, and not being patient enough to go the way that God had commanded them,” wrote John Chrysostom, “they became immersed in a way of thinking which made no sense” (Homilies on Romans)….

Romans 1:24: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” Who is “they?” Not homosexuals in particular, but the whole history of idolatrous humanity. Theodoret of Cyrus: “By gave them up [paredoken] Paul means that God permitted this to happen. He simply abandoned them because they had fallen into extreme ungodliness.” (Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans)….

Up to this point we have been describing not homosexual practice specifically, but the general condition of humanity: idolatry and foolishness. Now a major transition occurs in Paul’s argument. He is going to illustrate the general principle with a specific example.

Romans 1:21-2:4

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

(New International Version)

Romans 1:26: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural.”Here homosexual practice (they “exchanged natural relations for unnatural” [metellaxan ten phusiken chresin eis ten para phusin]) specifically enters for the first time into Paul’s discussion, as a dramatic case in point, illustrating the larger human predicament (idolatry).

Ambrosiaster recognized and explained Paul’s distinction between what is natural and what is unnatural sexually: “Paul tells us that these things came about, that a woman should lust after another woman, because God was angry at the human race because of its idolatry….” (Commentary on Paul’s Epistles)….

Romans 1:27: “And the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” When men are consumed with sexual passion for other men, the reason is not merely lust, but idolatry: “It is clear that because they changed the truth of God into a lie, they changed the natural use of sexuality into that use by which they were dishonored” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles).

What specifically are these “shameless acts”? The context makes it unavoidable that these are acts that men commit with men, and that they are sexually focused. This demeans human dignity. Cyprian regarded “men committing shameless acts with men” as “an indignity even to see,” from which one naturally turns one’s eyes away…. (Cyprian, To Donatus)….

This is costly for men. What did they give up? The natural for the unnatural. They left behind “natural relations with women” [ten phusiken chresin tes theleias]. Men lusting for men “receive in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”…

Paul was writing to the church in Rome. He knew that Rome had a homosexual community, according to Severian of Gabala: “Paul did not say this lightly, but because he had heard that there was a homosexual community at Rome” (Pauline Commentary From the Greek Church), so this example was not pulled out miscellaneously, but intentionally addressed to the Roman Christians as a warning….

Contrary to normal sexual desires, homosexual practice turns the sexes against each other, and intensifies the war between the sexes…. This is the work of the devil who “was bent on destroying the human race, not only by preventing them from copulating lawfully, but by stirring them up to war and subversion against each other” (Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans). The devil does not like natural and normal sexuality between a man and a woman in covenant fidelity looking toward the protection of children….

The result of idolatry was to drag down both men and women, pitting them against each other, and promising but not delivering pleasure, and eliciting in them a heightened readiness to tolerate other accelerating evils. Romans 1:28: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.”…

The willingness to tolerate many sorts of sexual distortions is a staple aspect of homosexual consciousness and history, as Ambrosiaster recognized. He portrays the homosexual life as one that nurses the improbable fantasy that God will look the other way: “Because of the error of idolatry they were handed over to doing evil things with each other…. And because they thought they could get away with it, …Paul adds here that they were more and more reduced to folly and became ever readier to tolerate all kinds of evils, to the point that they imagined that God would never avenge things which no one doubted were offensive to humanity as well….” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles).

Here Ambrosiaster correlates Paul’s comments on female and male homosexuality with the longer list of offenses [in Romans 1:29-30] that become more easily tolerated….

“Paul put wickedness at the head of the list, because he thought that evil and covetousness depended on it. He then added malice, from which flows envy, murder, strife and deceit. After this he put malignity, which generates gossip and slander” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles)….

Homosexuals do not have the excuse that they are being prevented from licit intercourse by God, because they themselves have chosen an unnatural way: “No one can say that it was by being prevented from legitimate intercourse that they came to this pass, or that it was from having no means to fulfill their desire that they were driven into this monstrous insanity” (Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans).

Elsewhere in his Staying the Course essay, Dr. Oden noted that he is “praying for the grace of charity in respect for all homosexuals, each of whom is created in the image of God, and [is] an intended recipient of the atoning love of God.”

Nonetheless, “I do not hide behind the claim that these consensual views [of earlier theologians on homosexual practice] are not mine,” he wrote. “I joyfully confirm them as true to the apostolic tradition.”

Thomas C. Oden (bio—PDF) retired as Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University in 2004. His teaching career included positions at Yale, Southern Methodist University, Phillips University, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Dr. Oden has served as the general editor of InterVarsity Press’s 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. His most recent book is How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (InterVarsity Press, 2008 — Google Books preview).

Staying the Course: Supporting the [UM] Church’s Position on Homosexuality features essays by, among others, Leicester Longden, Joy J. Moore, Richard B. Hays, William J. Abraham, and Maxie Dunnam. The table of contents is here.

The book is available from Cokesbury and Barnes and Noble.


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Related information
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
Foundry Church crossed a line! | Mark Tooley, Faith Experience (July 31, 2010)
In visit to D.C., homosexual Episcopal bishop advises UM church to “get into trouble” | Jeff Walton, IRD (July 20, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
D.C. Foundry church will honor same-sex unions | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (March 11, 2008)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, General Board of Higher Education & Ministry Consultation on Decision 1032 (February 2007)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Debate at the 2004 General Conference on various legislation related to homosexuality (includes audio) | 2004 General Conference Archive
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Bible (PDF) | R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
Good News’ response to Cal/Nevada’s dismissal of complaints against 68 clergy involved in same-sex covenant | James V. Heidinger II on behalf of the Good News Board of Directors (Feb. 14, 2000)
Good News board urges bishops to preserve unity of church | United Methodist News Service (Feb. 2, 1999)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)
Liberal Methodism of Clintons may explain political positions (a column about Foundry UMC) | Cal Thomas (April 22, 1995)
An interview with Thomas Oden, general editor, The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture | InterVarsity Press

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