This document emerged out of the church's wrestling together for several months over the implications for its ministry in relation to the 1996 addition to the Social Principles regarding 'holy unions.' The community finally discerned that the integrity of its ministry as a Reconciling Congregation that AFFIRMS gay and lesbian persons (rather than just tolerating or even accepting) required that it continue to bless all relationships (gay or straight) that God has joined together. The Reverend Leslie Penrose discerned that her integrity as pastor of this community required that she lead the congregation in worship and prayer as they celebrate all 'joined together' relationships. The Community of Hope is no longer identified with The United Methodist Church but has been and is, as of February 2004, in an exploration process with the United Church of Christ. The community's history is chronicled on its website.
A broken-and-made-whole chalice is the symbol adopted by our community, the Community of Hope. It represents our experience that we are all broken and wounded people, yet each of us also has strengths and skills, gifts and knowledge, sometimes beyond our own awareness. In community we find that we can be and do more than any one of us can be or do alone.
As a United Methodist Reconciling community we acknowledge and value that tradition, and through our worship, mission and fellowship we seek:
As a Base Community we model our life together on a non-hierarchical model, binding ourselves:
As a Shalom Community of Hope we are committed:
Because we have experienced God's love and healing in our journey together as community, we undertake this exploration into what "joined-together" means in our midst, trusting that in our searching together we will find God's love and will for each of us and all of us.
We take as primary to our reflection on this issue our experience as a community, the scriptures, and the theological tradition's reasoned reflection. "Theological reflection is energized by our incarnational involvement in the daily life of the Church and the world, as we participate in God's liberating and saving action" (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 63, 73).
We take as the beginning point of our reflection Jesus' own concluding statement about what God has accomplished in human relationships: "What God has joined-together, let no human tear apart" (Mark 10:9).
God calls together and joins together two humans. We believe that this saying of Jesus captures the essence of our experience of constructing right relationships in the Community of Hope. We designate this called-and-joined-together as marriage or holy union. But under whatever rubric we name it, we must begin our reflection and practice by acknowledging what God has accomplished in joining-together the two people into a oneness.
The Biblical messages about marriage are diverse. During much of the period represented by the Hebrew Bible, polygamy was the standard practice and wives were understood as the husband's property. Polygamy began to break down because of economic factors, with the shift from nomadic and early agrarian to high agrarian culture.
During the classic period of Christianity until modern times, the primary model for understanding marriage was contract law. The joining between a couple was a contract. This understanding is still the dominant understanding of marriage in the legal and civil arena.
Beginning with the Reformation, Christian communities divided on their understanding of marriage. Some have considered it a sacrament, others not. During the Victorian period, a romantic view of marriage, in which love constitutes the bond between two people, came to dominate. Thus the understanding of marriage has always responded to and been a part of larger cultural and societal forces.
Once again today we are being called to rethink our understanding as we perceive God's activity anew among us.
What God has joined-together is a living out and representation between a couple of the unity of God. Biblically this has been understood within the terms of covenant. God has made a covenant with the people to be faithful to them, to be with and for the people. The people's response is to be faithful to God. Marriage, then, is a re-enactment and representation of God's covenant with the people. The author of the Epistle to the Ephesians employed this covenant metaphor to understand both the relation between Jesus and the church and between husband and wife. (Ephesians 5:25-33).
A negative aspect of the covenant model is that a covenant has always been between unequals, a master-servant model of relationships. This led marriage to be understood likewise in terms of relations between unequals, so that wives were to be subject to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22).
Within trinitarian theology, marriage has also been understood as repre-senting the unitive aspect of God. It reflects the generative aspect of the trinity, bound together by divine love. In this trinitarian theology of marriage are the seeds of an understanding of marriage as a loving response of equals. This finds expression in the Methodist Book of Worship's affirmation that:"Both words and actions [of the marriage service] consistently reflect the belief that husband and wife are equal partners in Christian marriage."
The unitive understanding of marriage is buried deep in the
Judaeo-Christian foundational story of human beginnings. The two
creation stories in Genesis both affirm the essential unity of man and
woman. In the first story the creation of the humans are announced in
the following poetic lines:
The point of creation is that we humans, all humans, are in God's image, and that image constitutes our essential unity.
Likewise in the second story of creation after God has created man and woman from ADAM, the man acknowledges, 'This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman, for from man was she taken" (Genesis 2:23). Again, the same point is made. The man proclaims the woman as not different from him but as him. The narrator reinforces this by concluding,, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one" (Gen 2:24). The great mystery here again is that the image of God constitutes our essential unity, that the image of God sets aside even gender differentiation. In relationship, we are not separated but united (see Ephesians 5:32-33); we are not two, but somehow, we are one.
Jesus returned to this foundational story when questioned about divorce. Divorce affirmed the slave character of a woman. By divorce she could be dismissed, reduced to poverty, and even worse, abandoned. After quoting the Genesis 2 passage, Jesus concludes: "It follows that they are no longer two individuals: they are one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no person tear apart" (Mark 10:8-9).
