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James V. Heidinger II of Good News Network

( [email protected] ) May 11, 2004 04:20 PM EDT

Between April 29 and May 7, some 2,000 delegates and onlookers traveled to Pittsburgh from around the world to attend the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Throughout the conference, the delegates passed several resolutions strengthening the church’s ordination standards, and soon after, pro-gay groups rallied against the decisions. An informal call to “amicably separate” the denomination was also proposed, but by the final day, the delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution that called for unity.

On Tuesday, May 11, Christian Post staff members were able to speak with Dr. James V. Heidinger II, president of the renewal group Good News network and one of the supporters of the informal proposal to “amicably separate.”

Prior to the conference, you mentioned that the United Methodist laws did not need to be changed, but rather be reconfirmed and upheld. Are you satisfied with the results?

We are satisfied and encouraged that as many as 15 standards were upheld and even strengthened on homosexuality. We wanted to make sure that the church sent a clear signal to that effect, and it did.

We are distressed, however, at the demonstration and that the demonstrators were welcomed without question about their right to be on the floor. We are also distressed with a number of bishops who stood in “solidarity” with the demonstrators. That seemed to us to be a contradiction to our discipline and our signal. We clearly state that the practice is not compatible with Christian teaching. But it is very disappointing that at the leadership level, we continue to send signals that we approve it.

Several delegates have said the Conference had made the church more united. Do you feel this was the case?

I don’t think anything changed much. We passed a unity resolution on the last day… and this resolution was a plan. It was well planned, and even choreographed. What was so disappointing about the resolution was that the bishop in the chair when all of this was happening was bishop Joel Sprague. Sprague had been one of the most divisive in the past when it came to issues such as homosexuality. He had been at the heart of theological controversies over questions about major theological doctrines, and it just seemed controversial to us that he was at the chair when we had that unity resolution.

He asked all the delegates to stand and sing, and the delegates expressed enormous dissatisfaction over what he affirmed and did not affirm on the homosexual issue in general.

So while we appeared to be united, we are still as divided a house as when we went in.

Do you believe that the gulf between the conservatives and liberals is something that is irreconcilable?

I think there is a gulf between those hardline groups who affirm the gay position, and those who affirm the orthodox decision. There is not a middle conciliatory decision we can both share.

We have to ask, is there a better way to go about this than to battle over the homosexual issue that leaves the church with so little time to address mission and world evangelism. The church has spoken for 25 years that the practice is incompatible with biblical teaching, but the other side simply cannot accept that word and will not abide by that clear word of the last 5 or 6 general conferences.

If those situations continue to occur, we have to wonder if there is not some mechanism for these to go their own way; loving division is one of those possibilities. We don’t know for sure what the best model is, and without having a clear thought or plan, we can only say that the time simply has come for this to be on the table for discussion.

The unity resolution stated that the Methodists will “remain in covenant with one another even in the midst of disagreement,” and “work together to making disciples.” Do you believe this will be the case?

I think churches locally are already doing a good job at that. It is very common for the folks on the left to say, “Let’s put all these aside and go about.” I think they would love for us to stop talking about their theological aberration and about their neglect of the church’s moral teachings concerning sexuality. It’s no surprise to hear them say that.

However, these differences are not on tangential issues. They go right to the heart of what it means to be the people of God. They could say this, and it may sound good on the surface, but the church will not and cannot do that.

Frankly, the pro-homosexual side will not do that because they will come back again with any number of petitions, which they have failed at through the past six general conferences.