In the summer of 2014 the Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference appointed the Rev. Robert Sawyer, the Rev. Nola Reed Knouse and the Rev. Craig Troutman to form the nucleus of a steering committee to fulfill the mandate of Synod Resolution #12. (For the complete resolution, see sidebar.) The three of us began meeting in September 2014 and this spring we welcomed five more members to the steering committee: lay members Joyce Carter and Greg Knouse, and the Rev. Jeff Carter, the Rev. Betty Helms and the Rev. Steve Wilson.
This expanded committee has been busy! We began the process of conversation and discernment by identifying five “perspectives” or “viewpoints” regarding homosexuality and inviting those who wanted to participate in an initial phase of conversation to identify the perspective that most closely matched their own at that time. These five perspectives were:
- Some in our church who experience a homosexual orientation are not comfortable with their sexuality and have struggled with questions of self-worth and acceptance.
- Some in our church who experience a homosexual orientation understand it as their natural sexuality and want to affirm it as normal and healthy for them. They wish to have committed same-sex unions recognized and honored by our church and desire to be accountable for living faithfully, lovingly and generously in faithful union with a partner.
- Some in our church who have come into close contact—in family and in friendships— with people of homosexual orientation, who are Christians, come to share that positive view. When they share in the pain of censure that may be the experience of their family members or friends, they are often motivated to advocate full acceptance of homosexuality.
- Some in our church struggle to come to grips with this issue, wrestling with their interpretation of scripture and their desire to include all persons within the embrace of Christ’s church. They are seeking help to understand differing perspectives in order to determine where they stand.
- Some in our church have experienced homosexuality and homosexual activity as contrary to God’s will as they understand it—specifically that human sexuality has been designed and blessed by God as belonging to one man and one woman in marriage. For them, this experience upholds the authority of the Bible and the teaching of our church. Some within this group view those who have worked at reorientation or maintained celibacy as inspiring examples. Many who view homosexual behavior as sinful also believe scripture attests to the forgiveness of sin and the grace of God for all who have fallen short of God’s glory.
We decided to begin our conversations with small groups of individuals holding a similar perspective, not to “strengthen a case” or encourage opposing “camps” that could create a more polarized situation, but rather to encourage more people to participate without fear of the discomfort that can come in talking with someone with a very different view. We sent out the invitation to participate in the form of a bulletin insert to all the Southern Province congregations and reports in the monthly “Provincial Ties.” We have been deeply grateful for the participation of about fifty clergy and around 150 lay persons. As of this first week in July, we have held ten meetings with clergy, one with the Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference, one with the bishops serving in the Southern Province and sixteen meetings with lay people, with several meetings still upcoming.
We begin each of these meetings with a service of worship, taken partly from the Liturgy for Christian Unity and concluding with a Covenant for Christian Conversation. Then we move into the discussion of three questions:
- What brought you to the perspective you now hold? (Or, in other words, what’s your story?)
- What would you like to ask someone who holds a very different perspective? What can you learn from someone who thinks and feels very differently from yourself?
- When we are together with people who think differently from one another, what will make those conversations fruitful?
An extensive annotated reading list (including resources from a variety of perspectives and experiences, many of which are available through the Board of Cooperative Ministries Resource Center) and a copy of the Synod resolution are available for each participant. Two members of the steering committee are present at each of these conversations, and we have all found them deeply moving and wonderful expressions of our common Christian faith and love for Jesus Christ and for the Moravian Church.
This fall we anticipate hosting one or more public forums, where there will be speakers who represent a variety of biblical and theological perspectives. Those attending these events will have the opportunity to ask questions for clarification. These will not be debates, but rather opportunities to hear from persons who have done biblical and theological study of the scriptures that are cited in discussions of homosexuality and the church, and who have sometimes arrived at very different interpretive conclusions. We will make their presentations available in written form; we also plan to videotape the presentations and make them available online.
Later, we will have conversations involving persons who do not share the same perspective. These “mixed group” conversations will be held in the context of a shared meal; participants will share a meal with those with whom they will discuss homosexuality and the church after the meal, with the goal of strengthening relationships between us as brothers and sisters before talking about the questions that are so deeply emotional for many people. Each table will also have a trained facilitator, who will help guide the conversation through specific questions and keep everything “on track.” Our fervent prayer and sincere hope is that we will all come out of these conversations strengthened in our commitment to remain “at the table” in honest and open conversation, always allowing room for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
It’s important to note not only what we are doing, but also what we are not doing. As we have told each group meeting:
- we are not providing for a “contest” or debate between those who hold different perspectives;
- we are not offering opportunities for anyone to seek to change anyone else’s mind; and
- we are not working towards the preparation of legislation for synod or any other kind of advocacy.
What we are working toward is a shared experience of conversation, understanding, respect and Christian love, opening ourselves up to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of Christ, our Chief Elder. Recognizing that we hope to complete these conversations by the end of this year, there will still be more than two years before the next Southern Province synod, and thus time for further study and discernment as need and opportunity arise.
There is still plenty of room and time for participation in this process! Every member of the Southern Province is welcome to participate in the next phase of conversations, and we will make every effort to hold these in locations convenient to our members—Florida and Georgia folks, we will come to you! As we begin to schedule these 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.
The 2014 Synod of the Moravian Church in America, Southern Province, passed the following resolution:
Resolution #12 Study and Discernment Regarding Homosexuality
WHEREAS the Unity Synod of 2002 and the Unity Board meeting of 2010 encouraged dialogue within the various provinces of our church about homosexuality in the church; and,
WHEREAS during the 2010–2014 inter-synodal period, the Provincial Elders’ Conference has taken some steps, but has not fully implemented the call of the church expressed in 2010 Synod resolution #24: Homosexuality Study and Discernment; therefore be it
RESOLVED That, the Synod of 2014 reaffirms the spirit and intent of the 2010 Synod resolution #24, specifically: 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; and,
RESOLVED That, this process of dialogue and discernment should take into account similar efforts made, and decisions that have been or may be reached by our sister provinces within the Unity, as well as any actions of the 2014 Unity Board and 2016 Unity Synod; and,
RESOLVED That, the Provincial Elders’ Conference should fulfill what is stated in this resolution in a manner which it determines is best and prior to the Synod of 2018; and,
RESOLVED That, the task force should be appointed by September 15, 2014 and begin its work by November 1, 2014.
From the September 2015 Moravian Magazine