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A WISCONSIN DECLARATION

June 17, 1996
Portage, Wisconsin


From time to time, issues arise in the church that challenge the fundamental identity of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Gospel which it proclaims. In our day, voices in the church announce "new revelations" from God, a "fresh wind of the Spirit," a "new understanding" of the faith. These voices import worldly notions into the church, while jettisoning historic Christian teachings. The church's response to the issue of homosexuality now occasions this question: "Will The United Methodist Church confess, and be unified by, the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ, or will The United Methodist Church challenge the primacy of Scripture and justify the acceptance of beliefs incompatible with our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith?"

In April of this year, Bishop Sharon Rader of Wisconsin joined 14 other bishops in expressing their dissatisfaction with the United Methodist Disciplinary stand that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching." She declared her "personal convictions...contradict...the proscription in The Discipline against gays and lesbians."

On June 1, 1996, the Wisconsin Annual Conference acted to become a "Reconciling Conference." "Reconciling" churches "affirm the participation of lesbians, gay men, their families and friends" in the life and ministry of the church (Reconciling Congregations). Since 1984, the "Reconciling" movement has been at the forefront of those working for the church's approval of the practice of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. "The Reconciling Congregation Program is a movement of churches and individuals who are working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in our denomination. Full inclusion includes rights to ordination and to covenant services for same-gender couples." (Reconciling Congregations Home Page)

The issue is not the welcoming of all persons, including gays and lesbians, into the church. Acts of violence, hatred, and denial of basic civil rights against gays and lesbians are to be deplored and opposed by all Christians. "All persons shall be eligible to attend the worship services [of the United Methodist Church], to participate in its programs, and, when they take the appropriate vows, to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the connection." (Discipline, Par. 208) However, the "Reconciling" movement wants more than just the opportunity to sit in the church pews for worship and study. The "Reconciling" movements wants to change the message that the church preaches. Rather than a message of grace, forgiveness, healing, and holiness, the "Reconciling" movement wants to hear a message of endorsement and approval.

While homosexual practice is no more or less a sin than any other that separates us from our God, both the Bible and the Discipline of our church clearly present such practice as a sin. The remedy is the same for all. There must be repentance before there can be a restoration of fellowship with God and the possibility of being transformed by God's grace. This has been the message of the church across the centuries. With Christ we say, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."

With sadness, we note that Bishop Rader and the other fourteen bishops, joined now by the Wisconsin Annual Conference, find themselves at odds with the historic position of The United Methodist Church, as reaffirmed by the 1996 General Conference, and with twenty centuries of Christian teaching. We lament the divisiveness of their actions and fear for the unity of The United Methodist Church in Wisconsin.

Therefore, the undersigned members of The United Methodist Church make this declaration.

  1. We find unacceptable the designation by the Wisconsin Annual Conference of itself as a "Reconciling Conference" and will not be bound by it. Such a designation rejects Scriptural teaching and spurns the consistent stance of the United Methodist Church. The Wisconsin Annual Conference will define for itself the implications of being a "Reconciling Conference" for its own life and ministry. Adopting the name of a national organization, however, commits the Annual Conference to generally support its agenda, as outlined above.
  2. We cannot in good conscience support, either morally or financially, any ministry or program of the Wisconsin Conference that "promotes the acceptance of homosexuality." (Discipline, Par. 906.12)

  3. We declare our support for "The Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church." With the "Confessing Movement," "we confess that Jesus Christ is the Son, the Savior, and the Lord, according to the Scriptures....We will faithfully support United Methodist activities, groups, programs, and publications that further this confession and spread the Good News throughout the world in faithful obedience to the apostolic witness. We will vigorously challenge and hold accountable those that undermine this confession." ("A Confessional Statement")
  4. We endorse the ministries of "Transforming Congregations," a "ministry of transformation of homosexuals...based on loving compassion, Scripture, and The Discipline of the United Methodist Church." Transforming Ministries "affirm the Biblical witness that homosexual practice is sin and that the power of the Holy Spirit is available to transform the life of the homosexual." In this spirit, we seek to "minister to persons struggling with homosexuality, their families and all others affected by homosexuality as partners in Christ's work of healing." (Transforming Congregations)
  5. We urge United Methodists offended by the Annual Conference action to remain within the church as a witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We exhort United Methodist congregations, pastors, and laity lovingly but firmly to convey to Bishop Rader and the Conference Council on Ministries our disapproval of the Annual Conference action. We implore the Wisconsin Annual Conference, at its earliest opportunity, to reverse this divisive course of action that is alienating many of our members.
  6. We commit ourselves to pray regularly for Bishop Rader and the leadership of the Wisconsin Conference, and for the Scriptural reform and spiritual renewal of The United Methodist Church.
  7. We reserve the right to take further action to secure the faithful witness of The United Methodist Church. We are eager to dialog with those who disagree with us. However, we cannot compromise the integrity of the church or the fundamental doctrine that "the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice." (John Wesley, Thoughts upon Methodism, 1786)

"Aware of our own sinfulness, we who make this [Declaration] submit our common witness and our lives to the judgment and mercy of God." (A Confessional Statement) We welcome all who would join with us in this cause.

Signed

23 concerned pastors at the Portage meeting


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