Sunday, February 17, 2008

Foundry UMC Plans Gay Weddings

Former Methoblogger Dean Snyder made the news by announcing that his church, Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C. will henceforth offer homosexual weddings. In a pastoral letter, Dean states that although he can't actually offiate at a wedding or union because that would violate the Discipline, he can and will:

...lead services which recognize and honor lesbian and gay committed relationships. These will not be "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions," but will instead be worship services which recognize and honor committed relationships of lesbian and gay members and constituents.

Uh, huh. Nudge, nudge; wink, wink. As I said before, it depends on what your definition of the word 'is' is.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from Beth Quick and Gavin Richardson.

29 comments:

Allan R. Bevere said...

John:

Another example of taking the wording of DIscipline and doing hermeneutical gymanastics to get what one wants.

Who are the legalists here?

John Wilks said...

While I like Dean personally based upon our previous interactions, I find this move to be a rebellious move which will fuel the flames of schism. To put it bluntly, he is breaking our unity.

If he wants to do this type of ceremony without waiting for our Discipline to change, he is welcome to leave the UMC and joining an open and affirming denomination.

But if he wishes to remain a United Methodist, he should honor our covenant. I can respect someone wishing to change our Discipline- but I cannot abide someone willingly subverting it.

(And don't give me any "well, technically, he isn't" b.s. This move is calculated to be a shot across the bow and we all know it.)

I am deeply disappointed in his lack of integrity on this subject.

Elizabeth said...

I wouldn't myself want to throw around phrases like "lack of integrity" about my clergy colleagues who are trying to navigate being part of a connection and being thoroughly convicted that a certain issues is an injustice. I don't know the best way forward over this extremely painfully divisive subject of human sexuality and the church. But - if you felt something was a terrible injustice, what would you do to create change? How long do you wait for change to happen through the legislative process? When is civil disobedience okay (which is, of course, in our Discipline)?

Wesley Sanders said...

But do we want to say that we can start violating church law because it is civil disobedience? There is nothing forcing Rev. Snyder to stay in this denomination. Civil disobedience against an oppressive government is quite different from disobedience against a denomination which you have chosen to associate with (and, as an elder, he has chosen to vow to uphold the Discipline). He can surrender his UM credentials and join a denomination without this prohibition.

John said...

Beth wrote:

But - if you felt something was a terrible injustice, what would you do to create change? How long do you wait for change to happen through the legislative process? When is civil disobedience okay (which is, of course, in our Discipline)?

It would be a different matter if a pastor said "I have studied and prayed and determined that our stance on homosexuality is wrong. I will therefore marry gay couples, and take the consequences thereof."

or

"I have studied and prayed and determined that our stance on homosexuality is wrong. I can no longer fulfill my vow of ordination with the UMC and will seek to transfer my credentials to another denomination."

Those are two respectable positions.

the reverend mommy said...

Wow.

Elizabeth said...

I do understand that John, and I think there's a place for that stance too - but then, as a pastor, you are risking losing your ordination credentials. I at least would ask myself if I could do as much work for change outside the church or in it, and probably opt for staying in it. It's not as if pastors can usually serve some sort of short suspension for violating the discipline - you're done, 'defrocked' after so many long years of becoming ordained in the first place. Should you have to choose between the two if you find another way? I'm just not sure what the best strategy is. And I don't like the answer of "well you can just leave the denomination" either. Everyone who disagrees with the denomination's views on sexuality knows they could just leave. And they don't because - they love the UMC! They are United Methodists, and that's important too. I totally disagree with the church's position, and I can't imagine myself outside of the UMC. Women who wanted to be ordained could have just left the denomination too earlier in our history instead of staying and sometimes bending/breaking rules to be in ministry. Sometimes, that's just not the right option.

John said...

Well, there's also the option of saying "I believe that my denomination is wrong about homosexuality, and therefore I will seek amending legislation." Of course, that wouldn't be civil disobedience.

I suppose other folks would know more about the history of civil disobedience, but my impression is that it involves directly and openly disobeying authority figures over ethical differences. And claiming to obey the authority figures while doing the opposite (as is the case here) doesn't strike me as 'civil disobedience'. It's more like passive aggression.

