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World Methodists Adopt Statement on Sexuality and Unity

''It must be observed that there is no ethical consensus in the world at large on these and related matters''
( [email protected] ) Oct 02, 2004 12:33 PM EDT

In lieu of the erupting confusion over the role of homosexuality in the church, the top leaders of the World Methodist Council (WMC) adopted a clear statement iterating the desire to remain united and scripturally sound, Sept 17, 2004.

The statement, entitled “Unity and Sexuality,” was drafted during the WMC’s annual meeting, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. His Eminence Sunday Mbang, chairperson of the council’s executive committee and prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, began the meeting with an opening address that reflected the widespread concern on the issue.

“The Chairperson, His Eminence Sunday Mbang, in his opening address to this Executive, called for a response to the widespread debate ‘within the churches on the subject of human sexuality.’ He asserted ‘the unity of the Church is gradually beginning to suffer’ as a result of significant tensions. He observed the impact of new and unfamiliar interpretations of the Scriptures to the confusion of many faithful Christians,” the statement noted.

With apparent reference to the nearly schismatic turnout to the United Methodist Church (UMC)’s Quadrennial General Conference this April, the statement noted, “Some of our own member churches have come to the brink of division or have lost members through precipitate action.”

During the UMC’s April gathering, the two sides of the debate on homosexuality clashed despite the denomination’s affirmation of a two-decade long statement on sexuality: homosexuality is incompatible with the scripture, and any active homosexuals may not be ordained under the UMC. Nearing the end of the gathering, the pro-homosexual faction rallied across the assembly floor, interrupting the meeting with chants and songs that called for inclusiveness.

Following the uninvited rally, the traditionalists released a statement calling for an “amicable separation,” similar to the one practiced by Paul and Barnabus during the early churches. The drafters of the document noted that while unity is preferred, neither side of the homosexuality debate seems willing to let down their arms. Thus, for the sake of expanding mission, the traditionalists said a good-natured separation within the church may be preferable.

The next day, the members of the UMC drafted a new statement that affirmed the unity of the church despite differences in thought; the new statement was adopted by the vast majority and was thus passed.

The WMC’s council acknowledged the sensitivities involved in the debate.

“It must be observed that there is no ethical consensus in the world at large on these and related matters. For Christians, there is a tension between the desire to respond in love to all God’s creatures in the light of the Gospel’s universal promises, and the need to discern God’s will in rapidly changing circumstances. Additionally, we must be concerned for the health of the nations and the future of the entire human family,” the statement read.

“It urges the churches to endeavor to preserve the bond of peace and love with all their members,” the statement continued.

Nonetheless, the WMC ultimately veered toward the right on the matter.

“But it urges the member churches to hold firmly to the centrality of Scripture, to the long Christian tradition of teaching on the order of creation, on marriage and family life, and to exercise immense care as they face choices which could threaten the unity of congregations and churches.”

The following is the entire statment of the executive council, as adopted on Sept 17:

Statement from the Executive Committee

of the World Methodist Council

Unity and Sexuality

The Chairperson, His Eminence Sunday Mbang, in his opening address to this Executive, called for a response to the widespread debate ‘within the churches on the subject of human sexuality.’ He asserted ‘the unity of the Church is gradually beginning to suffer’ as a result of significant tensions. He observed the impact of new and unfamiliar interpretations of the Scriptures to the confusion of many faithful Christians. We also have record of its adverse effect on our Christian mission.

Several churches have worked for many years to find a way to respond to the pastoral needs of their people in the face of changing attitudes to sexual orientation and sexual practice in our societies and cultures, acknowledging that our sexuality is one of the gifts of God in creation. (The issue is sharpened in many cases where a call to ordained ministry is involved.)

It must be observed that there is no ethical consensus in the world at large on these and related matters. For Christians, there is a tension between the desire to respond in love to all God’s creatures in the light of the Gospel’s universal promises, and the need to discern God’s will in rapidly changing circumstances. Additionally, we must be concerned for the health of the nations and the future of the entire human family.

In our review of ecumenical relationships, it is clear that at least one Christian World Communion has been internally disrupted as a result of the actions of certain individuals and conciliar bodies; its survival is at stake. Others with whom we remain in dialogue have firmly reasserted classical Christian teaching on these matters. Some of our own member churches have come to the brink of division or have lost members through precipitate action.

It is acknowledged that this Executive is unlikely to give more satisfactory answers than those which have resulted from long thought and discussion in our churches; it desires only to sound a note of warning. It takes with complete seriousness the issues involved, scriptural and doctrinal, medical and ethical. It urges the churches to apply their energies and best minds to the challenges, as we all seek God’s light. It urges the churches to endeavour to preserve the bond of peace and love with all their members. But it equally urges the member churches to hold firmly to the centrality of Scripture, to the long Christian tradition of teaching on the order of creation, on marriage and family life, and to exercise immense care as they face choices which could threaten the unity of congregations and churches.

Adopted by the Executive Committee of the World Methodist Council

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

September17,2004