Thursday, July 18, 2013

The General Assembly and its Word to the Church -- Reflection #10

I've returned home from the General Assembly in Orlando.  We left a little early (Wednesday evening flight).  It was good to be together as Church in Orlando.  I always connecting with new friends and reconnecting with old friends.  I got to spend time with classmates from Northwest Christian College (now University), including the new Moderator of the General Church -- +Glen Miles.  I watched with joy and with pride as my classmate and friend of many years preached opening night.  As I was reminded -- we are now among the Grown Ups.  It is our time to take our place among the leaders.  I'll be praying for Glen and for Sharon Watkins and the other leaders of the Church.  

So here's my question, upon return from the Assembly?  What word does the Assembly offer to the church in its Regional and Local expressions (the word "expression" is now used to describe each of the three components of that entity we call the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Likely participants heard different words.  You can find a report on each of these resolutions, all of which were approved or adopted, some with revisions by clicking here.  I didn't attend all of the business sessions, but what word did they send to the rest of the church beyond the General Assembly?  

I ask this for a specific reason.  Most of the General Assembly Resolutions call for a "sense-of-the-assembly."  That is, they simply reflect the perspective of those who have chosen to gather in Orlando and participate in that particular conversation.  So, what word did we wend to the churches concerning the George Zimmerman trial?  Or the Voting Rights Act?  Or Drone Warfare?  As Disciples, it is clear that we don't speak with one voice on these or any other issues -- so what word did we send?

I want to pick up on the most anticipated and contentious resolution -- GA 1327 --  Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome.   I've written already several reflections on the Resolution itself, so I'm going to leave analysis aside.  What I want to ask is this -- what word does this Resolution send to the Church as it exists in Regions and Local bodies?

By design, such resolutions have no binding affect on the other expressions of the church.  I dare say, they probably have little affect on the General Ministries themselves, which have great autonomy within the structure.  How will we hear this word that was sent by a decent majority?  One of the opponents raised this issue -- what word does this send to, for instance, Commissions on the Ministry?  Ordination and standing are determined by Regions not the General Church.  Some regions embrace the ministerial gifts of LGBT persons, others don't.  Some use "don't ask, don't tell," so that if you don't bring it up, they won't either.  Or, if they choose to deny you credentials, they will use other means to do so, so they don't have to have a conversation about sexual orientation.  So, in the aftermath of this resolution how will Regions understand who is capable of receiving the call to ministry?  This was not, by design, a call for the Disciples to declare themselves "open and affirming."  We're not there yet, but what about our LGBT brothers and sisters who have heard a call to ministry?  Will Commissions affirm their call if affirmed by Congregations?  Will Regional Ministers endorse their ministerial credentials so that they can enter into the Search and Call Process?

We have a stated theology of church that says that we live in covenant relationship.  But we operate as if -- and often quite openly and vociferously -- as if we are autonomous entities.  We say to the General Assembly -- we don't have to hear you?  We can reject your voice.  There is room for diversity of thought and practice in our life together, but if we affirm the principle of covenant as expressed in The Design, the governing document of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), can we hold on to the idea that we are truly autonomous?  

I have more to say on this matter and will do so in the coming days.  But for now, I raise the question -- post GA-1327, as Church in all its expressions, what word have we heard concerning the "faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither is grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but we celebrate that all are part of God’s good creation; and FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a people of grace and welcome, to acknowledge their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all?"

  

5 comments:

John McCauslin said...

Of course, as a Disciple I can only speak for myself. But what the passing of the Resolution on Grace and Welcome says to me is that it was the sense of the General Assembly that it is time for the various expressions of the Church and the participants in those various expressions to become intentional about the question of whether the way a person answers questions of personal gender identity and/or sexual orientation should operate to exclude them from participating in the life and work of the Church. More than that, the passing of this Resolution sends a message that the General Church has accepted the understanding that in evaluating this issue the operative aspects of our personal and corporate response are "Grace" and "Welcome."

For the Regional and Local expressions the encouragement I believe we should receive from the passing of this Resolution is to live into Jesus teachings about living lives of Grace and Welcome, and to embrace others who live and proclaim the Good News, that it is the will of the living God that all of God's children should one day worship together on God's Holy Mountain, that all of God's children are welcomed to the table, and that no one has a claim to sit at the right or left hand of Jesus.

Robert Cornwall said...

John as a Regional Leader, how do you see this resolution impacting what we do as the Region -- especially relating to ordination and standing?

Robert Cornwall said...

John, as a Regional Leader as well as a Congregational leader -- how do you see this impacting both from a practical perspective? Especially at a regional level, I see this having impact on the Commission on the Ministry. What are the implications?

John McCauslin said...

I expect that congregations will receive this within their context. If they are taught that developments along this line are mere ply culturally driven aberrations, they will fall back on the congregational aspect of our polity and ignore it. If the are more progressive, they will see this as an affirmation of their acceptance of the LGBT among their members, as a manifestation of the Spirit, and they will move forward with greater robustness.

The LGBT among us I hope will understand this as an affirmation that they have found a safe place, a home, where they are welcome to worship and serve The Lord, and where they are heartily welcomed at the table. The child who was lost has been found and there is great cause for celebration.

But even those who would choose to ignore the resolution today are one day going to have to come to grips with this: deeply committed Christians are choosing to welcome with grace rather than rejects with judgment. The Spirit is indeed at work here. Ultimately the will of God is irresistible.

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