This interpretation of resolutions regarding Synod actions provides a historical context that reveals the evolution from 1974 when Northern Synod resolved that the Moravian Church welcome and extend an invitation to homosexuals as to all people. Followed by several  additional Synod actions which yielded Resolutions with language that indicated that Homosexual lifestyle was not determined to be sin and that homosexuals be allowed to celebrate their lives in the Church as well as assume leadership roles. To the most recent 2002 septennial meeting of the Unitas Fratrum took action to put a stop to further changes by the Province in this matter.
 

RESOLUTION 6

 

An Interpretation of Moravian Church
 Northern Province and Unity Synod Actions 
Regarding Homosexuality

Prepared by: Provincial Elders' Conference, 
Northern Province January 4, 2003

Background

The definitive word on this topic as of August 2002 resulted from the work of the septennial gathering of the Unity Synod. To help us discern the implications of this for the Northern Province, it is essential that we parse the meaning of the Unity Synod as well as review the history of Northern Province legislation. The Unity Synod addressed the issue as a biblical, theological, pastoral issue that "does not rise to the doctrinal equivalent of the New Testament confession, 'Jesus is Lord. This determination is an important frame for this discussion and places this topic in a category in which our thinking is guided by our understanding of social issues giving us the ability to be encompassing and inclusive rather than circumspect and exclusive.

The Committee on Church and Society of the Northern Province addressed the implications for social issues in the preamble to "Resolutions of the Moravian Church- .Northern Province on Social Issues. This document, crafted circa 1980, affirms that when the synod acts, it speaks for the church. Issues are addressed in the form of resolutions, which guide the church in decision-making. But most importantly, what does it mean when the church speaks on a social issue? When the church speaks, clearly it does not mean that it speaks definitively for everyone who is a member of the church. Our basic documents such as "The Covenant for Christian Living" and "The Moravian Motto" honor an individual's freedom of conscience. Therefore, when the church speaks on a social issue it does not bind its members, congregations, clergy, or even its employees. Rather, in speaking on a social issue, the church informs its members and its community context. It means the church believes that a particular issue is so important that we have discussed it and made a recommendation. It means that the Moravian Church, Northern Province urges individuals and congregations, which are a part of the province, to think about it and seriously consider doing what has been recommended. The church cannot make anyone think differently or do anything they don't want to do, but the church can inform its members of what it considers the best position and action to be. The individual, with a conscience informed by study, prayer, and reflection, is still free to make her or his own decision.

 While, it is constructive to understand what it means when the church addresses social issues, it is also important for us to remember the vision statement crafted by the members of the District Boards (Canadian, Eastern, and Western) and the Provincial Elders' Conference meeting in Chaska, Minnesota, in November 2001, and subsequently affirmed by the Provincial Synod of 2002. As such it establishes a focus for our mission:

 The Moravian Church -Northern Province is a vital agent of reconciliation in a world yearning for the good news of Jesus Christ. We are an interconnected body of dynamic and growing churches embracing the diversity of all God's creation. Our mission is listening, discerning, and responding to the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of people in the places in which we minister. These servant churches, both formal and informal, are Christ- centered and are led by competent clergy and gifted laity who are equipped and empowered to embody the love of Jesus Christ through a life of faithful discipleship.

The Province and Districts exist to empower the congregations to pursue ministries in an ever-changing world, and remain open to new models for leadership and ministry so that the church is poised to reach out and respond to the issues facing God's world. At all levels, locally and globally, the church cooperates with other Christian entities to proclaim Christ and witness to God's redeeming action through Jesus Christ.

Several concepts stand out and are worthy of noting in this discussion.

First, the Moravian Church, Northern Province, sees itself as an agent of reconciliation in a world in which reconciliation is needed.

Second, we are a network of inter-connected congregations and mission entities, which are diverse and represent the diversity of the communities in which we minister.

Third, our mission is to detect the needs of our ministry contexts and seek to address these needs. 

Fourth, we are a Christ-centered church in which the love of Jesus can be seen through acts of discipleship .

Fifth, we acknowledge our traditional ministries as being of value, but are open to explore and implement new ways of demonstrating God's redeeming love of the world through Jesus Christ.

Historical Context

With the background noted above let us review the historical context of the discussion within the synods of the Northern Province and, most recently, the Unity. The word homosexual first appeared in a resolution of a synod of the Moravian Church, Northern Province, in 1974 where the following resolutions were adopted:

RESOLVED: that the Moravian Church reaffirm its open welcome to all people by specifically recognizing that the homosexual is also under God's care ,. and be it .further

RESOLVED: that the Moravian Congregations will extend an invitation to all persons to join us in a common search for wholeness before God and persons ,. and be it further

RESOLVED: that as Christians, recognizing our common sinfulness and the miracle of God's grace, accepting God's pardon, and together striving to help .free each other .from bonds of fear, despair, and meaninglessness, fitting us for lives of commitment, responsibility, witness, service, and celebration in God's Kingdom, we will share in this venture as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ toward wholeness.

