Nov. 1, 2005
Bishop Scott Jones
A UMNS Report
By Victoria Rebeck*
They advocate vigorously for very different views on scriptural
interpretation and, more specifically, the church’s stance toward
homosexuality. Yet members of the Confessing Movement and the
Reconciling Ministries network share similar experiences that lead them
to their perspectives, say three United Methodist bishops who attended
gatherings of both groups this fall.
In early September, Bishops Sally Dyck, Scott Jones and John Schol
attended the convocation of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a group
that advocates for full participation of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and
transgender people in the United Methodist Church. Three weeks later,
they attended the conference of the Confessing Movement, a group that
promotes faithfulness to church doctrine. It also opposes the ordination
of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and clergy-blessed unions of
“I found most compelling the stories I heard at both meetings about
their deep disappointment at how the church let them down,” said Dyck of
the Minnesota Area. “Many expressed the deep hurt they feel at how the
church did not rise to what it says it is or is supposed to be.
“Some said they believe the church did not equip them for their
spiritual journeys. A person spoke of how her father, at the end of his
lifetime of active church membership, did not feel assured of his
salvation. Others spoke of the rejection they felt from the church they
love and that nurtured their faith,” she said.
“I learned that the very different opinions these two groups have on
particular issues reflect some very similar concerns,” said Schol of the
Baltimore-Washington Area. “One of those is the Scriptures. The
Confessing Movement’s key emphasis is scriptural authority. Reconciling
Ministries’ emphasis is scriptural understanding. They are both looking
at many of the same things, but through differing experiences,
understandings and commitments.
“Both groups love the United Methodist Church, are deeply committed to
it and want the best for it,” Schol said. “That came through loud and
clear. Both groups are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ,
although there are nuances on how they look at that.”
Bishop John Schol
The church’s stands on ordination of homosexuals and unions of gay
couples have become a focus of disagreement across the denomination.
While the denomination’s Book of Discipline describes homosexuals as
people of sacred worth, it also says that homosexuality is incompatible
with Christian teaching. “Self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are barred
from ordination, and clergy are prohibited from performing liturgical
blessings of homosexuals.
Disagreement about these stands has become so polarized that it has led
some to question whether the church can accommodate opposing views, and
even to suggest formal division. Jones, leader of the Kansas Area, was
surprised to learn by attending both meetings that not everyone highly
values church unity.
At 2004 General Conference, an informal, unsigned paper circulated that
proposed an approach to dividing the church. Conference delegates
followed up by passing a resolution affirming the unity of the church.
Responding to the General Conference resolution, Confessing Movement
members in September approved a proclamation welcoming “serious
attention to the denomination’s unity and the basis of that unity.”
Unity requires official doctrine, careful teaching of the apostolic
faith by the leaders of the church and the maintaining of the Book of
Discipline as a covenant of trust, the document says.
The three bishops agreed that achieving unity requires more than a resolution.
“Many are asking, can we get to unity by talking about it?” Schol said.
“What is the method for getting there? Is it about shared mission:
getting clear about mission, living it out and working on issues around
“Unity had always been necessary to carry out the mission,” Schol said.
“We needed unity and harmony in the faith community so we could model
Christ to the world. Unity and harmony had not been the goal; our
mission was the goal.”
Simply identifying mission as the location of unity is not enough, Schol
said. “I think many people in the Confessing Movement would agree that
we need to be unified by common mission, but would add that there must
be a common understanding of doctrine as to how we carry out that
mission. And many in the Reconciling Movement would also agree that we
need to be unified in mission, but if not everyone can fully participate
in that mission, do we have a common mission? We are talking about the
same thing — mission — but different groups look at it through different
Further, promoting unity can appear insensitive to people’s deeply felt
concerns. “There were people in both the Confessing Movement and
Reconciling Ministries who expressed that an emphasis on unity subverts
their concerns,” Dyck said. “Many who are part of Reconciling Ministries
believe that the unity emphasis stops us from moving forward on
justice. Others believe that unity talk stops us from moving forward in
Bishop Sally Dyck
“Maybe unity should not be the focus, but mission and ministry,” she
said. “Sometimes unity talk emphasizes what we don’t have in common
rather than what we do have in common.”
The heated nature of conversation around controversial issues is failing
to shed light, Dyck said. She urges church members to be more judicious
in how they speak — and how they listen.
“Toning down the rhetoric is key to renewing the spirit vitality of the
church,” Dyck said. “There is no room for calling people homophobes or
damning them to hell because they hold different perspective than
“Rather, we should seek to understand the personal journey that brings
people to their perspectives,” she said. “When you find out what brought
people to their perspective, it helps to see what that brings to the
table of the whole church. It is another piece of the answer on how we
That road forward is a demanding one, Jones said. “Strengthening the
unity of the church is a difficult process and will require intentional
effort and great deal of patience. It’s important that we continue the
dialogue among leaders of the church. And we need to include centrist
groups in the dialogue.”
Response to the three bishops’ visiting both groups was mostly positive.
The three intend to continue visiting with groups that advocate change
in the United Methodist Church.
“We think this is something bishops ought to be doing,” Jones said. “It
is important to demonstrate our concern as bishops for the whole the
church. I am deeply grateful for Bishops Schol and Dyck for making this
journey with me.”
*Rebeck is director of communication for the United Methodist Church’s Minnesota Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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