Ray McDonald's Blog

Thoughts and Reflections

Open Letter to Bishop Easterling and the Baltimore-Washington Conference

Life ChangeI couldn’t think of what to post today. I usually post something – Monday through Friday – at 9 am. Today – nothing came to mind. I had writer’s block. I wasn’t going to post anything – just simply miss a day. And – just before I went live for prayer on my Facebook page – this came across my feed. It is a well written response to the BWC’s Bishop’e letter that came out on March 2nd – in response to the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church in late February. I thought this was a fantastic response to her letter and so I decided to post it here for others to read.

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The Board of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association offers this letter in response to Bishop Easterling’s recent Pastoral Letter to the Conference.

Bishop Easterling and People of the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church:

We write to you today with hearts of peace and out of a deep love for God and each of you. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be yours in abundance in these trying times!

Bishop, we listened intently to your words at the briefing session held in Fulton on March 2, 2019. We were encouraged and thankful for your comments at that time which emphasized your intention to be “the Bishop of all and for all.” While we both understand and lament the deep divisions evidenced in the outcome of the Special Session of General Conference, especially the pain from all parties, we welcomed your conciliatory tone and attempts at unifying our Conference. Therefore, your recent pastoral letter both saddens and alarms us. We found your latest strong denunciation of what we believe, and questions of our Christian character, very concerning. Further, despite your title to the letter, we did not receive these words as “pastoral.” We do not wish to ascribe any uncharitable motives on your part, but are wondering if this signals some change in your position. Your clarification in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

You now refer to the outcome of the Special General Conference as a “crisis,” and we note that our WCA Board advised of this possible outcome in the months leading up to St. Louis. Yet, at the time, you and other leaders assured us that this was an overstatement. In light of your previous communications, what has transpired for this change in attitude? Members of the BWC-WCA believe that God honors the process of Holy Conferencing. For more than forty-five years our denomination has been praying, talking and studying together in order to discern God’s best for our Church. At every General Conference our elected delegates have voted to retain our language and position regarding same-sex practice. Why are we now in crisis? Why is it that we cannot continue to respect our differences under the provisions of the Covenant we all agreed to at our ordination and membership?

It will indeed be difficult for us to live together when the more progressive members of our covenant community continually distort the Discipline, the position of the more traditional members, and accuse others of being unloving. It is not true that traditionally minded people cannot live with sinners. If this were true then we could not live with ourselves, since “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us have said we cannot be in communion with sinners. What was stated was that we could not continue in a denomination that condones sin. We believe the practice of homosexuality is sinful, but just like every other sin, is completely atoned for in Christ.

We acknowledge and make room for disagreements about Scripture and its interpretation. We welcome it in fact, for we all grow from increased understanding of God’s Truth. However, while there is some scholarship that reads the Scripture differently on the issue of same-sex practice, the overwhelming majority of scholarship, over all time, does not. And while we agree that the Bible has been, and continues to be used by some in ways that justify practices like slavery and women’s exclusion from leadership, there is significant Scriptural witness and Church Tradition (inside and outside our Wesleyan heritage) to show us that this is not an authentic Christian understanding. But where are the places in Scripture/Tradition that offer a word of confirmation regarding same-sex practice? Most often the arguments for same-sex practice are either made from silence or from a significant sitz im leben of certain passages. A careful reading of the whole Bible reveals that Scripture never promotes any sexual practice other than heterosexual practice, and that within the context of marriage.

Thus, the question before us: How can we continue to live together with these differences and make room to love one another? We believe that begins as we refuse to demonize each other. Traditionally minded members have felt demonized, bullied and been accused of being unloving. This is beneath the level of discourse that God would have for His Church. We understand that at times traditionally minded people have practiced the same and we reject this just as profoundly.

Traditionally minded members ask that we honor the Covenant that we all voluntarily entered. If the restatement of the traditional language in the Discipline makes covenant fidelity now impossible, perhaps there are better structures for our unity which would end our constant temptations to demonize one another. We differ on the way we read Scripture. Some differences are acceptable and even welcomed, but when these differences produce such dramatic divergences in practice, we wonder at the continued wisdom of unity at all costs. Out of personal integrity, traditionally minded members were prepared to leave if the covenant changed. Would we want to investigate those new forms of unity together rather than perpetuating harm on all sides?

Traditionally minded members are aware of the pain this whole process has caused and continues to cause to the people in the LGBTQIA+ community. All people are indeed created in the image of God and are of sacred worth. Let us work to communicate this to our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. Our doors stand wide open for any and all who would come to Christ. We seek to exclude no one, but we also recognize the church’s call to holiness. We believe in the power of Jesus Christ to transform in every situation, and that power is nothing but love. In this, we learn the depth of Christ’s love. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross cancels both sin and its power to enslave. This is the gospel in every circumstance, both societal and personal.

Therefore, let us talk more openly about the call of God on all of us to holiness and the dying-to-self required of us all. Traditionally minded members agree that the focus on this issue has led to a distortion that places it as some sort of “super sin.” Traditionally minded members welcome a more thorough and robust discipleship that calls all of us to levels of purity of heart and hands that honor God and blesses people. We agree that issues like divorce, heterosexual immorality, use of pornography have been glossed over for too long. We reject the characterization of our hermeneutic as simply a “literal” reading of Scripture that is childish and comical. We also reject a “red-letter” theology that makes the words of Jesus the only real Scripture.

The BWC-WCA looks forward to working together to make disciples of the whole world. We reject the notion that we will lose an entire generation because of our grace-filled stand on the issue of homosexual practice. Many of the largest churches in our culture are reaching young people with the Gospel and hold a traditional theological position. We trust God when God said even the gates of Hell could never prevail against the Church. God continues to reconcile and restore the world and we believe we have a significant role to play in that work as the UMC.

We invite us all to a season of repentance for our anger, bitterness and fighting. In light of GC2019, we hope to approach our upcoming Annual Conference with humble spirits, ready to live within our covenant in grace-filled dialogue about our future. We pray for the Spirit’s guidance of all of us.

Board of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association

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 Just something for us to think about today as we go on our way.

March 12, 2019 - Posted by | Build, Church, Community, Daily Devotion, Daily Prayer, Denomination, Discipleship, Encouragement, Evangelism, Faith Journey, Family, From the Pastor, Holy Spirit, Leadership, Lenten Thought, Missions, Outreach, Personal, Prayer, Theology, Vision | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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