Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.


More about Lifewatch, Reconciling Ministries, the United Methodist Building, and Lake Junaluska: Why We Worry

After returning from Liberia I found a letter in my mailbox from the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, the president of Lifewatch and editor of its newsletter. He wrote in response to my July 3 post entitled "Lifewatch, Reconciling Ministries, the United Methodist Building, and Lake Junaluska: Why We Worry."

In his letter he gives me permission to make it public, so I will do so here, and then make a few brief comments in response.

07 July 2005
Dear Rev. Snyder:

Grace and peace to you. I trust that your travels to, and in, Africa went exceedingly well.

Yesterday I read through your "Lifewatch, Reconciling Ministries, the United Methodist Building, and Lake Junaluska: Why We Worry." As the author of "What Motivates Lifewatch?" as indicated by the "PTS" at the end of the article, I would like to make three comments in response to your article.

First, please know that Lifewatch actually pays for use of the chapel (for the Lifewatch Service of Worship) and the meeting space (for the Lifewatch Board Meeting) in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill each January. Again, Lifewatch pays for the privilege of annually using space in the United Methodist Building. So the larger denomination is not subsidizing Lifewatch.

Second, methinks there is a significant difference between Lifewatch's commitment to change our church's teaching on abortion and the Reconciling Ministries Network's commitment to alter our church's teaching on homosexuality. The difference is that Lifewatch's commitment is based on the Church's ecumenical teaching through the ages, while the Reconciling Ministries Network's commitment is opposed to the Church's ecumenical teaching throughout the ages. Again, the Great Tradition, which is simply the paper trail of the Church's teaching on the Bible through the centuries, teaches merciful protection of the unborn child and mother, and the disordered nature of homosexual activity. Therefore, Lifewatch stays with the Great Tradition, while the Reconciling Ministries Network is against it.

And third, with you I share deep concern about well-intentioned United Methodists who want to limit or eliminate public, moral-theological discourse in various locations of The United Methodist Church. In my experience over the years in denominational and ecumenical ministries, the left-of-center establishment has at times engaged in "discourse management," shall we say. The same behavior by those right-of-center is, and would be, equally repugnant. The ideal would be for the church faithfully offering her teach[ings] with intellectual sophistication and persuasiveness, and then welcoming voices of dissent; to which the Church would then respond in the Spirit of truth and love. This is the practice of the "generous orthodoxy" that this pastor finds compelling.

If you would like to make this letter public in any way, be my guest.

Thank you for your courage and good cheer in grappling with some of the most difficult matters facing The United Methodist Church today.

Be faithful in all things.

In Christ,

(The Rev.) Paul T. Stallsworth

Pastor, and President/Editor of Lifewatch

This is a letter written tenderly and kindly, I think, without the writer sacrificing his deepest commitments and values or suppressing areas where he or I might disagree. I greatly appreciate this, and am touched by it. Here are just a few thoughts in response to the letter.

First, I said in my post that I would be surprised if Lifewatch paid rent to worship in the United Methodist Building. Turns out I am surprised. I would have thought the General Board of Church and Society might allow a United Methodist-related caucus to worship in our building. Maybe it is appropriate that a caucus rent meeting space, but worship space is different. I appreciate this clarification, and am left feeling as if the board ought perhaps to be more generous. Either we ought to allow this group of fellow United Methodists to worship in our building or we ought not, but we shouldn't let rent money be the deciding factor.

Still, it does not change the underlying point I tried to make in my post. Lifewatch is paying its own way in the United Methodist Building. The Reconciling Congregation Network is paying its own way at Lake Junaluska. If one of these is okay, the other ought to be okay as well. I don't think Rev. Stallsworth disagrees with this, but Good News and the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) seem to.

Secondly, I find myself somewhat in awe of the idea that "the Great Tradition" of "the Church's ecumenical teaching throughout the ages" supports Lifewatch's position on abortion, while the Reconciling Ministries Network's position is contrary to it. Wow. Isn't this somewhat presumptuous? (I am trying to remember which of the ecumenical councils addressed abortion and sexual orientation. And I am wondering what "the Great Tradition" has to say about the divine right of kings, class systems within society and the church, the role of women in church and society, the rights and responsibilities of children and youth, and the place of the laity in church governance.)

The Greatest Tradition that I am most aware of says: "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." The implications of this greatest tradition for our understandings of abortion, sexual orientation, and other concerns is the question, I think. Otherwise "the Great Tradition" could be used to justify all sort of unjust and even barbaric social practices.

Thirdly, yes, let neither those left-of-center nor those right-of-center limit discourse. And let us continue to hold one another accountable for fair, honest, open, and undistorted communication.

Rev. Stallsworth, my brother, thank you for your letter.


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