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Commentary: Why do we play with words?

 


Commentary: Why do we play with words?

March 25, 2004

A UMNS Commentary By Jim Lane*

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James W. Lane

ITEM: Paragraph 304.3 (United Methodist Book of Discipline) - While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

ITEM: Paragraph 332.6 - Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.

ITEM: (March 20, 2004, UMNS report) BOTHELL, Wash. - The 13-member jury in the trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann has returned a verdict of not guilty. Eleven members of the jury - or trial court - voted not guilty, while two jurors were undecided. The trial court comprises a panel of Dammann's clergy peers in the United Methodist Church's Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference. Nine guilty votes would have been needed to convict Dammann. In a United Methodist clergy trial, the respondent has the right to appeal a guilty verdict. However, the church cannot appeal a not-guilty verdict.

You have to respond with, "Say, what!?!"

The Rev. Karen Dammann has openly proclaimed that she is, in fact, a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," and she and her partner have participated in a "marriage" ceremony.

How can you be "not guilty" of something you have confessed to?

Is that all there is to that?

Several ordained elders in the United Methodist Church across the United States have performed same-sex "marriages." They say they have not violated the Book of Discipline since they performed a "marriage" - not a "union."

We are playing games with words!

The intent and actions of several General Conferences are quite clear. Time after time, delegates to the church's highest legislative assembly have honestly debated and then voted their conscience on this issue. Each time, the overwhelming majority has enacted and approved the above legislation.

All of this occurs just before the 2004 General Conference convenes at the end of next month. As they say, "timing is everything!"

What are we to do about those whom we have ordained and granted authority in the church who, with intent, disobey and circumvent the actions of the General Conference?

What are we to do with boards of ministry and elder members of annual conferences who flaunt church polity and law and continually break covenant with the majority of the church?

The church, with all the authority we have, has said a loud NO! What are we to do with those who do not understand the meaning of the word "no"?

In the United Methodist Church, we are long on patience and forgiveness. We are reluctant and slow to bring charges against anyone who acts out of Christian conscience. We are willing to go the extra mile with folks. We mostly want to just live and let live.

The Bible and history tell us civilizations that give over to the extremes of human sexuality do not survive and eventually fall in upon themselves.

There may or may not be approval by government institutions of same-sex marriage. The church cannot give its discipline, order and polity over to the government. The church must continue to be the church.

To compare this current struggle over the issue of human sexuality with the civil rights movement, the Emancipation Proclamation or the Holocaust is an abomination and travesty both to history and the faith heroes who fought those battles.

We have our proverbial back against the wall this time. No longer can we tolerate and abide deliberate and provocative attacks upon our covenant agreement - the Book of Discipline - and polity. And now our court of last resort has failed the church.

If it means dividing the church, then so be it.

Let those who insist on disobeying our covenant loose. Loose them from our covenant agreement and let them organize a church that has a polity and discipline that meets their standards, passions and desires.

These are essentials where we absolutely cannot find unity.

Our umbrella is big, but it does have its drip edge!

*Lane, of Sherwood, Ark., is staff associate for the Witness program at the Foundation for Evangelism and is past president of the National Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders. He delivered the laity address to the 1996 General Conference. He can be reached at jim@jimlane.org. News media can contact Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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