March 31, 1998

Special session of Council of Bishops requested to address disunity in church


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by United Methodist News Service

March 31, 1998 CONTACT: Linda Bloom, New York (212) 870-3803

NOTE: This story is accompanied by a sidebar.

NEW YORK (UMNS) –- The United Methodist Council of Bishops should have a special session to address issues of disunity within the church.

That's the call being sounded by the executive committee of the churchwide Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns based here.

The committee adopted a resolution March 28 requesting the bishops to convene the session this year. The bishops are being asked to address the content and recommendations of the document entitled "In Search of Unity" in relation to turmoil stirred by a recent church trial in Nebraska.

The unity document was developed during the Dialogue on Theological Diversity within the church, a two-part series of discussions sponsored recently by the Commission on Christian Unity.

During the March 11-13 church trial, the Rev. Jimmy Creech of Omaha was found innocent of violating church law by conducting a same-sex covenanting ceremony. His defense argued that the prohibition against such unions had been placed in the denomination's Social Principles, which is advisory rather than church law. The Social Principles are in a special section of the Book of Discipline, the denomination's book of law.

While some opposed to the trial's outcome have called for a special session of General Conference -- the church's top legislative body –- to deal with the issue, the commission's executive committee disagrees.

A legislative setting would place any discussion in a win-lose context, "which would be most harmful," said the Rev. Bruce Robbins, the commission's general secretary.

The bishops, he said, "can work on behalf of all of us to try to work through the seemingly irreparable differences we're facing."

In its request to the bishops, the executive committee pointed out that Wesleyan "holy conferencing" is what the church needs now.

"We are hopeful that such nonlegislative 'listening to each other and to God' can occur in the Council of Bishops," it said.

Quoting the church's Constitution, the committee said the Council of Bishops is responsible "for general oversight and promotion of temporal and spiritual interests of the entire church. . . . "

"The episcopacy has been understood historically, and is seen today, as both a symbol and agent of unity of the church," the committee observed in its statement to the bishops.

A special session, "free of other agenda, would enable the bishops to pray together, to seek discernment, to model for the church disagreement without disunity, and possibly to develop covenants related to the responsibility of the bishops for the unity of the church."

The council, including 67 active bishops and about 65 retired bishops, meets twice each year. Its next session is scheduled for April 25-May 1 in Lincoln, Neb. The fall meeting is scheduled for Oct. 31-Nov. 6 at Simpsonwood, a church-owned conference center north of Atlanta.

Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.

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