Bishop Palmer is who will have to ultimately deal with the matter that is going to be presented here. No matter what your personal opinion may be, I encourage you not to pray that the Bishop does what you want, but to simply pray for the Bishop that he might be strengthened in a difficult situation and that he may faithfully execute the will of God, no matter what that looks like. There will be plenty of time to praise or complain about the decision, and indeed many of us will, but until then, let us simply pray for a man in authority facing a difficult situation.
Another day, another same sex wedding in the United Methodist Church. Not just that, but another planned publicity stunt that looks more like a political process than a Christian witness of unity in the body. Take these words from the article above:
Meredith acknowledges that the wedding was held to openly challenge the church’s rules, and it was timed to occur just three days before the denomination’s General Convention in Portland, Oregon, where the rules will be debated.
Marriage, the reflection of Christ’s relationship with His church, as a political tool to try and sow dissent. Surely this is not the gospel message Christ came to deliver. Surely this is not the proper reflection of the bride of Christ. But I digress as this is not the central point that I wish to write about.
Several groups are calling specifically for what is called a just resolution in the rules of the United Methodist Church. As always, I do support using the processes that are available in our Book of Discipline to change things and settle disputes as outlined in the above link. Because of this, calling for a just resolution (item c in the link) at the exclusion of any of the other options available is irresponsible. To limit what those in charge have at their disposal to mediate disputes and to bring those in the church breaking her rules back into proper alignment with the church makes little sense. While the Bishops of our church have in the past failed to do this in a manner consistent with the spirit of the BoD, still it is their sacred charge to so, and until amended to say otherwise, we should allow them the full range of options to deal with such matters. Yes, the just resolution is an option, but it should not be the only option. I do agree that church trials should indeed be a last resort, but they must be available as there are some things so egregious that they simply can not be properly reconciled in the just resolution process.
Some have called for a suspension of the pastors involved in this matter (item d in the resolution process). I find this to be appropriate in this matter. First you have the fact that the pastor who was married has been engaged in a 28 year long relationship that is forbidden by rules of the church. This pattern of behavior shows not only defiance to the rules of the church but complete disregard for the teachings of the church. Second you have three pastors serving three separate churches directly involved in this and, by extension, involving their three separate congregations as well, not to mention the 90 others in the region that signed a letter of support of their knowing and willful disregard for the rules of beliefs of the church. The sheer scope of the infraction seems to warrant a suspension until such time as the matter is resolved. At least one of the stated purposes of this wedding was publicity. That alone makes a mockery of the rite of marriage as understood by the church. Third, it should be noted that this is not an accusation made against someone, it is a known and admitted fact. This is not a case of innocent until proven guilty if you will, but rather a case of what is the best way to handle what has transpired moving forward. As the pastors in question have violated the rules of the church, used a sacred rite of the church for publicity, and shown a disregard the teaching of the church, a suspension seems warranted until the best way to move forward has been determined.
The entire point of the complaint process should be understood by all of us, especially considering the emotionally charged climate that we are in.
This review shall have as its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Christ.
A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties. In appropriate situations, processes seeking a just resolution as defined in ¶ 363.1(c) may be pursued.
Notice the focus and the point here. “God’s work of justice, reconciliation, and healing.” God’s justice is dependent upon His holiness. Our reflections of God’s justice must also depend upon holiness and indeed holiness is a part of our Wesleyan tradition. The church has been entrusted by God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to teach and show those who look to her what holiness is in both belief and in action. The church has declared that the actions of these pastors is not a holy action. God’s reconciliation is indeed about bringing us back into proper relationship to Him. Again, the church has been entrusted by God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak and teach this reconciliation. A part of that is repentance and the above mentioned holiness. At our baptism, we were declared one of god’s own, a new creation in fact. A people called out of the fallen world and called into God’s kingdom.
That can happen only if we are indeed reconciled to God and follow His teachings and commands. The church has said that the actions of these pastors are indeed contrary to God’s teachings and commands and does not lead those they have been entrusted to serve toward reconciliation with God, but rather away from it. Finally there is God’s healing. While not always realized fully in this world, it is promised in the world to come. In examining options, we must be willing and able to ask what brings healing to this situation that is within the authority and power of the church. God’s healing is never associated with continuing in sin. The church has been entrusted by God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to expose sin, not in judgement or condemnation, but to name sins for what they are precisely so that we can experience God’s healing in our lives. The church has called the actions of these pastors sin.
Many have called for the use of the just resolution exclusively as I mentioned above, and I even believe that a just resolution is the most favorable of all possible outcomes in any situation involving disobedience to the vows one has taken to the church. There are some questions I have though that the process must be able to address in order for it to actually be just. What just resolution restores the trust that those pastors have broken by willingly and knowingly breaking their vows? This is not just about the covenant community that pastors are a part of, but the relationship that a pastor has with us laity types. What just resolution solves the chaos of belief that exists because of those who choose to teach outside of the church’s beliefs on this matter? It seems to me that the spirit of the just resolution process is to restore one to proper relationship to the church. The simple truth is that you can not restore one who does not wish to be. There is no desire to be reconciled and restored with the church, only the desire to change the church by any means necessary. What sort of just resolution solves the end justifies the means attitude that these pastors have taken? We can not restore a person to proper relationship to the church who does not want to be restored. We can not reconcile those to the church who have shown that they only wish the church to be reconciled to themselves.