The Common Witness Coalition’s Response to “A Statement of Counsel to the Church – 2011”:
We do hope that the Bishops' call through “A Statement of Counsel to the Church – 2011” becomes a catalyst for a new “watershed moment” in the life of the United Methodist Church! We have over our history as Methodists a tradition of listening to the Spirit’s call to be a part of the movement of God’s grace and love and being led to move to greater and deeper understandings of what it means to be faithful disciples in the face of the cultural realities in which we live.
Often this Calling and Movement has caused us to look at the way we have been hearing God’s Word in and through the Holy Scriptures and see that we have been mistaken in our understandings of what God’s transforming love is calling us to do. The Bible has historically been used as a tool of both oppression and liberation, exclusion and hospitality. It has been quoted to relegate women to a place of servitude and to even support the role of slavery and segregation in our own cultural history. It was only when we realized our legalistic misuse of Scripture that we were able to allow God to work on behalf of Methodism through the gifts and graces of those formerly excluded.
Professor Cheryl B. Anderson of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary (author of the newly released: “Ancient Laws & Contemporary Controversies“) cites Howard Thurman and the story of his grandmother: “During the days of slavery,” she said, “the master’s minister would occasionally hold services for the slaves… Always the white minister used as his text something from Paul. At least three or four times a year he used as a text ‘Slaves be obedient to them that are your masters… as unto Christ.’ Then he would go on to show how, if we were good and happy slaves, God would bless us.” Dr. Anderson goes on to cite Brian Blaunt (African American New Testament scholar): “This doesn’t mean that the New Testament lost its sense of authority for the slaves. But it does mean that their perception of God in their midst was more authoritative.”
When asked about the greatness and authority of the rules and laws of scripture, Jesus reminded the Hebrew people: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:34-40).” Jesus was speaking then as he is now, reminding us that the standard of interpreting and understanding scripture is always found, first and foremost, in the consequences it has for our complete giving of ourselves to God, and, “like it,” how it expresses that complete love of God in our love for others and self. “Jesus and Paul show us in scripture that ‘A law can be modified, amended, or rejected if it negatively impacts the marginalized and if the new approach is grounded in the biblical tradition, is consistent with the absolute requirement of God (the law of love), and works to include the excluded’ (Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson, Chapter 4, Ancient Laws & Contemporary Controversies).” The Common Witness Coalition firmly believes that these biblical standards have been met. Dr. Anderson reminds us, “that those who would hold to the traditions of the Church and Scripture, without paying attention to the consequences that has for our relationship with God and others, are committing the same injustice that the Pharisees (as described in the Gospels) committed.”
You ask those who are committed to a fully inclusive Church within our very own Wesleyan and United Methodist tradition, “how do you respond to the 'Statement of Counsel to the Church -2011' now signed by 36 retired Bishops and Episcopal leaders?” There is only one faithful way the Common Witness Coalition can respond… Amen and Amen!
Common Witness Coalition
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Reconciling Ministries Network