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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in same sex (8)

Thursday
Sep302010

The Bible and Christian Ethics - lectures at the University of Stellenbosch

This week I had the privelage of teaching at the University of Stellenbosch on two days.  The topic of the lectures was Scripture and Ethics.

The Bible is a critical source that informs our moral and ethical decision making processes, and helps us to justify why we have taken a particular course of action.  My lectures were based on two chapters that I have written.

Reading the same Bible and reaching different ethical conclusions:  The Bible and Christian ethics" by Forster, D (2009:131-156) in What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa. Kretzschmar, L; Bentley, W; van Niekerk, A (eds). Kempton Park, AcadSA Publishers.

And,

"Why you can't simply trust everything you read" by Forster, D (2008:25-46) in What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Forster, D; Bentley, W (eds). Cape Town.  Methodist Publishing House.

When we need the Bible most... Complex ethical dilemmas and Christian scripture

Sadly, the Bible is often abused in moral and ethical decision-making processes.  I often hear people quoting a single verse to justify a stance on something (whether it be politics, sexual choices, wealth etc.)  An overly simplistic approach to ethics and an ignorant application of the scriptures can be extremely hurtful and damaging in complex ethical decisions.

In this set of lectures we began by examining the complexity of ethical decision-making.  We used a story that a student shared with me when I was still a lecturer in Ethics and Systematic Theology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) some years ago:

Moral problems tend to have straigthfoward answers (right or wrong), whereas ethical dilemmas seem to have a mix of both good and bad.  No matter what choice you make it will not be entirely good or entirely bad.  The complexity is to work out what decision is best under the circumstances.  This process of deciding is often complicated when one asks the question 'What would God want me to do in this situation?', or 'What does the Bible say I can and cannot do in this situation?'

The example used in class came from a student that I taught at UNISA.

Example:  Is it ever right for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother?  What does the Bible say?  The answer is, no, it is not acceptable for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother.  The Bible will not allow that.  This is a clear moral problem.  It is easy to resolve since the choices are either right or wrong, good or bad.

However, in this instances the young man was at home with his mother.  A gang of thugs burst into their home, stole various items and then held a gun to the young man’s mother’s head.  The told him that if he did not have sex with his mother they would kill her.  What should he do?  Does the Bible make some allowance for him to break a law on sexual purity because the value of his mother’s life is more important in Biblical terms?

This last point is an ethical dilemma.  There is a conflict of values – the value of sexual purity in conflict with the value for life.  Which is more important in Christian ethics?  How does one use the Bible to inform such an ethical decision making process and choice?

Well, here are the slides from the lectures.  You can download the original Microsoft Powerpoint slides from this link (5MB).  These slides have notes and references in them. 

However, if you simply want to click through the slides then please use the slideshare window below.

In order to illustrate the complexity of using the Bible in Christian ethics we used a very contentious subject, the Christian (Biblical) perspective on persons with a same sex orientation, and in particular persons in an active homosexual relationship, to consider an approach to ethical decision-making.

I would highly recomend that you read the chapters referenced above.  They give a detailed technical outline of both the content of the lecture, but also the Analyse, Ask, Evaluate and Act model that is presented here.

Sunday
Nov042007

A poignant review - Gay and Lesbian film on the interpretation of Scripture.


I thought this was quite an interesting review of the film "For the Bible tells me so".

Thanks for posting the link John (see a link to John's blog on the right hand side of this post).


For the Bible Tells Me So - A Review
By Pastor Bob Cornwall

Who would have thought that the consecration of a bishop in New Hampshire of all places would send a fissure though the global church - not just the Anglican Church, but the church as a whole. But the consecration of an openly gay man has done just that, laying bare the divisions over sexuality that permeates the Christian Community. The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire has become the symbol of our unease with our sexuality and its place in the church.

I just finished viewing a screener copy of Daniel Karslake's important and surely controversial documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So. I watched it in preparation for my participation in a panel discussion after a screening of the film at the Santa Barbara LGBTQ Film Festival. I've known about the film since before its creation, for my friend Rev. Steve Kindle, who is featured in the film, was part of the origins of the idea. I've waited some time to see it and it was worth the wait.

The film begins with Anita Bryant, back in the 1970s denouncing the "gay agenda." Interspersed through the film are angry denouncements of homosexuality on the part of Christians, like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Dobson, and the ubiquitous folk from Topeka's Westborough Baptist Church.

