Power to the Congregations

Our Regional Assembly is coming up in about a month. This is a gathering of all the congregations across the state of Kentucky for a time of worship, learning, and conversations about important issues in our Region. This year’s gathering is October 4-6 in Louisville.
This year, there are two resolutions before the Assembly that warrant special attention. One is related to our Outdoor Ministries and the future of our camps; I’ll write more about this one next week. The other resolution relates to our Committee on the Ministry, and deals specifically with the ordination of gays and lesbians. This resolution was studied and approved by the Regional Board-appointed Mission Action Team that was charged with investigating this issue.
There’s some significant history behind this resolution that’s important to understand as we prepare to address it. Historically, the decision to ordain someone was a shared responsibility between a region and a congregation. For example, I was ordained in the Indiana region and was sponsored by two Disciples and one UCC congregation. Because the congregation is the highest and final authority with our denomination, the congregation’s voice should carry the most weight in decisions like ordination.
In order to strengthen this belief, in 2009 at our General Assembly in Indianapolis (the national gathering for or denomination), a resolution passed that increased the congregations’ right to “determine, in faithfulness to the gospel, their practices; …to organize for carrying out the mission and witness of the church; …to call their ministers.” In essence, this resolution gave congregations’ even more authority in the ordination process.
This is in conflict with a resolution passed in the Kentucky region in 1978, which stated the region “opposed the ordination of any candidate to the ministry who declares that he or she practices homosexuality as a lifestyle.” That resolution superceded congregational authority in determining candidates’ personal qualifications for ministry. The presenting issue here is about who has the authority to decide a person’s fitness for ordination. The 1978 resolution puts that authority with the region, but our denominational history and current polity says that the congregation should be the one to decide about ordination.
At our last regional assembly two years ago, a resolution was proposed to rescind the 1978 resolution. The rescinding resolution was deferred for more research and reflection, which led to the formation of the Mission Action Team. After two years of prayerful work, that team is recommending a resolution that instructs our Region’s Committee on the Ministry to adhere to our denominational criteria for ordination, and that these criteria supercede the 1978 regional resolution forbidding the region for ordaining gays and lesbians.
What this resolution does is put the authority for ordination where it belongs: in the hands of the congregation. One of the things I love about Disciples is that the highest authority in our denomination is the congregation. We don’t have a pope or bishop or district superintendent telling us what to do. The 1978 resolution violates that governing structure. No matter your stance on the issue of ordaining homosexuals, this resolution puts that decision exaction where I belongs. If a congregation doesn’t believe a homosexual should be ordained, it isn’t forced to do so. And if a congregation does support the ordination of a homosexual, it can do so without regional interference.
I support this resolution because it is in line with my understanding of how our denomination is structured. Congregations are the final authority and should have the power to decide for themselves how to live out their faith and how to support each other in doing so. I believe the Mission Action Team did a wonderful job of addressing this issue in a way that stays true to who we are as Disciples of Christ. I’m sure not everyone will agree with this resolution, but the ability to disagree and still come to the table together is one of the things that makes us who we are, and I’m proud to call myself a Disciple.


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