Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Prayers for Rev. Heiss and Bishop Webb

Rev. Stephen Heiss
The Rev. Stephen Heiss,  pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton, N.Y., has written an open letter to his bishop saying that he has officiated at several weddings for same-gender couples over the past several years -- including his daughter's wedding to her partner.

The letter is posted on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog here.

The Upper New York Conference has a brand new bishop just elected to be a bishop last year. I knew Bishop Mark Webb as an outstanding pastor when he was a much younger person years ago in another conference. I respected him for his commitment to reach people and his caring, balanced ministry.

It is hard to see brand new bishops who hardly have their feet on the ground yet having to deal with what they surely must feel to be a tension between their oath to uphold the Book of Discipline and a basic human rights issue like marriage.

Bishop Mark Webb
New bishops are just learning to exercise the authority of their office, so I suspect some of them can sometimes be a bit defensive when they sense their authority challenged.  I remember Bishop Webb as an unusually open, non-defensive pastor.

We are in the midst of a season of rethinking prejudices that are centuries old, that may have been assumed (like slavery and patriarchy) by some of the biblical writers, and that are deeply engraved in the psyches of some United Methodists.

So we should keep both Pastor Heiss and Bishop Webb in our prayers.

Stephen Heiss has taken a courageous and honorable position. Bishops need to remember that this is what they signed up for -- being a bishop in a time when our society is experiencing dramatic change in understanding issues of sexual identity. None of us, including bishops, get to pick the issues of the age in which we serve.

I  remember hearing someone say once that they wished they had lived in the time of the movement to abolish slavery when the issue was so clearly one of right and wrong and the biblical evidence was so clear. The issue of marriage equality is equally one of right and wrong and the Bible says little if anything opposing same-gender love as compared to many passages that seem to support slavery, but it may take a few decades for everyone to see this clearly.

We can not live in any other era. We need to live through the movement of the Spirit in our time. We cannot pick our issues. We can only choose whether we will stand with old understandings and the old law or with the grace of God trying to break through.

I still believe that rules in the Book of Discipline that discriminate against LGBTQ persons violate the United Methodist constitution, as the late W. Astor Kirk argued, if only there were a way to test it. 

May God guide both Pastor Heiss and Bishop Webb. 

1 comment:

  1. i believe the possible trial of Dr. Ogletree, who performed a wedding for his son and his partner, will be as good a chance to test the constitutionality of our rules as any. I believe that our anti gay rules are unconstitutional as they are in direct contradiction of our principles of inclusion and equal rights for all regardless of orientation. Until now, whenever someone has tried to make that case, their arguments were ruled out of order by the presiding judges. Since Dr. Ogletree is a scholar, ethicist and wrote part of the Discipline on theology, we couldn't ask for a better person to make this case.