But that is not the essence of the film. Instead it is the stories of real families who struggle with their children's sexual identity and their own religious formation. Five families are interviewed - including the family of Bishop Robinson, whose own spiritual foundations are not Episcopal, but Disciples of Christ. His parents still members of the same Kentucky Disciple church that he grew up in share their pride in their son and the journey they took to embrace him as he is, despite their earlier formation. Another famous family is that of former Congressman Richard Gephardt, whose daughter Chrissie is a lesbian. Some of the stories, like those of the Gephardts and the Robinsons are happy, but not all are. Mary Lou Wallner tells the story of her estrangement from her lesbian daughter Anna, largely on the basis of her faith formation and understanding of the Bible - an understanding she got largely from Focus on the Family. That story ends tragically in the suicide death of her daughter. But out of that tragedy came hope, for Mary Lou began to study and found that her previous understandings had been wrong. Now she speaks out on behalf of the gay and lesbian community. There is another family that is conflicted - they love their daughter and welcome her, but they can't accept who she is. That's a work in progress. Finally there's the story of Jake Reitan, a young gay man who grew up in a solid - Lutheran - Christian family. It took time for his family to embrace him as he is, but in the long run they became advocates, standing with him as Soul Force demonstrated at the Focus on the Family headquarters.

The powerful statement these stories make is that this is a personal issue. Whatever your views of homosexuality or of the Bible, things change when it affects your family. How you read the Bible is influenced by your own experiences. That is true of me – I'm a graduate of a leading evangelical seminary, whose president is featured in the film (unfortunately affirming traditional interpretations of these texts that excluded), but when my brother came out, things changed. Our hang up is with sex, but when we realize that this is my brother, or my sister, or my son or my daughter, what do we do? Dick Gephardt says it well - when Chrissie came out, fearing that she might be disowned, he declared a parent’s unconditional love. Love won out. As Mel White put it: "Once they realize who we are up close and personal that fear goes away."

The film deals with the families, but it also deals with the texts. A series of speakers, ranging from Mel White, Peter Gomes, Desmond Tutu to Rabbi Stephen Greenberg, Disciples pastors Larry Keene and Steve Kindle, and an American Baptist woman pastor Sandra Sparks. Each of these speakers takes on our cultural presuppositions, formed by our faith traditions, and the Biblical texts - of which there are only about six, few of which even apply today in any real way. We hear that Leviticus declares a man lying with a man to be an abomination, but then it also says the same about eating shrimp. As Larry Keene, a Disciple pastor and former Pepperdine professor points out, the question isn’t so much what the Bible seems to say, but how we read it and use it today.

At the heart of the debate is the question of choice - is it a choice or not? The film takes on this question creatively, through the use of a brief, at times humorous, but pointed cartoon. This piece sits in the middle of the film, providing both comic relief and movement forward on the discussion. And as most reputable science states, this isn't a choice, it is one’s identity. If so, then we must ask: what next for our society?

We live at a time when the vast numbers of people are biblically illiterate and read the Bible in bits and pieces, influenced largely by their own upbringing. This reading is combined with great amounts of fear. It is true that our society's greatest fear is of male homosexuals – a fear of a feminization of a man. To be gay is to be - in the eyes of many - feminine. Gay men, such as White and Robinson, make it clear that this isn't true. But the fear is still there, and it's a fear we must address. Our fear leads us to plead with gays and lesbians to stay in the closet, but as Mel White points out, the "closet is a place of death." Young gays, feeling suppressed and forced into a closet, with no one to talk with, too often and very tragically, take their own lives. And why? Because our society is permeated by fear of the other and formed by outmoded interpretations of the Bible.

Is this film biased? Of course it is. It is a strongly stated, but not in your face, statement of the dignity and equality and the humanity of our gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, and family members. It is a film that must be seen. At this point it is in fairly restricted distribution, but hopefully this will change - for the church must change so that the world might change.

If the film begins (with the exception of the Anita Bryant outburst) with an introduction of the Robinson family, it appropriately ends with his joyous and yes controversial consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire. The world will never be the same - and that's a good thing.

An interesting review. I can't wait to see this movie.

Sadly though, I fear that we have been so polarised in this discussion that we tend to approach the issue, rather than each other, from our points of conviction.

