An Update from the Steering Committee for Resolution 12 from the Southern Province Synod of 2014
In the summer of 2014, the Southern Province Provincial Elder’s Conference appointed a steering committee to fulfill the mandate of Synod Resolution #12, “Study and Discernment Regarding Homosexuality.” One of the legislation’s key resolved statements was “to provide leadership, resources and a process for a conversation about homosexuality in the church that includes diverse viewpoints, and opportunities for open and honest discussion, study and discernment.” Committee member the Rev. Dr. Nola Reed Knouse offers this update on their work to date.
Since our report in the September Moravian, two public forums and three fellowship meals and conversations have taken place regarding homosexuality and the church.
The first of the public forums was held on Sunday afternoon, October 4, 2015, in Shirley Recital Hall at Salem College, for an overflow crowd of about 210 people. We began with worship planned and led by Bishops Sam Gray, Lane Sapp, and Graham Rights; Bishop Wayne Burkette served as moderator for the forum. Our featured speakers were the Rev. Dr. Susan Parker, ordained Baptist minister and social worker, and the Rev. Dr. John C. Rankin, President of the Theological Education Institute (TEI), International (teii.org). A close family member of Rev. Parker passed away on the day before the forum, and she was unable to be present; however, she shared her prepared remarks, and they were ably read by the Brother Riddick Weber.
Following the two presentations, which did indeed present very different ways of approaching the topic of homosexuality, there was a break, in which the attendees could write down questions to be submitted to the speakers or to the committee. Brother Burkette moderated, presenting such questions as there was time for; Brother Weber responded where appropriate, not presuming to speak for Rev. Parker, and Rev. Rankin responded to those directed to him. The remaining questions were turned over to the steering committee. Both speakers agreed to address the remaining questions in writing, and as these are received they are being posted on the Southern Province’s website. The afternoon closed as it began, with worship and the singing of hymns.
The second forum was held on a bitterly cold Tuesday night, January 19, 2016, at New Philadelphia Moravian Church, where Bishop Gray made a presentation on Moravian interpretation of scripture based on the “Guiding Principles of Biblical Interpretation” (prepared by the Interprovincial Faith and Order Commission and adopted by the Provincial Elders’ Conferences in 2012). Some 350 people attended this session, which was framed in worship, led by Bishop Burkette. Brother Gray also responded to some questions, with the support of his brother bishops.
Fellowship meals and conversations
Nearly 200 people have participated in fellowship meals and conversations about homosexuality and the Moravian Church. As individuals sign up, they are asked to identify where their beliefs fall on the wide spectrum of perspectives about homosexuality and the church; they also identify their congregation, and they are then assigned to tables for the meal and conversation with others who are from different congregations and differing perspectives, with each table’s conversation guided by a facilitator. Again, these gatherings are framed in worship led by a bishop.
The conversations focus on the participants’ hopes for the outcome of these conversations and this process; on one or two things they believe about homosexuality that they would like to share, speaking as a Moravian in love; and on what is needed in order to continue fruitful conversation among members of the Moravian Church Southern Province.
We have received a number of responses to our request for feedback, and most have been very positive, finding the conversations non-threatening, focused on Christian faith, and in many cases expanding their insights. Another such gathering will be held on Sunday evening, April 10, at Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem.
What is the goal of these gatherings? It is not to change anyone’s mind; but rather to build relationships; to enhance our understanding of one another’s perspective; to grow in faith, love, and hope as a body united in our faith in Jesus Christ; and to be open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of Christ, our Chief Elder.
What is coming in the next months? Depending upon the response we receive to this next gathering in April, we may schedule one or more additional ones like this. We may move to offer gatherings within the Regional Conferences of Churches, recognizing that so far our table conversations have been among people who do not attend the same congregation. In 2017 we may offer materials for a series of meetings within an individual congregation.
There is still plenty of room and time for participation in this process! We would love for every member of the Southern Province to participate in these conversations! As we continue to schedule events, we will make the dates and locations known as best we can. If you would like to be sure to be notified of these events, please send your name and contact information (telephone, email, and/or mailing address) to: Rev. Nola Reed Knouse, 457 S. Church Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most importantly, what is coming is a continuation of the prayers we all offer to our Lord, asking for the intervention of the Holy Spirit, who alone can provide the platform for us to hold these respectful conversations as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Everyone who reads this article, whether in the Northern or Southern Province or around the world, is invited to share in the prayer provided for our conversations by our bishops:
“Lord God, as your Son once sat at table with his disciples, gracing them with his presence, come now, by the power of your Spirit, and dwell with us. Guide our conversations in all the days to come. Help us to speak with an honesty that is gentle, forbearing one another, exercising compassion, kindness, meekness and patience in our discussion. Help us listen to each other without judgment, respecting the diversity of experience and understanding among us. More than anything, O God, help us in these moments to “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” despite our differences. These things we humbly ask in the Name of Him who binds us together, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” n