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All People Are Of Sacred Worth

President's Blog
July 15, 2014

DSC 0430¶ 4. Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church:
The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth . . .”  The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012.

“You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . .”  (Ephesians 4:4-5, CEB)

I have never forgotten an experience I had 15 years ago now when Neal Fisher was still President of the seminary. At that time, each year we brought a group of prospective students to the campus for a couple of days to meet the faculty, to meet current students, to be interviewed by faculty members, and to begin to develop relationships with each other. These were students who already had been admitted, but who not yet decided if they would attend Garrett-Evangelical. They were also students with very high undergraduate GPA’s, demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities, and who were being courted by other top tier schools.

Our schedule typically included a faculty panel after dinner one evening. I was on the panel one of those evenings – a panel moderated by President Fisher with four or five other faculty colleagues. At one point, a student asked how we would characterize the seminary, “Is Garrett-Evangelical a conservative or a liberal school?” I knew the panel consisted of faculty members who spanned a spectrum of theological perspectives. Within about five seconds, our body language became very telling. We began to sit back in our chairs looking down and away, no one of us eager to respond. For to claim the school one way or the other would also mean taking the risk of turning away at least some students whom we wanted to recruit, not to mention our reticence to take responsibility for characterizing the legacy and complexity of our school in such a flat-footed way. 

President Fisher sat forward. Clearly, he would answer the question – thank the good Lord! He said something to this effect, “God has given us minds, and at Garrett-Evangelical we believe that nothing we can learn about the world around us, and nothing we can learn about who and how we are as human beings, about our sacred scriptures, none of this truth will take us away from the Truth of God.” His point being that neither “conservative” nor “liberal” labels did justice to what we were engaged in at the seminary. I tell you this story, because I am inviting you into my thinking, periodically, over the next year regarding the very challenging issue of human sexuality and our United Methodist struggle with it.

As I said in my inaugural address, I believe that Garrett-Evangelical can (and should!) do much better than the minimal, non-discriminating statement on sexual orientation we issued in 1997. I also indicated it was my intention for our Garrett-Evangelical community to engage a year long conversation – longer, if needed – to consider the role of the seminary in these matters and to see if we might be able to come to a more substantive understanding toward the end of radical hospitality, love of neighbor, and perhaps more deeply embodying the meaning of being a servant seminary. I am currently engaged in finding a person(s) to help facilitate this process. There is so much to say and to consider! 

I want to call us to a kind of openness with each other and openness to a new consideration of this critically important issue for the church. United Methodists (UM) have formally struggled with this for more than 40 years. Many fear the possibility of a denominational schism and many are despairing. We often call to memory the split we suffered over race for nearly a century until 1939 and our delay until 1956 in ordaining women as elders. We caution ourselves to learn from history and not to make a similar mistake again.

blogpicWe watch as our other protestant denominations have taken on and resolved their thinking about ordination of the LGBTQ “practicing and self-avowed persons,” about marriage equality, and same-sex-unions. Just this week, I have been in communication with two congregations in the Northern Illinois Conference who are now undertaking consideration of the use of their facilities for marriage ceremonies and same-sex unions. Bishops are beginning to go on record with their intention not to bring clergy to trial for these acts of disciplinary disobedience. I believe the seminary has responsibility to be a resource to the denomination in its struggles, as well as a responsibility to be clear about how we engage these concerns in the educational and formational tasks we have undertaken as our mission.

Obviously, Scripture is a foundational element for us, notwithstanding our additional quadrilateral commitments to experience, tradition, and reason. I am aware of the “7 scriptural references” to homosexuality in the Bible, and I am also aware there is no escaping ourselves in the effort to discern true meaning(s) of various passages. Many of us read the Bible from a “canon within the canon” approach. We appeal to a biblical perspective, a verse, or a commandment to provide the lens against which we measure and interpret other parts of the Bible. The anxiety and discomfort we may feel, and the inchoate concern we have about different sexual practices is often expressed in reluctance to address these matters more openly and freely. Sometimes we manage our discomfort (unawares) by appealing to the Bible and by concluding, “The Bible says . . . about . . .” This seems to settle it for us. We can feel not only morally right, but we can also avoid the great discomfort of dealing with the differences in others that beset us. All of this is to say, that in our attempts to find a path forward, we are up against an extremely powerful and sometimes frightening dimension of our human experience.