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Thursday
Oct182007

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians - your help is needed, we need to hear your voices!

This evening I responded to the call for papers for the Theological Society of South Africa meetings. The Theological Society of South Africa, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is the professional body for Academic Christian theologians.

Next year the TSSA will be meeting in my old stomping ground, Grahamstown (18-20 June 2008)! I can't wait! The theme for next year will be:

Grace, space and race: Towards a theology of place in (South) Africa today.

You can download a more detailed copy of the call for papers here.

I have decided to prepare a paper for this conference entitled:

What place, and how much space? Or, is it merely an empty hospitality - A theological critique of the place, and space, given to persons of a same-sex orientation in selected mainline Southern African Christian Churches.

(or something like this... I know, it still needs a lot of work).

Here is a rough abstract of what I intend to research:

This paper will investigate the theological principles that have informed the stance of the mainline Christian Churches in South Africa in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons. It will present and consider the the dominant theological themes that have informed this debate in Southern African Christianity. Having done so, the research will ask some critical questions about the 'space' afforded to GLBT persons within Southern African Churches (i.e., are such persons welcomed, do they have full, or limited, access to the Church and the privileges of the Church? etc.) The paper will also evaluate the Churches that consider themselves to be a 'place of welcome', by being inclusive, affirming, and hospitable to GLBT persons. The nature of this 'place of welcome and hospitality' will be considered by drawing upon the experiences of a number of GLBT clergy and Christian laity. It is hoped that this paper will offer some valuable insight into two aspects of this current debate: First, it will offer a useful guide to 'place' the theology that informs the stances of various mainline denominations in Southern Africa. Second, it will give 'space' for the voice of GLBT Christians to be heard within the academy, allowing Southern African theologians to hear the struggles, concerns, and viewpoints of our sisters and brothers who are gay.

What do I hope to achieve?

I would like to weave three things together in my research 1) Southern African theology (and a critique of our content and approach to theology), 2) An honest consideration of the place and space that we allow to gay persons in our Churches, and 3) to have a platform on which gay persons can give their input and critique of the theology of the mainline Churches on this issue!

So, now the work needs to begin. Naturally I have done quite a bit of reading and research on this topic over the years, and written a few papers, however I would truly like this to be a significant piece of research that will be able to offer some insight, stimulating discussion, and provocative thought, for some of our country's top theologians.

Here's the help I need!

Here's where I need your help - I know that there are a few gay and lesbian Christians that read the blog - if you're willing to help me by answering a questionnaire, and sending in some form of testimony, that would be extremely helpful! I would also like to hear from gay and lesbian clergy and laity who have been afraid to come out for fear of rejection. Please send me an email and I'll keep in contact with you: email Dion.

Lastly, anyone is welcome to participate, present a paper, or attend the meetings. However, only persons with a Masters degree in Theology (or higher) may be nominated as members of the society.

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Friday
Oct122007

Calls by the African Anglican Bishops to postpone the Lambeth Conference.

This post comes from 'Contact online' a blog by Fr David Mac Gregor. I am reposting it here since it may be of some interest to the readers of this blog - however, please do take a look at David's great blog.


Calls to postpone Lambeth

From the Friday, Oct 12, 2007 issue of the Church of England Newspaper

By George Conger

THE ANGLICAN Archbishops of Africa have backed Nigeria’s call to postpone the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and have pleaded with the Archbishop of Canterbury to call a special meeting of the Primates to avert the impending collapse of the Communion.

And this week a leading Church of England Bishop warned that if the current arrangements stand, he will find it difficult to attend the 10-yearly meeting of Bishops.

In a statement released following the meeting earlier this month of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) in Mauritius, the Archbishops acknowledged Dr Williams’ concerns that postponing Lambeth would be ‘costly’, but said the alternatives were far worse.

“A divided conference with several provinces unable to participate and hundreds of bishops absent would be much more costly to our life and witness. It would bring an end to the Communion, as we know it,” they said.

Postponing Lambeth would allow ‘tensions to subside’ and permit space for the ‘hard work of reconciliation’. It would also ensure that a common mind would have been reached on the proposed Anglican Covenant before the meeting took place.

Last month Dr Williams said he was not persuaded that a delay of Lambeth was necessary. He had to ‘keep faith’ with the conference organisers and with the minority of bishops who were not concerned with the crisis of faith and order dividing the Communion.