I'll e-mail Dean and see if he wants to contribute to the discussion here.

Elizabeth said...

There is that option too (legislation), which has been my course personally. But what does one do with all the people who feel they aren't fully included in the meantime? It's just hard for people to wait 4 years, and 4 more, and 4 more if they're feeling left out, overlooked, etc. I'm not saying I'd choose the same path (as Foundry). Frankly, I'm not sure I'm that brave. I care too much about the consequences for me personally. But I guess I don't see it as passive aggressive so much as desperate measures to provide ministry for a significant part of a congregation....

John said...

I don't really see it as all that brave. Now openly taking a stand against authority figures on principle -- that's brave. That's civil disobedience.

Allan R. Bevere said...

The other issue that needs to be mentioned here is we should simply consider an amiable separation.

We debate this issue every four years, we vote, there is a ruckus, and we continue on only to vote on the matter in another four years.

Let's just face reality and plan to split (with everybody's good graces)and have two denomiations. Those who continue to think that we can resolve this matter as "one church" are simply living with Alice in Wonderland.

Anonymous said...

In his letter, Dean states that he can't pray with(for?) gays and lesbians under the current Discipline?

Huh?

John Wilks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Wilks said...

Elizabeth- you might not want to use that word, but I honestly don't know what other word to use.

As a candidate in the ordination process, I am asked through a lengthy process to decide weather or not I will enter this covenant relationship. It is a serious and difficult process designed to help us determine if the UMC is the right place for us or not. Dean knew the UM stance when he was in my shoes. He wrote the papers and sat through the district boards and the conference BOM and at every turn had to decide if he would submit to our Discipline or not. He never would have made it through that process and been given the chance to serve in such an influential position unless he willingly and articulately agreed to follow the Discipline and keep covenant. To get power, influence, and a guaranteed appointment, he vowed to protect, uphold, and teach the standards of our Discipline.

But now that he is an Elder, so long as he juggles a few phrases and skirts the intent of the rules, he can thumb his nose at our Discipline while keeping his pulpit. From where I sit- that just seems like a profound violation of the integrity of our ordination process. Part of his job as Elder is to uphold our Discipline- not unravel it while sitting safely behind some legalistic duck blind.

And for what I and other candidates are asked to go through, it is not too much to expect doctrinal fidelity among the Elders who are setting the example and bearing the standard for us.

And that is to say nothing of what our laity deserve in terms of seeing their clergy honor their vows!

Larry B said...

Beth says

" But what does one do with all the people who feel they aren't fully included in the meantime? It's just hard for people to wait 4 years, and 4 more, and 4 more if they're feeling left out, overlooked, etc."

The problem here is that by using the phrase, in the meantime, you seem to assume a certain inevitability to there being a change in the UM position. It's not clear that there ever will be a change that will be acceptable for gay members of the church.

The discipline and the continuing votes from GC's for over 20+ years now should make it pretty clear how the general mood of the church is. The continual passing of legislation in general society outright prohibiting gay marriage reflects the general populations feelings towards it as well.

If one wants to work within the discipline of the church to attempt to change the church then one should be willing to do so especially if one has vowed to do so. If one believes their beliefs are no longer compatible to the point of not wanting to work with church discipline then John's two positions are the only correct choices. Playing both sides of the fence isn't being fully honest with either side.

The gays and lesbians aren't getting fair treatment within the church if they are led to believe that any methodist church will and should celebrate their union. Because they won't and they aren't required to do such. They should fully understand the real position of the church and be allowed to make their own decisions on whether to stay or not rather than being given false hope about the church changing to support their position.

All Pastor Dean's example does is separate his church from the Methodist Church in general as celebrating gay unions. So his church becomes more about what Pastor Dean wants rather than what the Methodist Church wants which is what the Discipline is suppose to help us define.

Jonathan said...

John, I do not agree with what Dean is doing at Foundry, and I think his actions violate the spirit of the Discipline. However, they do not violate the letter of the Discipline. I therefore think your headline, "Foundry UMC Plans Gay Weddings" is misleading. They are not planning weddings. I know that you would say in response, "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, etc..." but I think we ought to take Dean at his word when he says he does not understand these services as weddings.

