I'm getting to see how a sub-committee works this afternoon. I started out sitting in Church and Society 2 (deals with all of the homosexual petitions), but decided that I wasn't quite ready to deal with that issue, so I decided to come over to local church.
Well, evidently God thought I was ready. I sat in on the Local Church sub-committee that's dealing with membership...i.e. pastoral authority over membership...i.e. can a pastor decide to not accept someone into membership because they are a professing, practicing homosexual. Great.
Here are some of my notes:
The conversation is interesting. There are about 15 people in this sub-committee (only 5 women, and several clergy). They have pretty much affirmed the membership vows found in paragraph 217. So now they're talking about pastoral authority. There is one person in particular, a pastor, who is expressing a strong concern for unbridled authority. He sees this going further than sexual orientation, and fears a church where pastors can hand-select the type of people who are a part of the church.
There are really three options here. (If anyone has another, please share!) Pastors have no say - anyone who takes the vows can join the church. Pastors have total authority to prevent anyone they (the pastor) think is not prepared to take the vows from becoming a member. The pastor has the opportunity to counsel someone for membership and recommend to that person that he or she is not prepared to take the membership vows, but if the person decides to continue, the pastor cannot prevent that from happening.
One person is saying that, though he's not sure how it needs to be worded, pastors should have the authority to prevent membership, but should be held responsible for that authority by the others in the community.
Wow...what an ideal situation. Isn't that how all of our churches are supposed to work? Members and pastors are mutually responsible to one another, called to be in covenant relationship, holding each other accountable. I pray for the day that such a church exists. I've currently found the closest thing to it, and am aware of other congregations where this works well. However, I have experienced pastors who take that authority to the next step and do not allow the members of the congregation, or even other staff members, to hold them accountable. They take an authoritarian stance of power of their congregations, and God save anyone who gets in their way.
The conversation I had with Mark this afternoon surrounded the issue of sin. Even if you see homosexuality as a sin (which I don't), we let professing sinners in the door every day who have no plans to quit - alcoholics, glutons, liars, heck, Jesus said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven, but I don't see any pastors preventing the well-off of our culture from joining. We more often rejoice when a rich man joins the church, 'cause we're hoping he tithes.
We can't take the part of the gospel we like and leave the rest. I pray to God I'm not doing that - someone call me on it if I am. The basis of the gospel is the three-fold "rules" that they've been talking about all week. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. We have to admit that we are broken people, we have to admit that the creations of humans, including the rules of our church, are broken institutions. We cannot shut out those longing for community simply because they disagree with us. God's church is GOD's church, God's table is GOD's table. Call me inclusive, call me lovey-dovey, but the doors of the church and membership in that body should be open to all!
Some of the other issues outside of homosexuality related to that are what about molestors/rapists? What about thiefs? What about the people who seek to harm others, or have harmed others in the past...are we not allowed to "protect" ourselves from them? Certainly! Just at there is a justice system in our government to protect the people (flawed as it may be), we must protect ourselves from those who have weaknesses in certain areas. Child molestors should not be allowed to work with children. Embezelers should not be allowed to work with finance. But they should not be barred from the church. God's house is a place where we can come and confess our weaknesses, share in community, and be given the support and guidance we need to repent and turn away from the sin. If we're going to shut out one group of "sinners" then we need to shut them all out, and, as a result, close the doors of our church for good, because no one would be left.