By forbidding divorce, Jesus is affirming the equality of man and woman. God's justice demands the equality between all humans. Even more he proclaims the joining-together as coming from God. The joining-together is an affirmation of our essential unity in the face of our obvious differentiation. The love between two people, the love they see and reflect in each other is a response to God's calling, and the love between them is God's life. In the other they become united with God and each other.
The ceremony of public witness to what God has joined-together is a response of a couple to the unitive call of God. In committing themselves to each other before the community, the couple are acknowledging God's unity and God's unity with us and in us.
Marriage/union is a following out of our baptismal call. Since it is the call of God that is being discerned, Joining-together is a further claim upon the grace of baptism, a grace that invites us into a continuing unity with the life of God. The couple is living out the grace of baptism, incarnating and witnessing to the unity and life of God discovered in their mutual love, devotion, and commitment.
Since God calls and welcomes, not we ourselves (Rom 14:7), we, the community of baptized, acknowledge and witness to the justifying grace of God expressed in the faithful joining of the couple. What God has blessed, is not ours to forbid, but to celebrate. "What God has joined-together, let no person tear apart." In the Joining-together ceremony, we, the community, are acknowledging that in our experience and life as a community, God has already joined these two people together. We are witnessing and blessing what God has already accomplished.
The church has long held that it is the couple themselves who are the true ministers/priests in the service of marriage. They are the true servants and servers, responding to the call of God as they discern it. It is not the church that licences the joining together, but the couple who recognize and accept the call of God.
If a minister participates in the service, we recognize that he or she does not 'perform' the joining together. Rather, the minister leads the people in worship and prayer, symbolizing and representing the community, its witness and commitment to the couple. "The servant leadership of the elder is expessed by leading the people of God in worship and prayer" (The Book of Discipline, ¶323, 194).
To discern the call of God demands that we walk righteously with God (Micah 6:8). Righteousness or right relationship flows from discerning the call and love of God. To "love one another" means to cherish one another spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Therefore, if we are to live in right relationship with one another, then our relationships in all times and all places must be grounded firmly and unconditionally in honesty, mutuality, and respect.
In a right relationship:
In addition, our experience as a community has confirmed what the Christian tradition has long held -- that sex touches and affects human beings so deeply that our well being requires that it be reserved for those rare right relationships within which there is not only mutuality, respect, and honesty, but also a commitment to monogany and the growth of the relationship. Relationships that have been tended, nurtured, and worked at long enough, honestly enough, and deeply enough, that both partners are coming to know the whole person with whom they are in relationship, and to love, honor, and cherish that whole person.
We believe and have experienced that such a relationship can only be honored with one person. Authentic, life-giving, sexual intimacy is not possible when sex is entered into casually, and we cannot commit ourselves fully, wholly, to two different people. Casual sex does not honor personhood or relationship; and, therefore, frustrates God's reconciling action by alienating us from one another. As Christians, we are called out of alienation into reconciliation. "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself . . . and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2C or. 5:19).
As we have journeyed in community, searching the Scriptures and tradition together toward a life-giving ethic of right relationship and sexual intimacy, we have discerned that:
Our community has experienced that such life-companion right relationships, whether they are between a man and woman, two women, or two men, are a gift of God and a response to God's call. They are what God has joined-togther. As such, they are ours to celebrate and witness. "Our experience interacts with Scripture. We read Scripture in light of the conditions and events that help shape who we are, and we interpret our experience in terms of Scripture" (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 63, 78).
The rituals of joining-together celebrated in and by our community should reflect not only the wishes of the couple, but also the life and theology of the Community of Hope. There should be no distinction between rituals of joining together for homosexual and heterosexual couples. Therefore, we strongly suggest that any legal action associated with the joining-together, such as signing of marriage licenses and/or powers of attorney, be done at another time and place, and not in connection with the worship ritual.
Since the couple are the ministers of the ritual and God is the one who joins-together, the ritual of joining-together should acknowledge and reflect the role of the community as witnesses. Toward that end, we suggest that the rite include the following elements:
wherein the community declares its intention to witness and to honor the joining-together of the couple.
wherein the community invites the couple to share their vows.
wherein the community affirms and celebrates the joining together they have witnessed.
All: ______ and ______, we have witnessed the sharing of your vows and the giving and receiving of your rings. We affirm your union of love! What God has joined together, let no one tear apart.
All: ______ and _______, we have witnesed and we affirm the joining
together of your lives! We commit ourselvesto honor your relationship and
stand in solidarity with you in the struggle for justice.
Community Blessingwherein the community expresses their hopes for the couple, and their commitment to support the relationship.
All: _____ and _____, may God bless you with companionship and love from this day forward, and may all who share life with you be blessed by your love.
Laying on of Hands by the whole gathered community
Words of Blessing offered by one or more members of the community
Song of Blessing offered by one or more members of the community
This document was prepared at the request of and on behalf of the Community of Hope by:
*[Hope] is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out." (V. Havel)