Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Thoughts on Amendment 1

I think that it is time for me to add my own voice to the Amendment 1 debate. Most United Methodists know the ends and outs of this amendment , for those who don’t here is a link The basic argument against Amendment 1 that I have encounter is that this Amendment takes away the pastor’s power to determine the readiness of a potential member because of the new language “All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon baptism be admitted as baptized members.” Some believe that the use of “all” and “shall” would require pastors to receive any person willing to recite the baptismal vows as a member. Some examples of the danger I have heard is, what if a KKK grand dragon wanted to become a member for purposes of recruitment, or what if a pedophile wanted to become a member, etc.

I refute this argument in two ways. First, I do not believe that the language of Amendment 1 strips the power of the pastor. The language states that all persons are “eligible” for membership. This is an important distinction. It does not require all persons to be accepted as members without preparation provide by the pastor, which is granted to the pastor in ¶216.3. It is the responsibility of the pastor to determine the readiness of a potential member and amendment 1 does not change this. In addition, once a person becomes a member the pastor also holds the power to keep that member accountable, a power that is rarely used, in ¶221. This includes the right to bring the offending member to church trial, that’s right laity can be brought to church trial too, see ¶2702.3. This prevents or remedies scenarios like the one’s state above.

Secondly, I ask, don’t we always take the professing member’s vows at face value? If someone takes the vows of membership, don’t we believe that she or he is serious in that commitment? Isn’t the argument against the amendment a slap in the face to all those who profess their faith in Christ? Don't we believe the? Shall we strap them to a lie detector before administering the questions of the profession of faith? No. We do as we have always done. We prepare the people for the profession and we accept their commitment at face value and we trust in the grace of God. Amendment 1 does not change this power.

Amendment 1 does prevent a pastor from denying someone willing to make the commitment because of some underlying issue. It does prevent racism, xenophobia, and yes, homophobia, which, unfortunately, are still rampant in the church. This amendment holds the United Methodist Church accountable to its slogan Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors. A friend of mine from seminary, Will Campbell, stated it beautifully, “everyone should be welcomed into the church, and that we would be a stronger church if we focused more intently on accountable membership based on the "time, talents, gift... Read More, service, and witness" agreements. Gender, sexual persuasion, skin color, etc have nothing to do (and should have nothing to do) with accountable membership.” Amen to that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fear Factor: 2008 UMC Consitutional Amendments

Yesterday I attended our district's pre-annual conference briefing. One of the main agenda items was, of course, discussion on the upcoming constitutional amendment vote. We received rationales and perceived pros and cons on each amendments. Naturally, there were people on both sides of each issue and I expected that. What I did not expect was the blatant use of fear as a tactic of persuasion.

On the amendments changing "central" to "regional" conferences, there were those who expressed concern that allowing this change would create disunion within the Church. There was concern that each "regional" conference could form their own Discipline. The underlying fear expressed was that the conservative African Church vote would be taken away smoothing the way for a change of the homosexuality stance of the UMC. First of all central conferences already have the power to change the Discipline to suit their own cultural and governmental needs (2008 Discipline Para. 543.7). Secondly, the process for changing the Social Principles would remain the same, i.e. only the General Conference would have that power. The fear tactic was that this nominal change would destroy the connectionalism of the Church. This, I believe, is untrue.

Secondly, the proposed change the Article 4 also drew hot debate. The ear tactic used here was that this was somehow an end-around to circumvent the GC and change the status of LGBT persons, allow for LBGT clergy, and provide for same-sex marriage in the UMC. No of these things are addressed in the proposed change to Article 4. Another elder stood up and proclaimed that if this amendment were to pass he would be forced to receive a KKK member who would then recruit in the Church. The fear is that the power to decide readiness for membership would be stripped away from the clergy, although the Judicial Council recently affirmed it, and no preparation for membership would be required. This is not the case. The change to Article 4 would simply affirm the Church's commitment to ALL persons and to welcome ALL persons into the Church. This is what Jesus commanded us to do, to welcome people without stipulations. It would not force pastors to accept those whom they do not feel are ready for membership. The powers given to appointed pastors remain the same and one of those powers is to determine the readiness of a potential member (Para. 340).

I saw similar fear tactics in the 2008 Presidential Election. People spread false statements and irrational fears about Barack Obama. It did not work then and I pray that it does not work in this matter. Let us discuss these issues honestly, openly, and in a Christian manner. There are those on both sides who have earnest concerns about these amendments and we need to listen to both sides before making a prayerful decision. That is Christian Conferencing and that is our heritage as United Methodists.