From the editor: What happens to those who vote “no” after a church makes the decision to become a reconciling community? It is our hope that pastoral care will happen and reconciliation can be born in that community– that all members, the “yes” and the “no” votes might continue to grow in sanctifying grace as we move on to perfection. First UMC of Austin, Texas, one of our newest Reconciling churches, recently took their vote. What follows is an article from their pastor to his congregation…
The vote to join the Reconciling Ministries Network has been taken. Now what?
First and foremost, we hope that a spirit of goodwill will prevail. In the afternoon after the vote on February 10, we received this email. In part, it stated:
I voted NO on authorizing FUMC Austin to align or join itself with the Reconciling Ministries Network. But as the vote tally was announced this afternoon overwhelmingly in favor of RMN alignment, I found myself strangely at peace, even heartened, with this decision by our church. As you know, I have been very conflicted over this issue, seeing on the one hand a need to revise or eliminate the damning and hateful language formally guiding our church and yet, at the same time, being very leery of what we might be unleashing. But it had been my prayer throughout the past week…that I would trust and “Let God in his infinite wisdom guide our thinking and our decisions.” And God did. Or at least, hopefully, God did.
After the service on Sunday, February 24, another member spoke these words: “We don’t have to agree on every issue. This church is more than a one-issue church. It has dealt with controversial issues in the past, and we’ll come through this one.”
Barbara and I are greatly heartened by such comments. They reflect the spirit of John Wesley who said, “How far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths and yet be carried into Abraham’s bosom. But if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels.”
We know that some of us are still grieving and angry over the vote. We invite you to come to us and talk about it. We reiterate what we said in a previous article. Your right to hold and express a differing position is valued and respected. You are valued and respected. First United Methodist Church of Austin will be a more diverse and resilient community of faith because of you. We do not all have to think alike on every issue in order to love one another and to be in mission together as disciples of Jesus Christ.
We have been asked if this vote will lead to further votes on other, more controversial issues. The answer is no. It is important for all of us to acknowledge that persons of good faith can be found on both sides of many issues; therefore, congregations must proceed very cautiously in choosing sides and taking votes that can be very divisive. Only when the issue is perceived to go to the very heart of the gospel and only then by an overwhelming majority of the congregation should the church take a vote. People have asked what will be the follow-up to our vote to affiliate. As far as we can tell, there will be two further outcomes to our vote.
First, our vote will be communicated to other United Methodist churches as a witness for the purpose of encouraging them also to work to change the Book of Discipline’s current position on the status and role of homosexual persons within The United Methodist Church.
Second, our vote means that the efforts of our local Reconciling Ministries Team to moderate our denomination’s official position on homosexuality will now have the official endorsement of FUMC-Austin, instead of merely being the efforts of an ad-hoc group within our congregation. Each year at the session of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference in June, our Reconciling Ministries Team joins with teams from other churches to bear witness to the 350 congregations that make up the Southwest Texas Conference on the need to ameliorate our denomination’s current position on homosexuality. Every four years at annual conference, our team works to elect delegates to General Conference who would be open to moderating the church’s present position. Now, in light of our vote, our team’s efforts will carry our church’s official endorsement. No more, no less.
I admit that there have been times when I wondered if we were making a mistake in proceeding with this vote. More than once, I have asked myself, “John, what if, when you stand before God’s judgment seat, God says to you, “What on earth were you doing? Your action weakened the church I entrusted to your care.” If God says that to me, I will humbly confess my sin and plead “love” as my wrong-headed excuse, offering God the words of Wesley: “How far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love!”