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The More Excellent Way:


Dear Friends,

Here is the final draft of the response statement to "In All Things Charity." Thanks to all of you who gave your input to make this a strong but compassionate statement. I hope I can count on all of you to endorse it as initial signatories. To do so, please e-mail me the following information:

Your name, position or title, and city of residence. As with all such statements, this information is for identification purposes only.

You are free to copy and distribute this statement to others of like- mind. If you would like a "formal" copy, just include your snail mail address with your correspondence.

Thanks,

James A. Gibson III

The Josiah Journal

United Methodist Renewal Generation


GOD'S PLAN RE-AFFIRMED


PREAMBLE

For over two decades, The United Methodist Church has found itself in the midst of an ongoing debate concerning the subject of homosexuality. Often this debate has been shaped by the language of sociology and the agenda of popular culture. Although the authoritative witness of Scripture and Christian tradition teaches that the practice of homosexuality is a sin and that persons who practice such will not inherit the kingdom of God (cf. I Corinthians 6:9-10), this witness has been diminished, ignored and demeaned by individuals, groups and organizations within United Methodism who are committed to a political agenda that is destructive to the Church and to the moral fabric of society. Despite numerous well- orchestrated efforts by such parties to amend the denomination's long-held and biblically supported position that the practice of homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" (Book of Discipline, paragraph 65G), successive General Conferences since 1972 have upheld the Church's stance on this issue. However, within the context of the most recent General Conference (1996), certain statements have been issued to the public which openly challenge the Discipline, church tradition and the teachings of Holy Scripture. Of particular concern are the statement issued by fifteen United Methodist bishops during the General Conference and the document, "In All Things Charity" (IATC), recently issued by fifteen United Methodist clergy members. Such statements, while claiming to be "statements of conscience," appear to represent an attempt to circumvent the General Conference, lay aside the Discipline, and undermine the authority of Scripture. In the face of this challenge, we, the undersigned, are compelled to offer the following articles in response.

AFFIRMATIONS AND COMMITMENTS



1. We affirm the United Methodist position on homosexuality, stated in the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline, paragraph 65G. Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

We believe this to be a biblically-grounded, grace-based statement which holds in proper balance the necessary proscription against a behavior which denies full personhood to those who practice it and the unequivocal mandate for all Christians to reach out in compassionate, loving ministry to those in need. It is false to claim, as do the signers of IATC (Article 2), that prohibition of a practice diminishes the "sacred worth" of persons who engage in that practice. A person's "sacred worth" is not determined by how one lives one's life. "Sacred worth" is a given, for we are all created in the image of God. However, inasmuch as all human beings are fallen and in need of redemption, it is the Church's responsibility to reach out to persons of every condition in life with the saving message of Jesus Christ, to the end that all persons may be restored to wholeness in their relationship with God and with others. Homosexuality is but one of numerous sins which denies persons the full recognition of their "sacred worth." It is the Church's duty, particularly in a day and age of declining societal morality, to speak the truth in love concerning the sin of homosexuality as part of its ministry of redemption and reconciliation.

2. We affirm the lifelong commitment between one man and one woman as the only appropriate expression of the marriage covenant. Scripture teaches that this is God's plan for humankind from the foundation of the world (cf. Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:5-9). It is unthinkable to even suggest the Church support "covenental commitments between same-gendered couples" (IATC, Article 3). Support for such "covenants" is not ministry, but an abdication of ecclesiastical ethics, responsibility and integrity. We will hold accountable, through such means as delineated in the Discipline (paragraphs 2623-2629), any clergy members who participate in rituals "celebrating" unions of same-gendered couples. Such rituals are in violation of the Social Principles (Discipline, paragraph 65C). Moreover, they show contempt for the holy institution of matrimony.

3. We affirm the Disciplinary standards for ordination which require that all clergy "maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world" (Discipline, paragraph 304.3). To that end, we who are clergy are committed, through our ordination vows and as a matter of personal integrity, to "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." We who are laity commit ourselves to holding clergy accountable in this matter. The exclusion of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from the ranks of the ordained is both justified by Scripture and necessary to the integrity of the office of the ordained ministry. We will continue to stand firm against any and all attempts to minimize or eliminate these standards. It is false to claim, as do the signers of IATC in the preamble of their statement, that there is a tension between the covenant of United Methodist clergy to uphold the Discipline, including its teachings on homosexuality, and the ordination vows to consciously represent "the whole Gospel. . .to the end that all the world may be saved." Both the Discipline and the Gospel are in agreement that homosexuals are persons worthy of the forgiving grace of God, but that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. Tension exists only when there is a reduction of the Gospel, such as the conscious omission of a call to repentance, and/or when one verbally assents, via ordination vows, to the teachings of the Discipline and then uses one's set apart status as a vehicle for the dissemination of contrary teachings.

4. We affirm and support those ministries of transformation which seek to offer opportunities for homosexual persons who wish to leave such lifestyles. It is a testimony to the forgiving, justifying and sanctifying grace of God when one who has formerly been a homosexual is made a new creation in Christ (cf. I Corinthians 6:11). As we are given opportunity, we will reach out in love and compassion to persons seeking deliverance from a homosexual lifestyle, extending to them Christ's offer of salvation. This is a true ministry of reconciliation--with God, with others and with self--which brings forgiveness, redemption, healing and full inclusion in the Body of Christ. Continued discussion and debate over the issue of homosexuality compromises the healing of many former homosexuals both inside and outside our denomination. Denial of the possibility of this healing is just one more example of the "marginalization of former homosexuals" which is opposed in the Social Principles (Discipline, paragraph 66H.)

5. We commit ourselves to continue the preaching, teaching and living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, both to those who are believers, that they may grow in Christ, and to those who are not believers, that they may find salvation in Christ. Concern over peripheral issues cannot take precedence over the primary mission of the Church, which is to make and nurture disciples for Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). The continuing debate over homosexuality is a distraction from the Great Commission, which Christ himself has given us as a mandate. We see no useful purpose in continuing a debate with persons who, through their accomodation to contemporary secular philosophies, have abandoned the Christian faith. United Methodist pulpits, boards, agencies, educational institutions and other affiliated entities are inappropriate avenues for the expression of viewpoints advocating the acceptance of a practice deemed by the Church to be unacceptable. Other means of expression are freely available in the public square for those who feel the need to speak their convictions.

6. We who are clergy commit ourselves to continued study of Scripture and the Church's historic doctrines. We will teach and instruct our laity in the same, to the end that future generations of United Methodists will be equipped with a sufficient understanding of the nature and mission of the Church, and thus be able to distinguish truth from error. We who are laity commit ourselves to holding our clergy accountable to proper teaching and instruction in these matters. We, clergy and laity alike, affirm Wesley's Model Deed, that the laity have the right to correct the clergy in matters theological.

CONCLUSION

We pray that the Church will move beyond this needless debate over an issue settled centuries ago and upheld throughout history by the unanimous witness of Scripture and Christian tradition. God's plan for humankind is not subject to modification according to the whims of personal experience or opinion. The Church will not abandon its biblical teachings on sin, repentance, forgiveness, salvation and sanctification in order to accommodate a culture at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither will the Church diminish its commitment to the sanctity of the marriage covenant and the integrity of the office of the ordained ministry in order to salve the consciences of a constituency which knows not the radical demands of the life of holiness and discipleship.

We call upon the Church to recognize again its unique nature as the Body of Christ, "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [God's] own special people" called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God's mercy and grace (cf. I Peter 2:9-10). As a people called of God, let us leave behind this distraction and move forward, shining forth the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the dawning of a new millennium.

We stand as servants of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Savior.


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