Community of Concern: Its Beginnings
On St. Patrick’s Day 1988, five United Church ministers met in Weston, Ontario, to discuss their concern over a report just published by the Church: Toward a Christian Understanding of Sexual Orientation, Lifestyles, and Ministry (SOLM).
It recommended that homosexual orientation be defined as a healthy lifestyle that “ought to be seen as natural and as a gift of God”, and that self declared practising homosexuals be considered eligible to participate “in all aspects of the life and ministry of the Church, including the order of ministry”
It was as if an earthquake had shaken the Church, jarring its members from coast to coast. The five concerned ministers called a meeting, hoping perhaps 50 would join them. Instead 250 converged on Weston, some from as far away as Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. The Community of Concern had been born.
The new organization swung into action and at the 32 General Council in Victoria B.C. was a significant player in shelving of SOLM. Unfazed, the Council went on to approve the report’s essence in a new statement: Membership, Ministry and Human Sexuality (MMHS).
This statement transformed the COC into a permanent force for orthodoxy that was to work for the Church’s founding principles set out in the Twenty Articles of Faith. Although homosexual ordination became, especially for the media the lightning rod of contention, it was evident that this issue was to shake the Church’s entire historic foundation- the authority of Scripture.
And so COC graduated from a single -issue organization to one concerned with the erosion of the very foundation of the Church. It is within the historic tradition of faithful and prophetic dissent that COC stands firm. In so doing it dedicates itself to returning the Church we love to its bedrock of strength, which is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
RENEWAL FAITH STATEMENT
This we believe: We believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and confess Jesus Christ to the Word made flesh. We believe that on the cross Christ confronted evil and there died for our redemption. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his promise of Eternal life for who believe in him. We believe that through Christ the Kingdom has come, is present now and is to come. We believe that the basic doctrines of the Christian faith are contained in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and that through the Holy scriptures God’s Word in made known. We believe in the Church Universal, the body of Christ, called out of the world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. and deed the world. We believe these truths held in common with “mainstream” Christians throughout the world, as members of the United Church of Canada. Agreed to by the Community of Concern, Church Alive, National Alliance of Covenanting Churches and Fellowship Magazine as of May 13, 2008
MORALITY AND FAMILY
Social breakdown in families, and hence in the basic structure of community and society, is one of our great concerns. We see it as the result of traditional Christian ethics and morality being replaced by a relativist secular ethic based on a supposition that morality is merely a reflection of a particular society at a particular time, and that individuals within our society should be guided by their own desires and ordinary experience toward attaining personal fulfilment. Individuals are permitted and encouraged to assert their “just” rights without any necessary acknowledgement of attendant responsibilities to their family, their society or their God. They are taught that right and wrong are merely subjective feelings without any fixed standards, and sin is merely an outmoded notion.
In this atmosphere of permissiveness, in which traditional Christian morality is set aside and there is no anchor except in personal desire, we see the pursuit of personal fulfilment leading more often to personal tragedy. We see a rising tide of promiscuity, teenage pregnancies, adultery, marriages broken by separation or divorce. We see a rising proportion of children growing up without the security and guidance of father and mother, and we see a rising crime-rate. We see more and more reports of child-abuse, of family violence and violence in general. We see an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. We see more and more reports of sexual abuse of children and of adults, and at the same time we see governments and some churches sanctioning sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and broadening the definition of marriage and family so much as to render the words almost meaningless.
Seeing the traditional family as the necessary foundation of a sound society, we endorse the report entitled “Toward a Christian Understanding of Sex, Love and Marriage” that was given general approval by the General Council of the United Church of Canada in 1960. This report, based on the wisdom of the Bible, defines marriage as a God-blessed loving union between a woman and a man, a union that offers them “completion, fulfilment and fellowship”. It calls for faithfulness in marriage, and for chastity in singleness. The self-discipline and restraint it calls for are in harmony with God’s will, with the well-being of society and the family, and with the integrity and ultimate happiness of individuals. It sets a standard of behaviour for an individual’s well-being at all levels: emotional, physical and spiritual. While it forbids sexual intercourse outside of marriage, it does not preclude social intercourse that is the wider basis of personal and community development.
