Dean e-mails with regards to our recent conversations. Posted with his permission:
Thanks for emailing me. I hope you and everyone on the blogroll are well. I especially hope seminary is a good experience for you. I miss being part of the Methoblogging community but the demands of life took me to other places.
It is interesting to read your blog and other's comments. Proclaiming my sincerity seems to me futile, since those who doubt it would also be likely to doubt my claims to be sincere. I can say a few words about how we got to this place.
Given my experience in ministry and my biblical and theological understanding, if I were not a United Methodist I would almost surely celebrate or solemnize same-sex unions. But I am a United Methodist. I am a United Methodist for many reasons that I believe to be good reasons. I love our heritage and I love our church. I don't think we are perfect but, thankfully, perfection is not a requirement in order to love or be loved.
I was appointed to my first appointment in 1968. I have lived through a time when official policies of our church were racist ... and not just moderately so but about as blatantly racist as an institution could be racist. I didn’t love our racism but I still loved our church. I’ve lived through our struggles to include women fully in the leadership of the church even when it was hard for some to reconcile some verses of Scripture with this decision. I witnessed some people badly wounded during those times and did not love the attitudes about gender that caused the wounds, but I still found myself loving our church. So it remains today.
More than three years ago a group of Foundry members started to meet to discuss how they felt about the lesbian and gay members of our church who were obviously living in caring and committed relationships, some of whom were traveling to Canada or going to churches of other denominations to have their relationships solemnized. It felt wrong to them that we encourage and support and reinforce commitments between our straight members and not our gay and lesbian members when their relationships also demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit.
At the same time we were uncomfortable with the idea of breaking the covenant that the Book of Discipline is. So the question became: is there a way to not just ignore the commitments of our lesbian and gay members while celebrating the commitments of our straight members? (And we really do celebrate the commitments of our straight members. We have oodles of weddings. We have several pre-Cana weekends annually to help couples prepare for their vows and weddings, and they almost always reach the maximum number of participants we can handle. Weddings are a big deal here. We believe in marriage.)
But it seemed uncharitable to make such a big deal about the commitments of our straight members and do nothing at all to even acknowledge or try to support our gay and lesbian couples in their committed relationships.
So the attempt was to come up with a way that we could at least acknowledge and honor the commitments of our gay and lesbian members without violating our United Methodist covenant. This is what we are trying to do.
Ours is not a very adequate solution. It feels separate and unequal. I feel it does not adequately honor the commitment and caring that our gay and lesbian members demonstrate in their lives. But we decided it was better than nothing.
As a result of the work of the original study group, I asked the congregation to help me figure out what we ought to do in my annual State of the Church sermon in November 2006. There were many discussions. In my State of the Church sermon in November 2007, I read the letter stating my intention to make myself available to lead worship services that recognize and honor the committed relationships of our lesbian and gay members and constituents without conducting, celebrating, or solemnizing same-sex unions. I asked the congregation to have further dialogue with me about this before I took this step.
I did not ask the church to take any official action because matters having to do with worship in the United Methodist Church are the responsibility of the pastor. Foundry’s Council chose to support my decision with a resolution, and I am grateful they did this even though I did not request it. The timing was based on the internal work of our congregation. My personal hope was that no one would much care about this outside our congregation, but I am also aware enough to know that others might be bothered by this decision. I worried about when would be a good time to do this in case it got a negative reaction outside our congregation but finally decided that there really is no way to figure all that out, and we moved when it made sense internally, largely shaped by November being the time when I do my annual State of the Church sermons.
I hope this is helpful to you, John, and to anyone who wants to get a sense of how we have come to this place. Stay well. (And I hope your rabbits are doing okay, too.)
UPDATE: John Meunier has a roundup of responses, as well as his own. Also, Amy Forbus weighs in.