I think this will get resolved in a few months at general conference, and I predict that the language of the Discipline will get even tighter and more specific to exclude even services like these. It is sad that such detailed legislation will be necessary.

Gord said...

Wha FOundry UMC is doing is one of the ways that change happens in organizations. The envelope gets pushed and either the change being pushed for happens or the reactionary push (remembering that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) wins out.

It is in conjunction with those who push for legislative/process change and those who push for real change that things move on.

ANd to be honest the "breaking our unity" argument is bunk and always has been. For centuries (since COnstantine perhaps) the church has always used the false idol of unity as a reason to avoid change. What is unity anyway? Why do we give it such a high value?

John said...

Jonathan wrote:

I know that you would say in response, "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, etc..." but I think we ought to take Dean at his word when he says he does not understand these services as weddings.

Why?

Jonathan said...

Why? because although I disagree with Dean on this subject, I think he is an honest person, and that we ought to give each other (in the body of Christ) the benefit of the doubt.

John said...

I'm just not that gullible.

Jonathan said...

And I am not that cynical.

John B said...

I don't know when Dean Synder was ordained so this may not apply to him, however why would anyone align themselves and vow to keep the rules of an organization that holds different beliefs than themselves? For more than 20 year the UMC has clearly stated its position on homosexuality. It comes as a surprise to no one entering pastoral ministry. Becoming and remaining a UM clergy is a totally volunteer decision. Anyone ordained in the past 20 years who came in promising to uphold our rules while at the same time disagreeing with them is being dishonest with themselves or the church.

Andy B. said...

Can this story really be contrary to a Book of Discipline that allows for the "testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective" (para. 104)? Isn't that what's happening here?

Jonathan said...

Gord,

Unity is important because there is one loaf. Paul's letters to the Corinthians are an extended commentary on what it means to be united as the body of Christ. It is eucharistic ecclesiology that is at stake, and there is nothing more important.

John said...

No, Andy, because that is a task for General Conference, not individuals.

Gord said...

JOhnathon,
I see your point and agree. But what is our unity? What are the essentials that we have to agree on to remain unified?

Where is the role of unity in diversity? What can we disagree on and remain unified?

I posit that issues of sexual orientation are far from that list. I also posit that the list of essentials is pretty short. Jesus is Lord seemed to work for the earliest church.

In my experience the unity card is played in an attempt to create homogeneity that is not in fact unity.

John Wilks said...

Gord, if some rogue bishop went all southern baoptist on us and started using word games to deny ordination and appointments to female clergy, people would rightly be up in arms that such a bishop would be threatening our unity.

Our unity does not depend on everyone being in agreement. Unity depends on everyone fighting for their position fairly by sticking to our agreed-up rules and process.

In other words, I'm not angry at Dean for disagreeing with my view on human sexuality. I can respect his position even while I disagree with it.

I'm angry at Dean for trying to circumvent the agreements which keep us unified amidst our diversity.

JD said...

As a lay person in the church, I always find it relatively interesting the conversations the ordained and seminarians have about this, about the BOD. Whether changed or not, the bible has already told us the answer to this whole debate. One cannot be a "practicing homosexual" and be a Christian, just as much as a porn star currently working in the industry, or a drug dealer, or adultery, or..open Galatians 5 and pick the sin you want. In being honest with their self and others, you cannot serve 2 masters. I know we all fall, and sin, and make mistakes, but living a life completely incompatible with Christian teaching, and professing being a Christian is blaspheming the Spirit, the only unpardonable sin.

So when I read about truth to the discipline, etc I laugh..because, first and foremost, we are responsible to God.

PAX
JD

John said...

JD wrote:

As a lay person in the church, I always find it relatively interesting the conversations the ordained and seminarians have about this, about the BOD. Whether changed or not, the bible has already told us the answer to this whole debate.

Heh. Yes, sometimes in seminary I have to remember that quoting Wesley isn't as authoritative a response as quoting the Bible.