The Pilgrimage of Faith Report:
In the summer of 2005 the Methodist Conference meeting in Torquay is due to consider a report addressing the progress of the ‘pilgrimage of faith’ referred to in Resolution 6 adopted by the 1993 Conference meeting in Derby. The Report is available on the Methodist Church website. As members of Headway, a movement of evangelicals within the Methodist Church, we have a responsibility to respond to the contents of the report.
As the human sexuality debate is raised in Conference again it is important that we do not loose sight of the larger, over-arching issues and fail to see ‘the wood for the trees’. Since its inception, Headway has been committed to:
- scripture as the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct (as Clause 4 of the Deed of Union makes clear)
- the centrality of the cross as the supreme demonstration of God’s reconciling love
- the renewing power of the Holy Spirit as the source of God’s life in every believer
- the gospel for everyone because ‘all need to be saved, all can be saved, all can know themselves to be saved and all can be saved to the uttermost’
These foundational beliefs shape all our theological thinking and influence all our work within the Methodist Church. In this, as in every, debate we seek to apply these principles to the issues at hand.
Resolution 6 of the 1993 Derby Conference, referred to above, is the last of a number of resolutions concerning human sexuality. Many Headway members will be aware of these, but it is worth listing them again:
1/ The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God’s gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
2/ All practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God’s purposes for us all.
3/ A person shall not be debarred from church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself.
4/ The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. The Conference directs that this affirmation is made clear to all candidates for ministry, office and membership, and having established this, affirms that the existing procedures of our church are adequate to deal with all such cases.
5/ The Conference resolves that its decision shall not be used to form the basis of a disciplinary charge against any person in relation to conduct alleged to have taken place before such decisions were made.
6/ The Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church. Conference calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality.
When the issue of human sexuality is considered in the light of our guiding principles, it would appear that the Derby Resolutions, taken in the order in which they were adopted and providing that a distinction is made between sexual orientation and practice, seem to outline an acceptable position for the church to take. The Pilgrimage of Faith report, however, does provide anecdotal evidence that these resolutions are not always adhered to within the life of the church; there are ministers, officers and members within the Connexion whose lifestyle contradicts Resolution 4. This is both greatly concerning and deeply saddening. The forthcoming debate in Conference gives us, as evangelicals within Methodism, the opportunity to call upon our church to observe the resolutions that we as a church, through our Conference, have ourselves adopted, and the Headway Executive Committee undertakes to call for a greater observation of these resolutions within the life of our church.