“…the only thing that counts is faith working through love” Galatians 5:6 (NRSV)
From its beginning, Methodism has had a rich appreciation for theological diversity. John Wesley recognized what sociologists are now beginning to measure with great precision: that organizational systems which intentionally foster and celebrate diversity of all sorts are healthier and more stable systems than those that are homogenous. Wesley preached and wrote frequently on our call to honor the conscience of each other and to respect differing viewpoints. “On all opinions that do not strike at the heart of Christianity,” he wrote, “we think and let think.”
This respect was lived out in the process of “holy conferencing,” a means of grace in which the Holy Spirit’s will becomes clear through our healthy discourse. For the past several years, the Baltimore-Washington Conference has been employing this means of grace around matters of human sexuality. We have experienced dialogue groups, panel discussions, listening sessions, and circles of grace to allow us to hear, see and understand one another more deeply, and thus discern where the Holy Spirit is moving.
In a similar way, the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Baltimore-Washington Conference (BoOM) has been intentionally engaged in holy conferencing around matters of human sexuality. With same-gender marriage now a civil right in every part of our conference and throughout the United States, the Board deliberately sought to be better prepared for the diversity of candidates who come before us.
To facilitate holy conferencing around the issue, the BoOM invited Stephanie Hixson from JustPeace — the United Methodist Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation — to lead our conversation. The Board began this process by talking about our values as a Board, and how we want to faithfully embody these values. There was a great deal of conversation about the importance of honesty and openness, as well as accountability and integrity. Following the conversation on values, members were encouraged to share with one another the key Biblical insights and theological principles that guide them on matters of human sexuality. The Board also examined both the language of the Book of Discipline and the pertinent Judicial Council rulings to explore where there was room for people to vote their consciences on this issue. The conversation was rich, honest, respectful and — dare we say — holy.
In the end, the Board of Ordained Ministry adopted a policy that would allow all candidates to be examined fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation, and each individual Board member to vote his or her conscience. The policy affirms: As a Board, we recognize that our BoOM, our annual conference, and The United Methodist Church are not of one mind on the issue of ordination of LGBTQ individuals, and that our Judicial Council has issued multiple rulings regarding ordination and the definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” that create further ambiguity. We therefore affirm the right and responsibility of all Board members to engage in holy conferencing during deliberations and to vote their conscience following a fair examination of all candidates.
As a Board, we affirmed this policy, adopting as our guiding principal that we would, “Move forward with evaluating all candidates solely on the disciplinary requirements and previously adopted requirements of the BWC. Regardless of sexual orientation, married candidates will be expected to affirm fidelity in marriage and single candidates will be expected to affirm celibacy in singleness.” (December 9, 2015 proposal to the BWC Board of Ordained Ministry)
In an effort to live out on a conference level what we are trying to practice on a Board level – transparency, honesty, and respect for diversity of opinion – we want to share some information from our most recent provisional member exam. This information is typically held in confidence by the Board, but is being shared with the candidate’s permission:
At the provisional member examination in January, the BoOM voted to recommend Tara (T.C.) Morrow for provisional membership as a deacon in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Ms. Morrow articulates a God-given call to ministry that has been affirmed by many people. She demonstrates faith, fire, and fruit in the area of social justice, as seen in her work on staff at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. She has a deep passion for — and longstanding commitment to — The United Methodist Church. While Ms. Morrow’s credentials, love of the church, and performance at the exam are similar to other candidates the BoOM voted to recommend for provisional membership, her circumstances are dissimilar in that she is married to a woman.
All candidates recommended by BoOM passed with at least the required three-quarter majority vote of the Board. Those recommended for provisional or full membership will be presented and voted on during the clergy executive session of Annual Conference on Wednesday, June 1. Just as at the Board of Ordained Ministry, the voting members attending the clergy session have the right and responsibility to engage in holy conferencing and to faithfully vote their conscience.
We live in a nation and a denomination that is highly polarized and where dialogue is often uncivil. Our ability to engage in healthy, holy conferencing strengthens us as a denomination and a people of God. The Board has been faithful to a profoundly Wesleyan call to create a culture where openness and honesty prevail, and where faithful people who may disagree with one another can work together in discerning God’s call on people’s lives. We are keenly aware that our church is of many minds on the nature and morality of homosexuality; and we believe for that very reason we should give each other the right to discern the will of the Spirit.
We pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide our discussions, that our conversations will continue to be holy and respectful, and that the decisions we make will glorify God and reflect God’s love and justice into the world. Please pray with us that God may help us to see what the Spirit is doing in the world around us and enable us to be a part of that holy work.