The 1974 resolution was built upon the premise that Christ's life, death, and resurrection is for all people. Additionally, it was acknowledged that salvation comes to individuals most often through the witness of the redeeming community, that the American Psychiatric Association stated that the homosexual is not responsible for his/her sexual orientation, and that the "Ground of the Unity" states, "The Moravian Church will oppose discrimination based on race, culture, or any other barrier and its own life will demonstrate that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This includes open membership in our own congregations and working toward open structures and situations in society, and the observation that the homosexual has too often felt excluded from and persecuted by society.

The Moravian Church, Northern Province Synod then fell silent on this topic until 1994 when the following resolutions were adopted:

RESOLVED: All segments of the Moravian Church (provincial, district, regional, congregation, individual) be encouraged to continue in prayer as individuals and as groups for openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit with regard to our understanding of the issue of homosexuality.

WHEREAS: The 1974 Northern Provincial Synod of the Moravian Church affirmed the interest of the Moravian Church in accepting and ministering to homosexual persons, therefore be it

RESOLVED: The 1994 Northern Provincial Synod reaffirms the Homosexuality Resolution of the 1974 Resolutions of the Moravian Church Northern Province on Social Issues ...(As noted above) RESOLVED: Although the Moravian Church is not agreed on the question of the acceptability of homosexual practice, congregations are urged to make available support systems for people whose lives are affected by homosexual issues and to encourage individuals to seek appropriate training to lead such groups; and be it further

RESOLVED: "Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to support those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims. " (from the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1992) Moreover, we condemn acts of violence and coercion against persons who are homosexual or are perceived to be homosexual.

RESOLVED: The 1994 Northern Provincial Synod affirms the intention of the Provincial Elders' Conference, Northern Province, to develop balanced educational materials on homosexuality for use in congregations in their quest for understanding on this issue.

This resolution acknowledged the difficulty the church has in dealing with the topic of homosexuality, yet observed the Moravian Church has displayed courage in dealing with difficult and divisive issues in the past (e.g. Pacifism during the Revolutionary War and the Ordination of Women). While the word consensus is not used; nevertheless, the emphasis upon prayer is acknowledged as a means for the church to resolve seemingly intractable problems. Discomfort is seen as a sign of the need for reconciliation as well as the need of the church to minister in the midst of societal rejection. The congregation was observed to be a safe, open, loving, and redemptive environment in which all people might enter into dialogue about homosexuality.

The Moravian Church, Northern Province Synod then spoke again in 1998 following intentional dialogue and prayer on the part of all delegates:

RESOLVED: Delegates from each congregation at the 1998 Northern Provincial Synod shall take the study materials on health and healing to their congregations and encourage congregational use.

This resolution followed an intentional period of dialogue and prayer. It acknowledged the work of the synods of 1974 and 1994, and placed emphasis upon the pastoral needs of the entire community by noting the pain of societal rejection and the need of the church to provide a place for safe discussion and prayer even as had taken place during this synod. Again the basic thrust of this legislation acknowledges the role of the church as a congregational healing agent, using the tool of education as a means of addressing this issue.

2002 Synod Actions

The Moravian Church, Northern Province Synod again spoke in 2002 when a partial report was adopted leaving the matter of interpretation to the Provincial Elders' Conference, which acts as "the executive board of the province."

RESOLVED: The 2002 Synod of the Moravian Church, Northern Province shall recommend full participation {membership, activities, and lay leadership) in the congregation for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation; and be it further

RESOLVED: The 2002 Synod of the Moravian Church, Northern Province shall affirm the resolutions of the Synods of 1974 and 1994 concerning homosexual persons; and be it further

RESOLVED: The Human Sexuality Task Force shall be commended for its efforts and the congregations of the Northern Province shall be urged to distribute this guide to their members and use it in their congregational programming; and be it further

RESOLVED: Every member of the Moravian Church shall be urged to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide our understanding of the issues pertaining to sexual orientation and direct us all to our unity in Christ.

RESOLVED: The 2002 Synod of the Northern Province shall recognize that persons who are homosexual can be members of our church because they are children of God and seek to know God's grace which is freely given to all people who have faith in God; and be it further

RESOLVED: Homosexual individuals shall be supported and affirmed by being allowed to celebrate their lives as individuals and/or couples completely within the bounds of the church and under the grace which our Creator imparts to all persons ,. and be it further

RESOLVED: The church shall continue to enter into dialogue in a Christian manner with homosexual persons in order to understand their lives and their spiritual walk.

