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75th Church of God International General Assembly: Historic Encounters, Hints of What Lies Ahead

 

Regarding same-sex marriage, as it’s popularly but not really appropriately called nowadays, perhaps we (Church of God) have been part of a subculture (fundamentalism, evangelicalism) that has indeed tended to succumb to homophobia but now we are confronting a larger culture (worldly society) that arguably has succumbed to homophilia. Aren’t these equal and opposite errors? In such cases, surely a Spirit-filled Church is divinely called to be a prophetic voice in a world led astray by love of its own ways. Fortunately, the Church of God International General Assembly this session carefully chose language which aims to take a firm stand with a loving voice. In other words, it tries to speak the truth in love. In my reading, it doesn’t condone “hate speech” or real discrimination against anyone for their sexual orientation; but, neither does it compromise its understanding of, or commitment to, biblical teaching and righteous living regarding sexual ethics. I’ve no doubt that activists or extremists who, on the one hand, accept nothing short of unmitigated endorsement of the gay lifestyle or, on the other hand, adamantly demonize gays, will be unhappy about the outcome. But to me we’re taking a balanced position quite appropriate for the topic.

There was, if possible, even more intense debate over a proposed resolution affirming support of the State of Israel and a possible counterpart affirming peace in the Middle East. Debate was fueled by present international focus on the war between Israel and Hamas in the infamous Gaza Strip. The duration of the General Council discussion exceeded its afternoon session and had to be carried over until next morning. As a registered lay delegate, my wife became indirectly involved in this debate through a social media post that was read and taken up by others, including some bishops on the General Council floor. It affirmed a “pro-Israel” stance but argued that events in the Middle East are complex. Building on the work of Margaret Gains, a Church of God missionary in the area for over 40 years, it argued that there’s a distinction between ministries TO Israel and ministries IN Israel. Both are valuable and viable approaches. Yet “in” suggests more intentional inclusion of all parties: Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The latter inclusiveness is consistent with a “For God so loved the world” approach to ecclesial mission. Accordingly, we pray for and support all of our sisters and brothers and friends and neighbors in Israel and Palestine.

The General Council finally voted to refer the resolutions on Israel and the Middle East back to the Executive Council for further consideration and possible development. To my way of thinking, a biblically and theologically sound and politically circumspect form of any formal resolution on this issue will need to accomplish two objectives. Failure to address either of these essential angles will almost certainly forfeit vital voices in the region and around the world. That would do more damage than good.

 

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Category: Church History, Summer 2014

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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