Update 7 October 2009
Today I was contacted by two readers of my blog who sent me an email raising concern about a picture that was taken of a statue of Paul Kruger ('Oom Paul') in Rustenberg some years ago (May 2007). The statue of Oom Paul had a bottle of alcohol which some passer by had obviously placed in his hand during the previous night. One of the commentators asked why I did not remove the bottle instead of taking a picture. I'm afraid that was not possible since the statue is behind a barred fence and is raised. I would not have been able to reach it.
Notwithstanding, I concede that I made an inappropriate remark by suggesting that the statue, with bottle in hand, made 'Oom Paul' appear intoxicated. In my desire to be Christlike, as a peace-maker, I have removed both the image and the comment from this post and I apologize to the two gentlemen who contacted me to request that I remove the remark and picture (I have not named them here since their requests to me were not public but sent via email - if they give their permission I will gladly publish their names). I also apologize to anyone else who may have been offended by my remark.
The original post of 12 May 2007 continues below.
Right, now back to SYNOD. Thank you for your prayers for our meetings this week. I am pleased to say, that whilst they were not easy, I do feel that they turned out very well in the end. Of course, victory seldom comes without cost.
Firstly, 19 of our ministers were suspended for some part of their SYNOD in Cape Town for taking a stand on the issue of officiating at same sex unions. You can read the official SABC news release here.
My friend Wessel also has some news on the events in our SYNOD. I would encourage you to read his blog as well.
As many of you know, I am an inclusive and affirming Christian. In short, I believe that scripture says much more about justice, love, and grace, than it does about sexuality. Moreover, Jesus clearly shows that we as Christians need to reach to those who are marginalized, rejected, and on the fringes of society. Moreover, Megan and I have come to know and love many friends, and some family, who have a same sex orientation and are deeply committed to Christ. For some years now I have been part of a group within our denomination that has been trying to encourage the Church to have a far more open and affirming stance towards persons of a same sex orientation. I do sincerely believe that Christ would want all persons to be part of the body of Christ. It is a sad indictment upon the Gospel when we exclude anyone from Christ's love and grace! I do not expect every other Christian to feel the same as I do. However, I certainly would want to have the freedom and privilege of extending Christ's grace to, and not be curtailed or stopped from doing so by the Church itself.
Moreover, I have served on Methodist Church's 'doctrine ethics and worship commission' (DEWCOM) which is charged with helping the Church to formulate it's doctrine and beliefs. (You can read some of the papers and working documents that we have produced here) In particular, Wessel and I were the authors of our Church's current position of 'ecclesiastical unity in Christ', that affirms that even though there are persons with different viewpoints about sexuality, we have faith in one and the same Lord, and so we choose to 'sit with one another around the table of Christ'. In short we compiled the responses we received from a discussion document, did the theology, and then wrote the following report for Conference.
I would sincerely encourage that you read this report before making up your mind about either this issue in relation to our Church, or my stance on it.
In short, as a result of this position, I (together with clergy throughout the country, including the 19 in Cape Town) tabled a resolution asking that the Church allow those of us who feel compelled to offer ministry to, and in particular seek God's blessing for, same sex couples to be allowed to do so. The motion was defeated.
However, I was so encouraged by the nature and spirit of the debate that took place around the issue. One of the saddest things for me is when Christians attack one another over issues such as this. This was not the case in our SYNOD, however, the outcome is that I have an objection against my name on the matter of our Church's discipline and doctrine (in other words, I had to register a qualified acceptance of the 'questions of discipline' - indicating that I believe, teach, and uphold our Church's doctrine with some qualifications). This position arises from a complex and conflicted process. In short whilst our Conference has allowed us to act in accordance with our conscience, a 'lower decision making body' of the Church (the Connexional executive) tried to override the decision of the 'higher body', Conference, and forbid us to conduct blessings for same sex couples. Whilst I don't want to debate the issue of blessing same sex couples, I did make the point that a lower body of the Church cannot override a higher body. However, the argument was not carried, and so as a matter of conscience I had to give a qualified response to 'the questions'.
Unlike our colleagues in the Cape of Good Hope District, I was however not suspended. Bishop Taylor (who is the chair of the Limpopo District SYNOD in which I was for most of this week) was both wise and gracious in dealing with this matter, and asked that the SYNOD not make any ruling, or request any discipline, until a higher body that the SYNOD (in this case that would be Connexional Executive, or the Conference of the MCSA that meets in August) has ruled on the matter. However, being weary of the unpredictability of our Church's leadership (which I believe was the reason why the 19 ministers in the Cape were so quickly recused from SYNOD), and being the only minister who took this stance in our SYNOD, I fear that I may still face some measure of discipline in the next few days or weeks. So please do be pray for all of the ministers in the MCSA who will face objections as a result of their conscience, believing that Christ loves all persons regardless of sexual orientation. Please also pray for our Church as we seek to find Christ's will in this regard and at the same time remain in loving fellowship with one another.
In particular I want to applaud some colleauges, who at this stage, have made a significant contribution to helping the Church understand the importance of this issue. They are,
Rev Paul Oosthuizen (a first year student minister), Rev Angus Kelly (a third year student minister), Reverends Brian and Dianne Moodie (the only two persons who took a stand in their SYNOD), Rev Wessel Bentley, Rev Mike Durrant, Rev Dr Neville Richardson, Rev Sifiso Khuzwayo, Rev Lynn Walter, Rev Sidwell Mokgothu, and Rev Rudyard Harrison (members of the Limpopo SYNOD who supported the resolution). And then I also want to honour the Rev Dave Morgan, who affirmed and encouraged me, even though he is a proponent of the opposite view to which I subscribe. He truly encouraged me by displaying grace, and Christian love.
We still have a number of SYNODs meeting in the next two weeks. Please continue to pray about this matter!
Lastly, I had the privilege of going from the Limpopo District SYNOD in Rustenburg, to preach at the Highveld and Swaziland District SYNOD meeting in Brakpan this morning. Let me just say, that it was a wonderful honour and joy to share with this SYNOD, however, the greatest joy was the fact that my friend Juan Smith, was accepted for Ordination to the Ministry of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Well done Juan! It has been many long years of hard work, dedicated training, and love for Christ and his Church!
Here is the sermon I preached as a charge to the Ordinands and SYNOD, if anyone is interested to read it: