On Sunday, October the 8th, at 3:30pm at Friedland Moravian Church, the Southern Province will gather to review the study, prayer, and discernment process we have been engaged in, trying to come to an understanding on the issue of homosexuality and church teaching.
Personally, I’ll admit that I have avoided weighing in on this issue. For over the past 25 years I have been deeply involved in the United Methodist Church’s efforts to reconcile the differences – to no satisfactory result. However, I think it may be time for me to take a risk… and reflect on some of my observations.
No issue since slavery, has caused such a split in the Christian denominations. It is clear, that the core reference point for the church is what scripture says, and how scripture is interpreted and understood – not only in its original, ancient world context, but how it might be applied in our modern world today.
What I have found is that folks have drawn a line in the sand about the Bible.
On one side is an “all-or-nothing” view where each sentence, phrase, law, command, must be accepted literally, as God’s intention for us without nuance, wherever possible. Another is a historical view that puts these laws and teachings in their original communities and tries to discern why they were important to the folks then, and how we might use these teachings to clarify our own understandings about God and God’s intentions, and therefore improving our own lives today.
Over and above all of this, is whether the Hebrew writings (Old Testament) and the Church writings (New Testament) are considered “God ordained” – or “God dictated.” In other words, is the Bible itself, somehow God speaking? Is the Bible God’s intent written down by spiritual people of the past? (The Unity of Brethren made it clear, that for them, scripture is not an essential – meaning that it isn’t a substitute for God, but a ministerial – a tool that points to God. Their reasoning was that scripture was used as a weapon against them by the established church to denounce their reformed ideas.)
So, how do we understand the saying: “This is the Word of God for the People of God?” This response after scripture readings is stated in our own sanctuary and thousands of sanctuaries across the world every Sunday. I have come to believe that the way we understand what scripture is, and how it is to be interpreted and understood, determines how we view ourselves and others.
So, how do you feel about your homosexual brothers and sisters? How influential is scripture in these feelings? Will doctrine override relationships? As much as I have hoped that homosexuality would not split the United Methodist Church… I fear it is going to do just that. After all, it has split the Episcopal Church and foiled the Presbyterians’ attempts at unification.
So, how will the Moravians fare?
My inner sense of my congregations through the years leads me to believe that most of you reading this letter have made up your mind. We seem to able to stay together and do ministry for Christ as long as no decision is made on a denominational level.
But… as soon as a denominational vote is taken…
As a pastor, many of my colleagues and I have difficulty accepting that pastoral care and ministry offered to any particular person should come down to a vote.
So, my hope is that whatever you have decided in your heart, that you will leave room for grace. I may be naïve, but I do believe that no matter what side of the issue you are on, you have a heart for Christ’s love and you will continue to follow the path you believe Christ is leading you.
Christ’s church has survived martyrs, reformers, crusaders, inquisitions, inner wars, corrupt priests and pastors, theological debates, slavery, schisms, and will survive this.
It is a shame that we humans have had to go through these difficult disagreements when what we seek most is Christ’s mercy and peace. May God bless you as you pray and discern your own heart. And if, or when, the denominational decision is made, may you not feel abandoned or vindicated, but may you find peace in your heart to continue in Christ’s way.
-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the October 2017 church newsletter.