However, the African church stated that a ‘change of direction from our current trajectory is urgently needed’ for the Communion to survive.

The African archbishops said they were willing to work with the ‘instruments of unity’ to resolve the ‘current impasse that confronts us’.

However, they said: “We have spent the last 10 years in a series of meetings, issuing numerous communiqués, setting deadlines and yet we have made little progress.”

A Lambeth Conference that papers over the widening cracks in the Communion would serve no one, they argued. “We want unity but not unity at any expense,” they said.

Their call coincides with an admission by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, that he would not be able to attend Lambeth if the liberal US bishops who appointed Gene Robinson were invited.

Responding to a question on the issue after delivering the fifth Chavasse lecture at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, Bishop Nazir-Ali said:

“There are churches and bishops who were requested, there were pleas to them by everyone from every quarter, not to do what the whole Communion had said was contrary to God’s purpose.

“They went ahead and did it.

Now the intention is to have those bishops at the Lambeth Conference, and the person consecrated also. Under such circumstances, and as matters stand, I could not go.We have to state at a particular time what is the gospel’s judgment in a particular situation.”

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, said he backed Bishop Nazir-Ali.

He said: “I agree with the Bishop of Rochester about both the need for greater clarity about the purpose and nature of next summer’s gathering.”

He added he was concerned about the possibility the Conference could make Gene Robinson a scapegoat, ‘rather than focusing on the action of those who, through their decision to act in disregard of the pleas and mind of the rest of the Anglican Communion, precipitated this crisis’.

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Saturday
Sep222007

The MCSA's resolution on same sex unions.

It was a tough and taxing day at Conference today. I don't have a great deal of energy to offer critique on the adopted resolution. So, here's the resolution - I'll post more later.

--- The Resolution (excluding the text in bold):

This Conference of 2007, in considering the ongoing same-sex discussion, declares its determination not to permit different viewpoints among us to further divide our church. In the face of our differences we recall and reaffirm the 1958 Conference resolution declaring that "it is the will of God for the Methodist Church that it should be one and undivided."

In the light of that declaration, and informed by the 2001 Conference commitment to being "a community of love rather than rejection," and the 2005 Conference resolution inviting Methodists embracing "many different and even opposing views on the issue” to “journey together," this Conference seeks a way forward that both respects and holds in tension differing views among our ministers and people.
Conference therefore resolves:
i) That the grace, affirmation of diversity, and commitment to the unity of the church central to the same-sex resolutions of the 2001 and 2005 Conferences be re-affirmed;
ii) That our ministers and people continue to engage this issue in Christian conversation and respectful listening, so that all of us may more fully understand and articulate the variety of viewpoints held within our church;
iii) That we will seek to be a Christ-honouring community:
Celebrating the rich diversity of those called to follow Jesus, honouring the sacred worth of all people and practicing our Wesleyan heritage of warmth, welcome and hospitality;
Recognising the authority of Scripture, and noting that in our quest for understanding, there is no one, monolithic and incontrovertible interpretation of it;
Acknowledging that there are therefore some issues upon which there may never be total unanimity within the church and upon which we must "agree to differ" without reducing our respect for, and trust of, one another;

The following piece was removed from the original resolution we sent through (you can see the original word document in an earlier post on this blog). Here's what was removed:

Affirming Methodism's long-held practice of trusting our ministers to decide who they will or will not marry, and trusting them to exercise their pastoral judgment with integrity in deciding which relationships they will bless, governed by their understanding of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience;
Covenanting to gracefully and equally protect the consciences and actions of those ministers who do not wish to conduct same-sex unions as well as those who wish to do so.
iv) That, in consequence of all the above, the Presiding Bishop and Secretariat of our church be requested to take whatever appropriate legal or other measures necessary to fully implement this resolution.

The removed section above was replaced with the following text (below):

Conference approves the publication of Bible Study material which will assist members of the Church to reflect on the issue of Christians and homosexuality and same-sex relationships;

Conference directs that a meeting be convened to consider the wide spectrum of viewpoints on the civil unions of same-sec souples in order to listen to each other, identify points of agreement and differences and seek a way forward that will enhance the unity of the church. DEWCOM is mandated to convene this engagement;

Conference recognizes that any decision and subsequent action on the issue of civil unions between same-sex partners must await the outcome of the ongoing process of engagement as specified by Conference 2005 (Yearbook 2006, 8.3, p.75) and, in the interim, expects Methodist ministers to continue to offer pastoral care to homosexual individuals as to all others.

