One week before the delegates to the United Methodist Church meets in Pittsburgh, and renewal leaders are getting ready to speak on behalf of the evangelical members of the mainline denomination at the two-week long conference.
The upcoming quadrennial conference is the only place where the denomination’s current book of discipline can be altered, and it is the highest authoritative voice in the denomination.
In a recent poll taken internally by the UMC body, showed that the topic highest in the minds of the 1,000 delegates is homosexuality in the church. Liberal delegates will most likely challenge the current law, which clearly states that self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not fit to serve as a leader in the church.
In fact, the members of the Pacific Northwest Conference – the liberal conference that challenged church authority by acquitting an openly lesbian pastor during a church trial – wrote in an April 22 release, “Have we understood the scripture fully and accurately?” Is it possible that the living Christ, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit is transforming our understanding of scripture?”
To the dismay of renewal leaders across the nation, the Pacific Northwest Conference put the book of discipline to trial when they should’ve tried the lesbian pastor for breaking the church law. This action by the Pacific Northwest Conference stirred up much tension within the nationwide church, with more evangelical members leaving the denomination.
With this in mind, the network of renewal leaders came together to let the voice of the evangelicals be heard. A collaborative team of fifty staff, delegates and leaders from the Confessing Movement, Good News Magazine, United Methodist Action, Mission Society and Transforming Congregation will go to Pittsburgh to make sure the faulty verdict is brought to the floor.
“We think that this whole issue is not over yet,” said Dr. Jim Heidinger, the leader of the evangelical Good News Magazine.
“While there is no appeal to the verdict itself when one is acquitted, the judicial council can certainly deal to see if there was a proper application of the law during the case,” said Heidinger. “Our Judicial Council, which will meet in Pittsburgh as well, is like the supreme court. They will deal with what they feel is appropriate, and this could lead to their saying that the Rev Dammann simply cannot be appointed..”
“Another way is that some action be taken on the floor that would refer it to the judicial council for reconsideration,” said Heidinger. “We are not at all sure that this is yet finished.”
According to Heidinner, several strong and faithful families have left the UMC since the lesbian Karen Dammann’s trial unfolded in March.
“There is most certainly a correlation between congregants leaving and the result of the trial,” said Heidinger. “What you have is the people are leaving the denomination, and these people are not marginalized members – they are strong, committed people who have a mature faith and love for Christ.
“But many of them just are very reluctant to remain in the denomination that they feel cannot determine clearly if homosexual practice is right or wrong. And this whole issue becomes even more serious when couples have young children,” explained Heidinger.
Thousands of families in the 10-million member denomination have vowed to leave, lest the delegates at the General Conference take the right actions.
Heidinger says the ‘right actions’ are nothing more than reaffirming the present standards of the denomination, and standing by that biblical mandate.
“We really don’t need any more legislation to what we have. The Karen Dammann decision was not a problem of the book of discipline but of a faulty trial process and an unwillingness on the part of the jurors all of who were clergy to be willing to abided by the clear meaning of the book of discipline,” said Heidinger.
“A little tweaking here and there wont makes a difference. I believe that we are going to reaffirm our present standards once again. Explained Heidinger. “But we need to do more than that is to determine whether we are going to be willing to play by the rules and abide by what the general conference does and says.
“The church is a voluntary covenantal community and such a community cannot remain strong and vibrant and growing if there are pockets and regions in the church where people are simply doing whatever they want to do.”