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.


News Story on British Methodists Blessing Same-Sex Unions Was Misleading -- An E-interview with Jonathan Kerry

Locusts and Honey discovered a news story in The Guardian, a British newspaper, entitled "Methodist leaders vote to bless gay couples."

Then, the British Methodist Conference issued a statement suggesting that the news reports were not necessarily fully accurate. The statement said: "Some of the national and local newspapers which have reported on the Conference debate have interpreted this in a way which suggests that the Church has gone further than is actually the case. ... This is deeply regrettable and the Conference is assured that no statement or commitment has been made which goes beyond what the Conference has actually agreed."

The Rev. Jonathan Kerry, Conference Coordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning, oversaw the production of the report at issue. He serves as convener of the Pilgrimage of Faith Working Party which was established by the British Methodist Conference in 1993.

Rev. Kerry graciously agreed to respond to questions about the process that led up to the report and the report's actual contents. Here is the interview:

Rev. Kerry responded to my request for an e-interview by writing:

Thank you for your e-mail. A few introductory comments, then I will answer your specific questions. It is good to know that you are interested in the deliberations of our Church. However, the report in the Guardian was misleading.

I attach a copy of a press release which gives the actual position taken by the Conference. The statement issued yesterday by our General Secretary (which you quote above) was an attempt to clarify the matter.

The Conference agreed that guidance should be issued to assist ministers who may be approached by couples seeking a blessing service or similar. As yet we do not know what form that guidance will take, and it will be provisional until the Conference has the opportunity to consider it next year.

Now to the questions that you asked:

Congratulations. The Pilgrimage of Faith report you oversaw was obviously a serious process of dialogue on what, at least here in the United States, has been a difficult issue. Would you describe the topics addressed and the way dialogue was facilitated?

The aim of the report that we prepared for our 2005 Conference was to bring evidence of how the Methodist Church in Britain is responding to the call to "Begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination" that had been issued by the 1993 Conference, following a long period of intense debate about human sexuality. In effect, we were "taking the temperature." We asked people to write or email to the working party with their answers to the following questions:

What do you understand by the phrase 'a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination' in the context of the issues of human sexuality?

To what extent have the Methodist people embarked on such a pilgrimage since 1993 (please give your reasons)?

How do you see your own story (as an individual or a group) in the context of pilgrimage? How have things changed personally, in the church and in wider society since 1993?

What do you particularly want the working party to hear?

We also met a number of individuals and groups in person, covering a wide variety of beliefs and experiences.

A news story at www.methodist.org.uk/ quotes you as saying: "The challenge for us as a Church is to keep discussing the small number of areas where we disagree, while celebrating and drawing strength from the many areas where we do agree." Would you summarize the areas of agreement and disagreement?

We agree that all people, whatever their sexuality is God's gift, that all practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative, or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God's purpose for us all.

We agree that a person shall not be debarred from church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself. We affirm the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality: namely, chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. We recognise, affirm and celebrate the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church.

We do not agree over whether the statements just quoted mean that physical sexual activity between two people of the same sex is acceptable Christian conduct, even if that takes place within a long-term, exclusive, committed relationship. Hence we do not agree whether same-sex relationships may be acknowledged and celebrated/blessed within the life of the Church.

A Guardian news story has suggested that the Methodist Church approved blessing ceremonies for same sex couples. Is this accurate? What did the report actually say about same-sex blessings?

The Guardian report was misleading, particularly the headline. What the report actually says is that guidance should be published on how to respond to requests to conduct prayers or services of blessing for same-sex couples, particularly in the light of recent legislation on civil partnerships. This refers to recent United Kingdom (UK) legislation which means that, from December, 2005, it will be possible for same-sex couples to have legal recognition of their "civil partnership," and enjoy many of the same rights as heterosexual married couples.

Is there any prohibition against pastors conducting such blessings (as there is in the United Methodist Church) in The Methodist Church. Are they currently happening in Methodist churches? What do you expect will happen in this regard in the future?

We are aware that some blessing services do take place and that Methodist ministers and others officiate. However, these generally take place off church premises, and there is no national sanction for such services. The demand for such services is expected to increase in the future, and we believe it is important that there is a national policy which either prohibits such services or allows them under certain agreed circumstances.

Does the Methodist Church ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors? Are there congregations who would not welcome a gay or lesbian pastor?

We do have ministers who are openly gay and lesbian. However, they are expected to abide by the agreements on human sexuality quoted above. Some congregations are welcoming, others less so.

Why do you think this issue is so much more controversial in the United States than it seems to be in England?

This is hard to answer, but it probably has to do with the much greater influence of Christianity in public life in general in the United States than in Britain, and also the greater prominence of conservative believers.

However, not all churches, even in Britain, are able to deal with these issues without great controversy. We are glad that our own Church has found a way to disagree on important matters such as this whilst still remaining in fellowship with each other. We believe that this tension can be creative, not divisive.

What theological ideas or principles have most informed your discussion?

Principally, the present exercise has been experiential rather than theological. However, it is in the context of a careful enquiry into the meaning and application of Scripture and the tradition of the Church. We have identified the need for further theological work on the theological implications of being a Church that has to live or contend with different and mutually contradictory convictions.

What else should we know to understand the significance of The Pilgrimage of Faith?

That we are committed to continuing our journey together. To talk of "pilgrimage" is to envision a journey the exact nature of whose destination is unknown, yet one that is worth taking because of the company of other pilgrims whom we encounter along the way. Different people will travel at a different pace; sometimes events may affect the direction, at other times, personal choice may affect the direction.

Our thanks to Rev. Kerry for this thoughtful and helpful conversation.


Blogger John said...

Good fact check! Very handy. One can never be sure how the secular media reports religious news stories because the reporters often lack sufficient background in the field.

8:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home