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The Rev. John Jackman: Maintaining Moravian diversity and unity

The Rev. John Jackman: Maintaining Moravian diversity and unity

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In recent years, many Christian denominations have split over LGBTQ+ issues. Not so the Moravian Church, which is the only mainline denomination to never have such a schism. That doesn’t mean that we agree on how to handle ordination of gay folks, same-sex marriage, and so on. We don’t. Many of us disagree on other issues as well. What it means is that in keeping with our informal motto, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love,” we continue to work alongside one another as brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our differences.

Journal reporter John Hinton’s Aug. 15 story, “A great divide,” left the impression that Moravians are struggling with division over same-sex marriage and other social ministry issues. In fact, that is not the case. At our 2018 synod, the Southern Province basically agreed to disagree on the issue, by a 2/3 majority. A small group of local Moravians who cannot accept the compromise decision of synod are seeking now to impose their ideas on the entire church — apparently encouraged by non-Moravians such as guest columnist Stuart Epperson Sr. (“Concerned Moravians stand on solid ground,” Aug. 28), who clearly has no understanding of Moravian polity and the Moravian traditions of biblical interpretation.

The Rev. Riddick Weber, who teaches Moravian polity at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa., has noted this in response:

Assuming that 129 people out of a membership of 12,000 constitutes a “rift,” those supporting social justice issues are not the ones causing it. Moravians have for decades advocated for justice on numerous social issues including the rights of LGBTQ+ persons without causing any rifts. We have done this by working within the prescribed systems of our denomination to call our church to a fuller vision of the work God has called us to do in the world. We have at times been the minority voice, but we have been patient, loving, and courteous, even as we tried to speak with a prophetic voice.

In fact, as far back as 1974, the Northern Province Synod encouraged all Moravian congregations to welcome gay people openly and include them in the structure and ministry of the church. Several synods since then have dealt with LGBTQ+ issues, including the 2018 synod, which did not explicitly support same-sex marriage. Rather, that synod upheld the Moravian practice of allowing congregations to set policies regarding weddings and allowing pastors to determine which weddings they would officiate. Moravians continue to be allowed to hold differences of opinions on important issues and are allowed to express them, “provided such opinions live up to our covenant: ‘We will not hate, despise, slander or otherwise injure anyone.’”

In many recent conversations with local Moravians, I have found two things: 1) We don’t agree on the issue of same-sex marriage, and 2) we are agreed that we move together as sisters and brothers in Christ anyway, because we are called to love one another above all other things. People in favor of same-sex marriage in the church and those strongly opposed have all voiced to me a common desire to continue to minister together. In essence, most of us are peacefully living into the ideals expressed at the 2018 synod, including many who voted against the resolution.

The essential question for us is not homosexuality or same-sex marriage; it is how we live together respectfully when we disagree. That is something the larger culture does not know how to do. The Concerned Moravians group seems to advocate the mean politics of division so evident in Washington. Some of them have made baseless, even libelous accusations against faithful leaders who have strictly observed our polity. Those attacks are injurious and clearly violate our covenant. We can look around in our polarized and divided world and see the end result of that approach.

Instead, most Moravians stand by our core principle — that we do not let such differences drive us apart.

Maintaining a community that expresses the love of God in spite of our differences is perhaps the most countercultural thing that we can do today. Therefore, I stand with all my conservative and liberal sisters and brothers in calling us to live out our motto: “In all things, love.”

The Rev. John Jackman is pastor of Trinity Moravian Church and serves on the Moravian Team for Reconciliation.


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