Methodist Church says ‘yes’ to move towards structural change
Bishop Harold Miller, bringing greetings from the Church of Ireland to the Methodist Conference last week, observed that “in all our Churches in the Protestant tradition we are talking about the same issues and we have to discover how we, as Churches, are going to remain faithful to who we are and yet engage with the society in which we live today”.
The reports and resolutions that came before the Conference did indeed mirror many of those that came before last month’s General Synod.
There was a similar issue concerning Church structures. Shortly before Bishop Miller brought his greetings, Irish Methodists debated a radical reorganisation of the Church designed to lift some of the administrative load from ministers and circuits and create a lighter, more flexible structure to enable mission.
“The proposals in this paper are not in themselves an answer to the challenges we are facing,” Methodist Home Mission Secretary Dr Heather Morris said. “Faithfulness to Jesus is the answer to challenges. But we do have a responsibility to look at our structures if our structures are weighing us down and holding us back from the work to which God has called us.”
The massacre at the Pulse gay club in Orlando last week, leaving 49 victims dead and many injured and traumatised, was an incomprehensible and vicious attack on the individuals attending the establishment – and, indeed, on the city and its people – by a lone gunman who himself was killed in a shoot out with police. One Orlando writer on religious affairs, Mark Pinsky, has pointed out that while the city has a population of two million people, “this is still a small town”. For that reason, he wrote, the attack sent shock waves well beyond Central Florida’s gay community, adding: “Social connections between straights and gays are exceptionally strong. Thus the reverberations of grief from the shooting are rippling throughout the broader community, especially among young people.”
The outrage by a person claiming allegiance to so-called Islamic State comes at a time of a very highly charged debate on Islam and terrorism in the United States, with the Republican presumptive candidate in the November presidential election, Donald Trump, going so far as to reiterate his intention, should he win office, of temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the country because of fears of jihadism. In the wake of the Orlando attack, Mr Trump stated: “We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.”
However, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, has said that there was no indication that the attack had been ordered from abroad or that it was authorised by any network organisation. So, while the US authorities indicate that the attacker, Omar Mateen, had pledged his loyalty to IS in a telephone call to local police, he is not understood to have been acting under the direction of the terror group. There is,
nonetheless, an element of cold comfort here, as President Obama’s comments made clear: “This is certainly an example of the kind of home-grown extremism that all of us have been concerned about for a very long time.”
There is also the ongoing debate in the United States over its liberal gun laws, with Democrats and Republicans holding deeply opposing views on the subject. In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, promised to make stopping “lone wolf” attacks a top priority and called for action on the availability of “weapons of war”, while Mr Trump stated that he would always defend the Second Amendment to the American Constitution, which protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. American politics is in an exceptionally polarised condition as the final run-up to the presidential election begins.
The Orlando atrocity demands the prayers of Christian people for the injured and the bereaved. As the Archbishop of Dublin has rightly said: “As people come to terms with the attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, we hold all those who have lost their loved ones and all who have been injured and traumatised by the mass shooting in our prayers.We remember victims, friends and family members at this time of devastation. We echo the statements which say that this had nothing to do with religion.” The Bishop of Cork commented in a rather different tone, however, tweeting: “Our prayers are shallow, an affront even, as long as so much religion fails fully to affirm and include LGBT people.” It is difficult to know just what to make of the apparent difference in approach between Archbishop and Bishop, but there can be do doubt that praying for others in distress, including those with whom one may have sincere disagreements, is in fact a Christian duty, not a scandal of any kind. (Report, p.10)
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