United Methodists discourage smoking, but an American Indian green corn ceremony -- with an option of smoking a peace pipe -- has been tentatively approved for the church's new book of worship.
So it's not surprising that opposition is rising.
"We do not allow smoking at the United Methodist Publishing House," the Rev. Dal Joon Won was quoted as saying by the denomination's news service. "Why should we say it is OK in the sanctuary?"
Mr. Won, a staff member of the publishing house in Nashville, Tenn., complained that using tobacco in a worship service might encourage smoking.
The Rev. Andy Langford of Nashville, general editor of the book, said attempts are being made to answer objections by taking out most of the tobacco section of the ritual and substituting a peace pipe smoking option recommended only for Indians.
But Mr. Langford said that he expects some non-Indians who feel comfortable with the smoking option to join in passing around a peace pipe during the ritual.
"In the Native American tradition, tobacco is one of the gifts of the earth, and they see smoking a peace pipe as inhaling the gifts of the earth," he said. "It's like sharing breath -- a very spiritual thing."
Committee members are still working on the final form of the worship book, and it must be approved by delegates to the United Methodist General Conference next May.
One of the 23 members of the worship book committee, William Auvenshine of Hillsboro, Texas, notes that the ceremony is an attempt to be inclusive to the heritage of American Indians.
"The green corn ceremony is the blessing of the harvest, and tobacco was a very important crop of Native Americans," said Mr. Auvenshine, president of Hill College.
Mr. Auvenshine said that Christian missionaries tried to erase the culture of the American Indians but that attempts are now being made to honor the American Indian heritage.
For instance, the book includes American Indian references to God as "Grandfather, Great Spirit." "We want to include many ethnic groups, including the Korean and Hispanic culture," he said.
In addition to criticism of the tobacco blessing, some committee members expressed concern that American Indians might object to other groups' using the ceremony, which traditionally hasn't been open to non-Indians.
But a Cherokee woman on the committee said she had no objections.
"I'd be honored if you would use it," said the Rev. Lois Neal, the pastor of an American Indian church in Oklahoma City.
Committee members were told that the ritual won't be used much in regular worship. It's intended for informal settings, such as camps for youth and young adults.
Cynthia Kent, program secretary for Native American Ministries at the United Methodist offices in New York, said the tobacco blessing is ceremonial and should not be equated with modern ideas of smoking.
"We are not talking about cigarette smoking or social use of tobacco," she said.
Ms. Kent said that blending American Indian culture with Christian worship is encouraging because it belatedly shows respect for the spirituality of America's Indians.