The conversation will continue in the months to come.  We will be in touch with you about your thoughts, but for now, thank you for accompanying me on the journey.

Comments   

 
# Larry M Warren 2014-07-24 22:43
As a retired UM Elder, having served for almost 40 years in churches of the Pacific Northwest Conference after my first two years in Missouri while attending Saint Paul School of Theology, I have seen the brokenness of our church from the dark underside of the very local congregation, and I know that the fear of sharing our common fears is strangling our great church. I am glad for your leadership and fine words, thanks, LMW
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# Lallene Rector 2014-08-10 08:32
Thank you, Larry, for your support in this. We want to hear from our alums on this matter and I am heartened to know that you, from the class of 1960, are keeping up with us!!
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# Lallene Rector 2014-08-10 08:38
Larry - I have missed your class year - sorry for that mistake, but I am still excited that an alum of 40 years plus is keeping up with us!
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# Lauren Padgett 2014-07-27 15:47
Thank you.
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# Linda J Vogel 2014-08-03 15:15
Thank you, Lallene! Your visionary leadership is much needed in our church. It saddens me that the UMC seems to be the last mainline denomination to be willing to find some ways of offering inclusive hospitality to all God's children! Hoping for a visit from you to G-ETS retired faculty and alums in SO CAL. Blessings!
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# Lallene Rector 2014-08-10 08:36
Hi Linda and "Garrett West" Friends,

Yes, our denomination has struggled for so long, too long, to find a better way forward and to embody God's love for all. Schism would be so antithetical to our connectional system. I hope that we can learn from our history of having suffered such a thing in such a misguided way - the wounds of which still haunt us. I am looking forward to our community conversation about this!
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# Jesse F. Manering 2014-08-07 09:17
Thank you for publicly initiating this conversation. I graduated ETS in 1960 and was grateful for the variety of Biblical understandings expressed at that time. However, I have been disappointed that the UMC, as a denomination, has been selectively unwilling to be welcoming of diverse understandings of scripture and the diversity of God's beloved children.
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# Lallene Rector 2014-08-10 08:43
Thank you, Jesse, for your response. We are so pleased that our alums are following us and our efforts to keep improving the quality of our school and our graduates. Biblical understandings are often quite difficult to discern and many of us resort to "a canonic within a canon" as I suggested above. I think it's important to hear about people's experiences of their relationship to the scriptures over the years and the way our understandings can change.
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# Lallene Rector 2014-08-10 08:44
Thank you friends for your responses to this blog. We have a lot of work to do and we shall proceed!
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# Linda Cebrian 2014-08-15 21:34
How did this yahoo with credentials obviously gotten from a CrackerJack box end up in charge of a seminary? Y'know, folks, the late,great William F. Buckley once said he would rather be governed by citizens chosen randomly from a phone book than the gaggle in Wash,DC. Methinks this would be a good approach within United Methodism. Choose people over the age of 50 from church directories. Learn again how to be IN the world rather than OF the world.
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# Shane Nichols 2014-08-16 13:44
Hi Linda,

Thank you for checking out the President's Blog. You can learn more about President Rector's credentials here:

http://www.garrett.edu/presidents-corner/presidents-biography

Shane Nichols
Director of Communications
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# Morris Taber 2014-08-25 07:52
Snarky comments such as this should be beneath you. Moreover, you would be surprised at how many over 50 would disagree with you. It is not dimly generational as you imply, but also one of open thinking about what it means to be Christian and still UM.
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# Rusty Freeman 2014-08-23 00:39
I do not agree with your position or biblical interpretation on this issue. I'm praying for unity and for your seminary.
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# Rusty Freeman 2014-08-23 00:41
I don't agree with your position or biblical interpretation. I'm praying for you and your seminary.
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# John E. Harnish 2014-08-25 07:03
Thank you, President Rector, for your thoughtful invitation to in-depth reflection on the issues that confront us. The seminary should provide for that kind of dialogue and reflection on behalf of the whole church. Thank you for your leadership and the spirit with which you give it.
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