It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Ward

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Hope Morgan Ward to the Annual Conference

Grace and peace to each of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The 2009 Session of the Mississippi Annual Conference was filled with wonderful and with challenging moments. As we move toward this Sunday of worship in our churches, I offer this reflection and my prayers for each of you.

The Friday evening worship service has become a focus of much conversation. Some of our United Methodist community believe that the witness of a lesbian couple in the service was a mistake for which apology should be made. Others give grateful witness to being reminded of those in our midst and beyond who have stories that are intertwined with our own. The pastoral intent of the Friday evening service was an invitation to remember all of the people God loves; including those who have felt hurt or marginalized by our church.

As your bishop, I have been given responsibility to uphold the doctrine, discipline and polity of The United Methodist Church. This is a responsibility I remember and embrace in this instance and in every instance.

The Mississippi Conference has consistently supported the positions on homosexuality stated in The Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

The symbol for the bishop’s office in the United Methodist Church is a shepherd’s staff. The crook of that staff can be turned inward in caring for the flock safely gathered in. The crook of that staff can be turned outward toward those who are not yet here. It is my commitment and my prayer to give careful attention in both of these directions.

I am committed to listening to your concerns and your wisdom. You are invited to engage in dialogue on July 1 or July 2 around this or any other matters that are on your minds and hearts. The places and times for these opportunities will be sent to you early next week. I am also answering any letters or emails that you care to send.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 13 of a field in which wheat was growing. An enemy came into the field and sowed weeds among the wheat. The weeds and the wheat began to grow together. The question is posed: do we pull up the weeds? The answer is given: allow them to grow together until the harvest. At harvest time the wheat will be gathered in and the weeds destroyed.

We are bound together in this life and ministry with those who are different from ourselves. Living well together is a great challenge and a great opportunity. Thank you for your leadership in the onward journey.

With gratitude for your ministry,

Hope Morgan Ward

14 comments: said...

Thanks be to God for such a service to include the least, the oppressed and the disenfranchised. The wisdom of this bold move by the Bishop and others is to be praised and applauded.

Dwight Deal said...

I am not sure where the Methodist Church is headed. I feel that we are addressing an issue that is not a grey area in the Bible. It is pretty black and white. I do feel if we spent as much time glorifying God and trying to win souls as we spend on these issues, this would be a better world. I also feel that anyone that does not agree with the doctrine of the United Methodist church is free to attend a church that matches their beliefs. Quit trying to make the heterosexuals of our church change to your belief. We accept all people. We do not have to accept all peoples actions or lifestyles. Christ himself spoke against the issues that are threating to divide our church.

Una Malachica said...

Dwight, what do you think that Christ himself said about this issue?

Mike Weaver said...

Given the fact that the Jewish tradition in which Jesus was raised was strongly against homosexual practice, one could easily infer that the lack of any statement by Jesus on the matter is clear evidence that he agreed with his own tradition (against homosexuality). Otherwise, wouldn't he say something? I hope you are as hesitant as I am to allow the absence of a word from Jesus to carry any real authority, either for or against. Rather, we should focus on those passages of scripture in the New Testament and Hebrew Bible which plainly, and clearly, give us guidance.

Una Malachica said...

Mike, what seriously scares me the most is reading what Jesus said to the Pharisees' about their scrupulousness, how he weighed the importance of the letter of the law against its intention.

Like you, I pore over the scriptures looking for guidance and leash, but as I read them, I'm trying to remember to focus on the parts that apply to my thoughts and behavior, rather than those that make me feel really superior to the rest of you guys.

James Ballard said...

Bishop that shepherd staff is also to be used to let anything or anyone have access to the sheep. Its a weapon also. If we continue to not discipline then christian biblical leadership type people will continue to bleed from our denomination. No one wants to work hard building the local church when there efforts are being undermined by those in authority showing no leadership.

Una Malachica said...

What kind of leadership should a bishop exhibit? Should she model her ministry on that of Jesus in Matthew 15-16? If she does, she will surely hear the same kind of criticism he did?

I'm personally stung by your remarks when I review some of the decisions that I made when I was serving a church. Specifically, I agreed to officiate at a wedding in which the bride had been married before. I didn't exactly ignore Matthew 19:1-9, but I comforted myself with 19:10-12.

Dwight Deal said...

I am not sure that you understood my point.Christ may not have specifically mentioned a homosexual lifestyle, but he did mention sexual immoral behavior. There are a few scriptures that I feel address how immoral seuxal behavior is defined.
They are :
I Cor 6:9-10
Romans 1:26-28
Lev 18:22
Lev 20:13

I am also the first to admit that I am a human and make mistakes. I also feel that until this lifestyle is " approved " (I hope never) by the Methodist Church, we should not allow time on the program at conference for these type of presentations.The church does not condone a homosexual; lifestyle. We should not be forced to sit back and not speak what we feel is wrong. Likewise, you have the right to disagree. There is a biblical basis for the Book of Discipline and what it states. When the Bible is changed to remove these rules, I will help vote to change the Methodist standards. I am not ashamed of the way I feel about this issue. You have the same right to feel what you feel. God is still in charge no matter what you and I think or do.