What was of great interest to me is that the original resolution that our commission sent forward to the main group ended with the words "to offer pastoral care to homosexual couples as to all others." However, the Conference changed it to "homosexual individuals" since there was a feeling that the use of the word 'couples' would send a message that the Church accepted and affirmed gay persons.

There are both things to celebrate, and things to mourn, in the final resolution.

Firstly, I mourn the fact that even though the first part of this resolution, that I worked very hard to word with care and respect, that was tempered by the wisdom of Prof Peter Storey, and that made great concessions to those who hold a different view from me, was accepted - the spirit of it was negated by making the radical distinction between 'the right to think differently', yet denying many of us 'the right to act differently'. So, it would seem that the fraility of the Church ensured that once again we were willing to SAY what we should be, did not have the courage to DO what it would take to become what we should be... Secondly, the exclusion of the word 'couples' is simply a ' head in the sand' decision... It shows that our Church does not yet accept that there ALREADY are gay and lesbian members and clergy! While one is dealing with the concept of homosexual Christians you can objectify them as individuals. However, I don't know very many gay and lesbian Christians who are not in some relationship, and so are seen as more than just individuals. Here in Africa the denial of community is a denial of belonging and of course a denial of true identity. Sadly we were party to that today.

However, it is not all bad news! The great news is that we ensured that the Church remained united! Secondly, we also reaffirmed that at least our desire is to be a Church of affirmation and acceptance, and not a Church of rejection. Thirdly, when we voted on this resolution I noted the hands of a few Bishops, some ministers, and some laity - persons of different genders, races, and ages, voting in favour of the acceptance and blessing of same sex couples. That is a significant stride! Lastly, the right to offer 'pastoral care' to homosexual persons is now enshrined in our Church's policy. I cannot think of anything more pastoral than seeking God's gracious acceptance and blessing of persons of any gender or sexual orientation who lovingly commit themselves, and all that they are and do (including their relationships) to live under God's blessing. So, I shall continue to offer Pastoral prayers of blessing for gay individuals, and if they should happen to be together, it will be the individuals that make up the couple that will be engaged and cared for.

As a final thought - have any of my colleagues ever thought how ludicrous it is to think that we can exclude our gay and lesbian Christian members from being blessed in our services? Every time that I conclude a service with the Benediction I am asking for God's blessing on the whole of the congregation before me - I know for a fact that in my congregation at Bryanston there are a number of gay persons. If I were to apply the letter of the resolution above without interpretation I would have to ask all gay persons either to leave the Church before I pronounced the blessing, or ask them to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary, so that it is clear that I am asking for God's blessing on the individuals, and not the couples.... Not very likely.

Well, this is the news today. We have won a small space that we can inhabit in humble love. We have chosen to live in the small space where people who are rejected by society can find at least some blessing, love, and pastoral care - that is significant. There is much work ahead before SYNOD next year.

Please could you take a look at my good friend Dr Wessel Bentley's blog? His reflection is better than mine, AND he has pictures!!! You can read his blog here http://www.wesselsplace.blogspot.com. In the picture on the right (thanks Wes), you'll see (from Right to Left) Dianne Moodie (Edenvale), Ken Carr (East London), Barry Marshall (Port Elizabeth), me (from wherever I happen to be), Wessel Bentley (Pretoria), Alan Storey (Midrand, Johannesburg), and my good friend Kevin Needham (Cape Town)! What a great evening!

Tomorrow we celebrate the future of our Church as we ordain 29 Presbyters and 4 Deacons - a third of them are women. We celebrate with joy that God still calls persons to the ministry, we give thanks that these people are gifted, that they could have chosen to do, and be, many other things, but that they have chosen to respond faithfully to God's call to give their best, and be their best, for God. We will pray that God's Holy Spirit will fill them with power and the conviction to live out the Gospel values of Jesus Christ, and that through their faithful and loving ministry the world will be changed and recreated to God's glory.

Then, I fly home! I can't wait!!!

Monday
Jul232007

Double speak...

Frere Maternity Ward report.....