These resolutions followed an intentional period of study and prayer initiated by the Eastern District Synod of 2000, which created the Human Sexuality Task Force. The Task Force developed materials and distributed a few thousand copies to congregations throughout the Eastern District, sharing the information with other districts of the Northern Province to assist in preparation for the discussion during the Provincial Synod of 2002. The Synod then used the vision statement of the Moravian Church which describes the Northern Province as a vital agent of reconciliation with a mission to listen, discern, and respond to the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of the people in the places in which we minister. The resolutions call (or direct or implore etc) the church to acknowledge the fundamental teaching of the Bible, to demonstrate the love of Christ to all, to affirm the struggle to be faithful to all of scripture, and to remain open to the Holy Spirit and to be sensitive to the needs of God's children. The resolutions also affirmed the actions of the synods of 1974 and 1994, which acknowledged the lack of agreement on the question of the acceptability of homosexual practice. Synod noted the Interprovincial Faith and Order Commission (after 4 years of study) was unable to reach consensus on the acceptability of ordaining homosexual persons. Synod observed the lack of consensus on the interpretation of the Biblical passages which teach about sexual orientation. The Biblical teaching concerning the inclusion of all persons in the community of faith was acknowledged along with the affirmation of the spiritual journey of homosexual Christians as a valid journey of faith equal to the spiritual journey of all other baptized believers.

Following the Moravian Church, Northern Provincial Synod of June 2002 the septennial meeting of the Unitas Fratrum convened in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and considered and spoke on the topic of homosexuality. This resolution is the current guiding influence upon all provinces of the Unity including the Moravian Church, Northern Province.

RESOLVED: that Unity Synod should speak to the issue of homosexuality as it relates to the ministry of the church.

RESOLVED: that the church should not make a hasty decision at this time, but urges the provinces towards further, in-depth examination of the subject of homosexuality and the church. Until this in-depth examination is finished: the Synod places a moratorium on additional changes by the Provinces in this matter.

RESOLVED: that this issue does not rise to the doctrinal equivalent of the New Testament confession, "Jesus is Lord, " but it is a biblical, theological, and pastoral issue on which the church must dialogue. The Unity Board shall mandate the Standing Committee on Theology to develop discussion material that will guide the Provinces.

RESOLVED: that all official documents and reports submitted to this Synod on the issue of homosexuality shall be considered by the Standing Committee on Theology

RESOLVED: that Synod call upon all Moravians to be ministers of the grace, truth, forgiveness, mercy, and love of God to homosexuals even as we are called so to minister to all people

RESOLVED: that the church must continue to do theology in an attempt to discern the will of God.

One of the directives of the Book of Order of the Moravian Church, Northern Province is "to see that the enactments of the Unity and of the Provincial Synods are faithfully executed in the province, and to guard against deviations from the spirit and principles of the church" (Book of Order, par 119 d).

Since we are living under the guidance of the Unity Synod of 2002 and since the Unity Synod has proclaimed a "moratorium on additional changes by the Provinces in this matter, it is the interpretation of the Provincial Elders' Conference, Northern Province, that additional discussion and debate on this issue is possible, but that additional legislation is not possible. Therefore, any resolutions or actions of the Province, the District{s), or congregations are not able to be received at the present time and will not be possible until further direction is received from The Unity.

Interpretive Summary

This, of course, brings us back to the meaning of the resolutions of the Provincial Synod of June 2002 as they are seen in light of the resolutions of the Unity Synod of August 2002. The Provincial Elders' Conference of the Moravian Church, Northern Province, believes that these resolutions give us the following direction:

First, they do say that homosexual persons have access to God and God's grace like any other member of the congregation.

Second, they do affirm the need of the congregations to have facilities and resources to deal with the social issues that surround homosexuality and its impact upon families in the community .

Third, they do affirm that the church is a safe environment where all people can gather without fear.

Fourth, they do affirm that educational material already prepared should be used and that additional materials will be prepared in the future, affirming the fact that God's wisdom can be discerned through the process of prayer, sharing ideas, and careful listening.

Fifth, they do not make judgments about the homosexual sexual act. This interpretation remains a pastoral issue to be discerned through study of scripture and as the Holy Spirit guides us.

Sixth, in the Northern Province resolution the word "celebrate" means homosexual persons (individuals and/or couples) are able to identify themselves without fear, and participate fully in the community of faith.

Seventh, the resolution does acknowledge God's grace is available to all despite the reality that homosexuality is a topic with which there is disagreement within church and society.

Eighth, the resolution does not address the issue of the ordination of homosexual persons.

Ninth, the resolution does not address the issue of a marriage covenant between homosexual persons.

One of the important lessons of the Northern Provincial Synod of 2002 was that matters of significant meaning to the church are not best decided in an atmosphere in which "winners" and "losers" are identified. Rather the idea of the consensus (meaning substantial agreement) is a much better way of dealing with these issues for the church. A high point of the Northern Province Synod of 2002 occurred when the members of synod agreed that further action would divide and that such division was not the message the synod sought to send to the church and the communities where we serve. In a spirit of cooperation, marked by the love we experience in Christ, the synod drew the process of decision to a halt wishing to express a message of concern, and understanding of the community we experience in Christ. We are now in a period of time during which the discussion continues. Points of view need to be articulated and carefully understood. As time passes and prayer continues, the Holy Spirit will bring us to a point of agreement, which will be so clear as to make misunderstanding unlikely. This may take time and certainly will take prayer, but it may well be the way the church can remain faithful to the Great Commission and still address and be relevant to the issues of our day.

 

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