Anonymous said...

Well bless my soul. I had no idea homosexuality was sanctioned by the Methodist Church. I moved two years ago and I've been a member of the UMC only a short time. When I was born again I looked for and found a church in NC where people are in real relationship with Jesus Christ. The so-called evangelical churches, the charismatic denominations esp. are growing and the mainline (Methodist) are not. What do you think the reason is for this? Take a guess. I am in an area with few evangelical churches. The people at UMC are wonderful. But good heavens - let's focus on spreading the gospel and quit looking at our navels and re-writing the Holy Book. Good bye and good luck.

Una Malachica said...

Anonymous, to whom should the church reach out? To whom should our fellowship be restricted? Does the example of Jesus that we have in the gospels teach us to stick to our own or not? I can't get away from his criticism of the Pharisees. I can't quit being hounded by his words in Matthew 9:11-13.

I will continue to wonder what kind of church will measure up to your attitude.

Carter said...

This is a little long (I have had to split it in half) but I have tried to answer all of the questions raised by Mike and Dwight.

As an Evangelical I think that we should look to the scripture first and foremost to see what in clearly and plainly stated.

Since I believe that we are all making Christian arguments here, I will address the passages from Paul first before I address the ones from the purity codes. However, let me start first by pointing out that any form of sexual orientation was not recognized until the 19th century. Therefore the authors are, at most, discussing acts and not inherent orientation.

First Romans:
This passage falls within the greater denunciation by Paul of the Gentile order. As the early Israelites had done, the early Christians were eager to set themselves apart from their gentile neighbors. If this passage is in a cultural critique, then what specific function of the greater culture was Paul criticizing? It is clear to us that there was not widespread non-ritual same-sex behavior in the first century Mediterranean. There was, however, widespread use of male-male temple sex acts. This is the behavior that Paul is writing against. There is nothing in this passage that would suggest that Paul is referencing two people engaged in a loving relationship.

Also, to use a passage from Romans 1 as a club to beat people over the head with entirely misses the point of the first part of Romans, that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and yet God's Grace and Love is sufficient for all of us and that we are “justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” (Romans 3:28).

Second 1 Cor 6:9-10:
Even though Dwight did not mention it I am going to throw 1 Timothy 1:9-10 in here too, since it uses the EXACT same word in the Greek that the 1 Cor passage uses. It is clear that there is no consensus on what exactly these words mean. They are extremely rare, not only in the New Testament, but also in extra-canonical Koine Greek. Almost every translation that you look at as the term translated in a different way. Until the 16th century, it was translated as “masturbaters.” However the only thing that is agreed on is that the words do have an implication of abuse, potentially even pederasty, and, again, certainly not loving relationships.

Carter said...

Now coming to the passages from the Hebrew Bible
These passages from Leviticus are contained in the purity codes, not in the morality codes. These are the laws that set Israel apart from the surrounding tribes. These laws, just as the dietary laws that are part of the purity code, are to form identity, not morality. No other element of the purity code is advocated for by Christians. Furthermore the word “abomination” is rooted in the same word as “unclean,” again referring to the status of these passages as part of the surrounding purity code and not some rogue element of the morality code that has broken in!

Finally, in reference to all of the Old Testament passages, Jesus first and then Paul make it pretty clear that we, as Christians are not bound by the letter of the Law, but by the spirit, as expressed in the Greatest Commandment and lived out by Jesus's sacrifice on the cross. Unless one is willing to give up Cotton/linen blends and Crawfish, we should step lightly when trying to enforce only certain parts of Old Testament Law.

Finally, Dwight has been so kind as to grace us with a wee bit of wit stating “When the Bible is changed to remove these rules” he will support the shift of worldly rules as well. What Dwight has failed to take into account here is the fact that interpretations of text, often resulting in great shifts in meaning, have occurred over the years. True the Jesus, Word made flesh, is “the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrew 13:8). However, “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him” (1 Cor 8:2-3). So while Jesus, the Word, may not change, our small, petty understanding of Him might. And knowing that we, as fallen humans, are incapable of truly understanding the mind and will of God, Jesus leaves us with a way out. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23); “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19); “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). All three of these passages point to the fact that the community was given the authority to interpret the Gospel and that the interpretations and decisions that are made by the community will be binding in heaven as well. We are thus presented with two options homosexuality could be a sin and displeasing to God (although I feel that I have shown that there is NO scriptural evidence for this) or the majority interpretation of these passages is wrong and God's grace really is wide and strong enough to cover EVERYONE!

Me? I would rather err on the side of love in a full throttle, foolish pursuit of the Greatest Commandment.

Mike and Dwight and others, I hope that this answers your scriptural questions. Come, join us on the side of love and put down the ways of legalism and division!

Dwight Deal said...

I appreciate the fact that you took the time to base your opinion on scripture. I do think that we have the right to disagree. I am very glad that we have chosen to in a Christian manner. I hope you have a great week.

Dwight Deal said...

I do resent the fact that you implied that I was not on the side of Love. I did not make personal comments to any person in my psot. You should return the favor.