Do a google search for the words above... You'll find a remarkable example of 'double speak'. In recent months 43 babies have died in the maternity ward. Our minister of health, the notorious Manto Tshabalala Msimang, suggests that while there are severe staff shortages (at the time of a recent visit, just one nurse and one nurse's assistant on duty to care for 32 babies), and outdated and poor equipment, these DID NOT lead to the deaths of the babies... I seem to remember someone saying, I have come to proclaim healing...

Yes, and Zimababwe has plenty of food, fuel, and the healthiest economy in the world! Who the heck are you fooling!? Whilst your words may say one thing, we can see the truth. Was it not the Christ who said: I have come to preach good news to the poor.

Kliptown... As I watched the news this evening it might as well have been 30 years ago!! What I saw were scenes that reminded me of the kind of oppression we faced under the Apartheid government. Scores of police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets at civilians who are expressing their dismay at poor service delivery. How quickly the liberator is turning into an oppressor. We have much work to do, and sadly the voice of the Church is silent. Yes, that same Jesus said: I have come to proclaim freedom...

Let us never forget!

Today I also heard double speak from within the Church. A document arrived for me, sent by three of my Methodist colleagues, the document encourages Christians to sign their names in support a view that excludes persons from the hospitality and generosity of God's loving grace. This double speaking document encourages Christians to declare that the Church should choose whom the God of grace wishes to bless... It says that certain persons are not welcomed by the open arms of Christ, that they are not accepted unconditionally. This document encourages Christians to exclude people, and to withhold blessing, in the name of the Christ who died to welcome and bless all people! This is double speak. This kind of ungracious exclusion is just two steps from the hate that led to the rape, torture, and murder of Sizakele and Simone in Soweto, on a Sunday, just two weeks ago... After all, if the Church says they're an abomination, and God doesn't love them, why shouldn't we kill them? Thankfully there is a Lord who said: He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted...

Thankfully there is great hope! Today that hope came from a magnificent and challenging sermon delivered by one of the senior students at our seminary, the Rev Christian Mokone. He reminded us of God's desire for mercy, justice, grace, and our responsibility to honour God through social holiness, before we claim that God is honoured by personal piety... Let your holiness be reflected in the society in which you live. Don't say that you love God, but don't love those whom God loves - that is double speak! Jesus came to:

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners, [a]

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor. (Isa 61:1-3)

Surely a Christ follower should actually follow the way of Christ? I pray for US! We are a sinful people, and I am a sinful person who wants to honour God both in what I say, and in what I do, and in how what I say and do helps other to passionately do what Jesus did. I pray that we would have enough love to love the people that Jesus loves... I want to belong to a Church that would much rather bless people, than bless their pets, that would much rather live the values of God's Kingdom than engage in empty words that try to draw lines, exclude, condemn, and limit God's grace.

Could God ever find glory in double speak? Hear what Amos had to say (Amos 8:4-12)

4 Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,

5 saying,
"When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"—
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,

6 buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

7 The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.

8 "Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.

9 "In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

10 I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

12 Men will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD,
but they will not find it.

Pray, work, love, and have the courage to live as Jesus did. My friends, there can be no greater passion, no greater sacrifice, no witness greater, than living as Jesus did... That's what is means to be a Christ follower!

Thursday
May172007

Update on Church's response to ministers who registered a 'qualified yes' to the questions of discipline and doctrine.

Well, it has been an interesting week with a lot to and fro between various persons in positions of authority (or lack thereof) in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in relation to the ministers who gave a qualified yes response to the questions of discipline because of the civil union bill / same sex marriage issue.

Today, Greg Andrews, gave a detailed account of how the events unfolded in the Cape of Good Hope District. You can read his post on his blog HERE.

Then, this morning a letter was circulated (a week late in my estimation) from the office of the Presiding Bishop to comment on this issue and the 22 of us who registered the qualified response. One colleague asked why this letter had not been drafted a week earlier, it could have avoided a fair amount of struggle, embarrassment, and upheaval!

Here's the letter. I would love to hear what you comments are.

Statement by Bishops on the Same Sex Debate.doc

Saturday
May122007

Objectionable... Thanks for the prayers... Keep praying!

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.

Same sex response MCSA Conference 2005.doc

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:

Forget what is behind strain for what is ahead May 2007 Highveld and Swaziland SYNOD 2007.doc