Though the 1960 statement by our General Council has not been revoked, it has been ignored by recent Councils and has been eroded by some of their resolutions, particularly those relating to homosexuality. For a readable and enlightening discussion of that subject we recommend a recent book by the Rev. Dr. Donald Faris (The Homosexual Challenge, Faith Today Publications, Markham, Ontario 1993). In the same connection we remind all members of the United Church, especially its ministers and all delegates to future meetings of the General Council, of the following passage in the doctrinal articles of the United Church Basis of Union; “We believe that it is our duty as disciples and servants of Christ… to preserve the inviolability of marriage and the sanctity of the family”
Declaration of Conviction
- We, the members of the Community of Concern within the The United Church of Canada, hereby re-affirm our faith in God, in Christ, and our commitment to Christ’s way of love as governing our relationship with the United Church of Canada.
- “We affirm our belief in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the primary source and ultimate standard of Christian faith and life” (Basis of Union)
- We acknowledge that the 32 General Council did set aside for the present the Report TOWARD A CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION, LIFETSTYLES AND MINISTRY.
- But we believe that the General Council statement, MEMBERSHIP, MINISTRY AND HUMAN SEXUALITY SANCTIONED an unacceptable, ambiguity regarding Christian attitudes toward sexuality.
- Moreover it failed to reject clearly the practice of homosexuality among the order of ministry in The United Church of Canada, which rejection was clearly demanded by the majority of the members of the Church.
- We are convinced that the Biblical intention for sexual behaviour is loving fidelity for life within marriage and loving chastity outside marriage.
- We believe in conscience that the ambiguity of the New Statement on MEMBERSHIP, MINISTRY AND HUMAN SEXUALITY constitutes a serious departure from a balanced understanding of Holy Scripture as well as the Catholic and Reformed tradition in which we stand.
- We therefore declare our dissent.
- The New Statement’s ambiguity confirms our deepest concerns regarding theological, moral and organizational crises in the United Church.
- We signify our intent to provide through the Community of Concern an alternative to secession form this United Church and an avenue to attempt the reform and healing of our denomination.
- We commit ourselves to a United Church in which Jesus Christ is Lord according to a balanced understanding of his life and work through the Holy Scriptures and in the tradition both of the Reformed Churches and of the whole Ecumenical Church
- We intend a connexional United Church focused on the worship and service of each and every congregation, drawing its very life from the Holy Spirit through shared ministries of Word, Sacrament, of service and witness within each local community of faith.
- We intend a reformed United Church in worship and service, nurture, and, mission, and evangelism and social action will find their unity and their ground in the mind of Christ as understood by the whole people of God.
- While we profess deep love for the United Church of Canada. We confess that our prime loyalty is to Jesus Christ the head of the Church. Here we stand, we can do no other. 23 November 1988
DECLARATION OF DISSENT - A Petition for the 32 General Council
- We the undersigned minister and members of the United Church of Canada, having a diversity of theological approaches, hereby re-affirm our faith in God in Christ, our commitment to Christ’s way of love, and our loyalty to the United Church of Canada.
- “We affirm our belief in the Scriptures of the Old and new Testaments as the primary source and ultimate standard of Christian faith and life” (Basis of Union)
- We affirm the rights of all people within God’s creation to be respected as party of the human family on earth.
- We do hereby express our opposition to essential thrusts, directions and conclusions of the report “Towards a Christian Understanding of Sexual Orientation, Lifestyles, and Ministry”, believing them to be contrary to God’s claim upon our obedience in Jesus Christ.
- We do this believing that the Report shows inadequate understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit operating in Scripture and also tradition, resulting in flawed methodology, which leads to limited and subjective conclusions.
- We are convinced that the Biblical intention for sexual behaviour is loving fidelity for life within marriage and loving celibacy outside marriage. This has been and continues to the standard upheld by the vast majority of Christian Churches.
- We recognize that all people are alienated from God and stand in need of God’s redemptive love and forgiving grace. We also recognize that all Christians fail in their Christian calling, and we support the compassionate care of any who transgress these standards. We are called to restore those who have done wrong with gentleness in the full recognition that all are tempted an can fail.
- Christ’s care for people included a call to a new way of life which involved repentance and obedience to God.
- We are concerned with the costs in suffering and depersonalization which our increasingly permissive society entails.
- We believe that the Church is not ours to do with as we like, but is Christ’ Church. We are profoundly concerned with the implications of the Report for the peace and welfare of the Church. We reject the essential thrusts directions and conclusions of the Report, because they are a drastic departure from historic Christian faith and obedience. We can do no other. The bottom line is obedience to Jesus Christ. Spring 1988