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Is Separation Warranted? Wesley's Catholic Spirit and the Question of Sexuality

Pro Ecclesia Conference Coming to Birmingham

I'm looking forward to participating in the Pro Ecclesia Conference coming up June 10-12 here in Birmingham. I'll be giving a talk on the topic, "Is Separation Warranted? The Catholic Spirit and the Question of Sexuality." Given that I've moved to the newly-formed Global Methodist Church, you can easily anticipate the way I'll answer the question. The talk will deal with the way John Wesley's sermon on the "Catholic Spirit" has sometimes been used to suggest that Methodists should remain in the same denomination despite significant disagreements on matters of doctrine and ethics. I think this is a major misreading (and misuse) of Wesley's sermon and will offer an alternative account of how the "Catholic Spirit" relates to the ongoing Methodist schism. One major point to be made is that sexuality is not the only - or even the primary - issue in question.

Pro Ecclesia is put on by the The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. The conference will be held at Beeson Divinity School, and there's still time to register. Here's the conference theme and speakers.

Many clergy and laity are struggling more than ever to balance unity and truth, holiness and inclusion, ecclesiastical catholicity and cultural ductility, apostolicity and modernity. We have witnessed this in some of the recent schisms of the church, debates over the papacy of Francis I, disappointments surrounding the recent Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete 2016), and the everyday struggle of many faithful priests/pastors to manage expectations regarding their ministries to those who transgress their churches’ teachings regarding sexual activity. How are God’s people meant to manage these tensions? How might their leaders work together to champion the ancient marks of the church—that is, all of them together--in an age when ethnocentrism, libertarian freedom, and culture wars have overwhelmed the sphere of public opinion? Please join us in June as we work on these questions in the spirit of evangelical catholicism. Our speakers will include Paul Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas), Francesca Murphy (Notre Dame), Angela Franks (St. John’s Seminary in Boston), David Luy (North American Lutheran Seminary), Matt O’Reilly (Christ Church Birmingham and Wesley Biblical Seminary) and Russell Levenson (St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, banquet speaker). All are thoughtful church people active in addressing these questions with care. The Protestants among them will address their churches' efforts to balance ancient marks of the church with Reformation-era marks such as faithfulness in the ministries of the Word and sacrament (and, for some, church discipline). All will help us think about how best to champion the creedal marks of the church in an ecumenical manner and with cultural sensitivity.

If you're in the area, consider joining the conversation at Pro Ecclesia. It promises to be a robust event filled with thoughtful conversation on crucial matters of concern to the church.


Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Christ Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Director of Research at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians. A two-time recipient of the John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement, he is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations: A Devotional for Short-Term Missions. Connect at and follow @mporeilly.

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1 Comment

Unity at the expense of truth is no virtue!

Just as John Jewel defended the Church of England against charges of schism, it is important for Global Methodist theologians to defend our denomination from the same charges and to give a theological justification for our new denomination.

Andrew V. Sullivan

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