03 November 2005

Since it's Disciplinary . . .

I was reading the blog of the Rev. Dean Snyder, my former boss and pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. I've yet to really dive into the discussions of recent Judicial Council rulings (Stroud and Johnson). I enjoyed reading on his blog today about the Baltimore-Washington Conference caling for a special session of the General Conference to discuss the Johnson ruling. Then I read the comments on the blog. Here is one that was most disturbing from a UM clergyperson:

"It is true that I would not allow a homosexual person who I knew was sexually active become a member of my church. Neither would I let a sexually active single heterosexual person become a member of my church or couples living together or those living in adulterous relationships, or those practicing any sin without a sense of remorse and the desire to repent and change. My congregation supports me in this. So it's not about purging gay people. It's about purging sin. And the trouble with sin is that it looks like people which makes it hard to deal with. We are a church called to spread scriptural holiness across the land. If we tolerate sin that is shoved in our face we are anything but a holiness movement."

Wow! The Holy Spirit is begging and pleading and groaning for a revival of the United Methodist Church. I just know it when I read things like most of these conversations on UM blogs.

The Book of Discipline language . . . it's tricky. Yes, pastors should be able to walk potential members through the process and help determine their readiness to join. Pastors must help us take membership in the church seriously. But can we really deny membership according to our interpretations of a hierarchy of sins in a church where each of us are beautiful letdowns before the throne of God? We must revisit this in a prayerful, faithful special session of General Conference.

BUT if we don't, my friend Jennifer and I decided that we need a pastor to now kick President Bush out of the UMC for the authorization of killing thousands of people. I mean, since it's faithful to the Discipline and all . . .


Gwynefere said...

Brilliant my dear! Well said. The picking and choosing of which sinners are worthy is an unholy mess. We are all equally sinful in the eyes of God. The church seems to be forgetting that.

Jay said...

And I'm willing to take on that pastoral role if need be. :)

By the way, I answered your question back at my blog.

will smama said...

How bizarre... I thought we learned that all sins were the same back in Sunday School.

I'm so glad the Lord does the final picking and choosing.

Mike said...

It would have to be a pastor who could use Bush's "speech".

Mary said...

May I be devil's advocate here? Not really DEVIL, though it may seem that way. I think the key point of the minister's statement was ANY sinner who is not remorseful of his or her sin is not accepted. I can see his point.

If a person is just accepting sin in his or her life without combatting it, then how is the Church any different from the YMCA or a social club? We should be a people who are not comfortable living with adultery, child abuse, domestic violence, alcholism, gossip, lies, materialism, etc.--ANY sin. And if a person is confronted with sin and has no desire to change, then how is he or she building up the Church in the likeness of Christ's holiness?

The fact that the Chuch is so indiscriminate bothers me. We are shocked when people like the BTK killer is teaching Sunday school and serving as a deacon. How does that happen? How does a man serve GOD in CHURCH and not be brought to utter remorse? The issue may be that we are NOT confronting sin AT ALL, and thus people come to churches all across the world and never learn what it means to be holy before a holy God. My point is that we need to raise the bar of the Church. We should be a place where people are spurred on to holiness. Those not willing to go on that journey would know that it's not the place for them.

At my school, we do it all the time--if a child is not up to the intellectual or behavioral challenge of being at a structured, academically rigorous school, then this is not the place for them. And usually, that doesn't even need to be said--the families come in, hear what we're about, and know that this is not the place for them.

So, yes, it seems harsh to say that a homosexual is denied membership to a church. Is that just because homosexuality is a hot topic? I don't know the answer to that. Would we be as shocked if the same minister said that he would not let a child abuser/molestor in his church if the culprit were not remorseful? If sin is sin, as we all agree, then we probably wouldn't be as angry about that.

jonathan said...

