Feb. 5, 1998

Good News board suggests theological differences in church "irreconcilable"

by United Methodist News Service

Theological differences in the United Methodist Church might be "irreconcilable," says the governing board of the denomination's evangelical caucus.

The 40-member board released its statement of concern in advance of the second dialogue on theological diversity within the church. That dialogue session is set for Feb. 19-20 in Dallas.

Following the Good News annual board meeting in Wilmore, Ky., Jan. 28-30, staff executive James V. Heidinger II, issued a two-page release suggesting that the chasm between liberals and conservatives threatens to split the church.

At a meeting to discuss theological diversity -- held in Nashville, Nov. 10-21 -- a 22-member group generally agreed with an analysis made by Bishop Judith Craig about two "divergent world views" in the church.

People with the first view believe "God is still unfolding truths that have not yet been disclosed and live comfortably with a wide variety of convictions," said Craig, who heads the church's Ohio West Area.

Those in the second group "need to have delineated an understanding of God's intent," she said.

Participants in the diversity dialogue are equally divided between liberals and conservatives. Sponsoring the dialogues is the denomination's New York-based Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Referring to the theological dichotomy described by Craig, Heidinger said, "If God is still 'revealing' new truth to us as some church leaders believe, then there is no established doctrine or moral guideline that cannot be superseded by a newer, more recent 'revelation'."

Speaking for the Good News board, Heidinger said the controversy over sexuality is only one part of the larger debate.

"The more foundational struggle is between the Lordship of Christ as attested to in Scripture versus a faith that accommodates and reformulates itself to the spirit of the age," he said. "The Good News board believes these two views cannot continue to co-exist in any church which hopes to remain true to the apostolic faith."

He said board members reported receiving more and more comments from concerned church members asking "not whether it (division) will happen, but when."

The board expressed concern that an Omaha, Neb., pastor going to a church trial for conducting a union ceremony for two lesbians may be acquitted on a technicality.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech, pastor of First United Methodist Church, conducted the ceremony in September against the advice of Nebraska Bishop Joel Martinez. No date has been set for the church trial.

The 1996 General Conference approved a statement saying "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." The General Conference is the top-legislative body of the church. It meets every four years and sets official policy.

In other action, the Good News board:

The Rev. William Hines, senior minister of St. Marks United Methodist Church in Findlay, Ohio, is chairman of the Good News board.