Saturday, October 06, 2007

"One and Undivided"

I belong to a divided church.
And some of you who read this will understand how Sundays sees our nation divide – with black people going to black church services, “coloured” people attending “coloured” services, and some white people going to church (most do not go to church at all).

But this is not the division I think of – I am referring to the division between straight and gay people. The Methodist Church of SA has chosen to maintain a distance from gay people. No – this is not overt: as my Bishop’ pastoral letter says : “ We must, and I do, care for them pastorally and with sensitivity.” But this is exactly the divide: “we care for them” and them. “They” are not understood as being “us”. In fact, after the humiliating treatment dished up by straight Christians, I am surprised that there are any gay people left in church.

And to add insult to injury, the MCSA has affirmed that we must be “one and undivided”. But this is not about being in unity with gay people. No, this is about maintaining our unity with those who are anti-gay. Our desire to remain united with the anti-gay lobby outweighs our desire to be one with the gay members of our church. And so we have compromised truth in the name of unity. And we have not even questioned the ethical correctness of this unity.

Here is my pain: the statement that “we are one and undivided” was a statement of courage in the face of the 1958 Apartheid Government’s desire to divide our church on racial lines. We had moral courage – then. We adopted this statement, in the face of a threat by white members to leave our church. We understood that this was a particular kind of unity. It risked division in the name of a greater unity – a unity with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.

We have lost this. We are so afraid of losing members that we would rather forfeit Gospel truth. I am convinced that the mantra “one and undivided” now gets in the way of our ability to be a church in mission: there are many, many people who look at the Christian Church in bewilderment. All they see is prejudice and bigotry in our response to gay people. And they want nothing to do with us.

Our division undermines our Christian witness.


digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...

Thanks for this deeply challenging post Pete! I have cross posted it, with comment, on my blog. I am thinking, praying, and considering how to move forward personally in this regard.

I agree that Church unity (particularly with persons who oppress others) should never take presidence over faithfulness to the inclusive Gospel of Christ. However, I also feel a strong commitment and tension to helping the Church, my Church, to move forward in this regard.

Analogously I have considered it to be similar to knowing that there is family who abuse members of that family - do you simply wash your hands of them and say that you walk away to minister to persons outside of that family? Or, do you engage with this family to help them to stop abusing their members, and also seek to minister to members outside of that family?

I still struggle to make the radical 'either / or' choice... But, there is no doubt that the dialectic tension of my position weakens my prophetic witness in both areas of ministry.

Well, I am challenged!

Deacon Sue said...

I think the division you speak of that undermines Christian witness actually is a 'twisted' Christian witness and speaks volumes about the MCSA, how it understands itself, the world and God...

I paste below a creed of sorts which has been written by a group I am part of trying to build an overtly inclusive church here ...

I look forward to the time when being gay simply is no longer the Kingdom issue that some parts of our church thinks it is, and a time when our church realises that being an excluding church whilst declaring unity in an effort to maintain chuech order is indeed a Kingdom issue and respond according the gospel imperatives we speak about but are reluctant to live by...

Peace & love,

We believe in the God who creates diversity;
we celebrate humanity’s differences as God’s good gift;
we proclaim the Gospel of Love which embraces diversity
but does not crush it.
Therefore we welcome people from all backgrounds, cultures and abilities,
women and men,
young and old,
gay and straight,
bisexual and transgender.
We reject prejudice and discrimination of all kinds.
We work with people of all faiths and none
to create a better society and world where
people are treated with equity and justice;
creation’s resources are shared and protected;
all loving relationships are honoured and celebrated.
Each time we gather, we commit ourselves afresh to make this a place where