Does this pastor excommunicate those that do not tithe? If so, statistically half of his flock would be staying home on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I do think we need to address sin and discipline those who are unrepentant. However, we can't pick and choose which sins we discipline. I think certain sins have varying degrees of consequence, but all sin is a spiritual problem that needs to be dealt with. If we don't hold each other accountable, how are we conforming ourselves to Christ's example? We must address ALL sin... Even gossip, failing to tithe, lying... But it comes down to the heart. What is the heart of the person who is caught up in whatever sin we may be talking about? If we aren't going to help that person walk away from their sin, but instead condemn them or ignore their sin, then have we done what Christ would would want us to do?

Sorry to get rambly. Thanks for visiting my blog! :D

the reverend mommy said...

Yeah, me too. They better start with kicking me out, since I continue to sin even when I know better. In fact, once they kick out all the sinners, I wonder who would be left?

Heather said...

I was going to type exactly what Mary did. I think you each have good points.

Songbird said...

I think to compare gay and lesbian people to criminals is a bit of a stretch, mary. Are you suggesting that the BTK killer might not have been a serial killer if his pastor had really talked about sin? The guy is a sociopath. He does not dwell in any kind of moral reality. His life was a cover for his crimes, a complete fraud.
Gay and lesbian people who are out and seeking church membership are living authentic lives. I'm not Methodist and therefore not answerable to the Book of Discipline, but in my understanding of a faithful walk with Christ, we can't begin until we stop pretending to be something we are not.

Mary said...

The premise of my argument is that homosexuality is a sin.

There are lots of things about myself that I can be true to that are sinful. For example, I am anorexic/bulimic. Criminal? By whose standards? Before a court of law, no. Before God, YES, YES, YES! By the grace of God, I was able to overcome my behavior though I must battle the mindset daily. I had to learn that I cannot "be true to myself." I must deny myself and seek to "throw off . . . sin that so easily entangles" and "run with perseverence the race marked out for [me]" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

All I'm saying is that God does not differentiate between the sin of the BTK killer OR my sin of slothfulness, pride, selfishness, gossip, etc.

We ALL have "covers" for our sin. The challenge is removing the mask and confronting who we really are. And if who we really are is sinful, then we should "throw off" sin's "entanglement."

Again, my premise is that homosexuality is a sin based on Romans 1:18-32. There are many other sins listed in that passage of which I am guilty, though my DESIRE is to change. Without a desire to change, then what?

Ciona said...

I know there are far too many young anorexics, Mare, who are a part of web rings of pride for their disease. They are not ready to let it go. They are clinging to what they believe. Is that healthy or good? Absolutely not, as you point out! They are spiraling in a sick disease, as you well know. I would be terribly disappointed, however, for any church to deny them membership because of where they are. How do we limit where they could be through Christ as they continue in fellowship and ministry with the believers? Christ asks us to come . . . there is room enough for all of us. Christ asks us to come and be cleaned. We are not asked to be clean before we come. And I think that goes for the dirty sins we have and the dirty sins we don't even recognize. For all of those things, we are welcomed before God. Aren't we? Yes, even the child molester (though the comparison b/w that and homosexuality is one that is problematic). That's the major point here. The name of the sin aside--the bottom line is that if you were still in the phase of your illness when you were unwilling to accept that you were harming your temple, should you be denied membership to a church? Absolutely not! Wasn't it through those with whom you could be where you are and still be held accountable that you were able to change? Not through judgment and being ignored . . .

Mary said...

I agree completely with you, Ciona. The church should be a place for people to come for healing, and yes, there is room for all of us. ALL. There is no limit to the depth of God's grace. It covers even the most heinous sin we could ever imagine. How, however, can we experience this grace if we never realize that we need it?

I think the issue is that we are not all seeing homosexuality as a sin. If you don't, then my argument makes no sense. My comparison between homosexuality and child molesting of course would be extraordinarily problematic. I'm saying that BOTH are sins. If you see one as sinful and the other as not, then my logic is fallible.

Again, my reaction to the original post and the comments of others was based on my assumption that homosexuality was being considered a sin. I probably made an incorrect assumption, it seems.

I think the pastor from the original post was saying that an openly homosexual person who has no desire to change his or her lifestyle would be denied membership to his church. I didn't think it referred to a homosexual person coming to seek healing and change.

If so, then you're completely right. He's completely off-base and should probably undergo church discpline himself.

In my own experience, yes, the church was a place for me to heal at times. But I recognized my need for healing and was working on it. Not always at the pace others wanted, but I was taking active steps. Again, I'm assuming that the homosexuals coming to pastor X's church are not seeking change.

I hope that clears up some of my thoughts. I was probably doing way too much assuming and not enough questioning.

Mary said...

One more thing, what's the big deal about church membership, anyway? Nowhere in the New Testament do we read about having to join a church. The Church just was what it was. Of course, we can meet God wherever we are. But church membership seems to be an institution of man that's causing me to write long comments on Ciona's blog. I don't think that the pastor would NOT let someone through the doors to worship on Sunday or Saturday evening. If not, again, he has major issues. The issue seems to be *membership*, which is not even really biblical.

I just had that thought. I haven't thought it out much yet, but I think that's my issue here with this whole debate. (The membership piece, that is.)

Ciona said...

I hear you, Mare. I don't think we're asking the right questions.

So this is the question we're asking when we think of this issue: Is homosexuality a sin?

We answer emphatically, "Yes!" And so . . .?

We answer emphatically, "No!" And so . . .?

When did the end result change for either answer?

The better question: who gets to come? Who gets to experience the fullness of Jesus Christ?

I know no other answer except that we all do. Child molesters, liars, lovers, heterosexuals, gossipers, tax collectors, homosexuals, children, tithers, impoverished, prostitutes, widow/ers, rich all get to sit on the same holy pews with our filth.

When did the church believe our job was to transform souls? Our job is to love incessantly and pray for God's transformation of souls--ours and the world. I'm starting to question our mission as a UMC to "make disciples." God transforms, God makes disciples. We are faithful followers praying that we can be used in the process, aren't we?

Mary said...

The "make disciples" piece I'm sure comes from Jesus' commission in which he told His disciples "to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Matt. 27 or 28). Of course, WE do not "make disciples" apart from the empowerment of Christ. We are simply vessels--the couriers of an important message of redemption, if you will. It's a worthy, lofty *calling* that should not be taken lightly. And I would hope that any church would understand that PEOPLE do not transform souls.

Anyway, does being a member of a church mean that you experience the fullness of Christ in a deeper way than if you were not? Maybe I don't understand the UMC church membership policy or whatever.

In most churches I've attended and joined, membership was simply a formality; it wasn't a condition to coming to church.

Am I misunderstanding something?

Heather said...

I have been thinking this over and my final thought is this: To heck with church membership. LOL! Either it needs to be dramitically revamped or done away with.

Lorna said...


we are baptised INTO a church. to allow a baptised member to come to service but deny membership, is to deny fellowship with Christ through each other - and that is why IMHO membership should not be denied.

As we become members we promise to try our best to live lives worthy of Christ, and members are to help each other. It starts from the basis of being equal - sinners in need of Christ, and not by having a badge of worthiness which enables us to become members because our sins are not X, Y or Z or worse still because our sins are expertly buried. (sigh)

membership is not the same as baptism, and our salvation is not in question if it is denied - but my point is why would we deny membership at all? To do so is to miss the point of the book of Galatians where Paul teaches that keeping the law is not what frees us, but faith in Jesus Christ.

I say we admit all, and we work together on our Christlikeness.

If the pastor is going to deny membership on the basis of sins, then he /she would also have to start revoking memberships too. What's more his /her life had better be spotless because he/she will be held accountable for their judgement over others.

This is a BAD decision for UMC. No question and ironically it's not even a gay /straight issue at all.

Ciona said...

I agree, Lorna. This is not an issue of sexuality, and I wish we could get passed that to really respond in the way of Christ.

I sigh with you . . .