In a little over a month delegates from around the country will meet in St. Louis for the special called General Conference (GC) to decide on one of three options that will significantly impact the future of our United Methodist Church (UMC). Over the past two years I have spoken in worship and written on this topic but let me offer a quick summary of what got us here and then share how you can make your voice heard.
At the 2016 GC the Council of Bishops (COB) were asked to bring back a recommendation to preserve unity in the face of deep divide over our denomination’s stand on human sexuality. Currently the Book of Discipline says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and does not allow same sex marriages to be conducted in our buildings or anywhere by our pastors. We also do not permit self-avowed practicing homosexual persons to be ordained.
More progressive members of our church have pressed for years for changes that remove this restrictive (and many would say unjust) language and provide for full inclusion of all people who adhere to the doctrines and faith of the church. Every GC for more than 40 years has seen the gap between progressives and traditionalists narrow. In response to the 2016 GC recommendation, the COB created a special commission called A Way Forward. Their task was to bring back a proposal to the COB. This past year they presented three options: The One Church Plan, which does not force traditional churches to change but does call for changes in our Discipline that allow other churches to conduct same-sex marriages and for annual conferences that chose to ordain gay and lesbian pastors; The Traditional Plan, which preserves all current language in The Discipline with added amendments for holding accountable pastors and bishops who violate or do not enforce church law; and The Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) which basically divides the denomination into two camps of those who maintain current practice and those who are more progressive while keeping both sides united in the support of our common mission and ministries. To understand further the differences between these plans you can click here.
The Judicial Council (somewhat like the Supreme Court of the UMC) reviewed all three plans at their meeting in October ruling a few pieces of the OCPunconstitutional, while ruling out about 40% of the Traditional Plan and not even responding to the CCP because of that vast constitutional changes it would require.
Traditionalists say the debate centers on biblical faithfulness. There are passages in the Bible that clearly prohibit homosexuality and either we are going to be a church that follows the Bible or we aren’t. Personally I understand and even appreciate this position. I love the Bible and believe in its authority (an issue we will take up in worship on Feb. 3). But I also accept that there can be differences of opinion among those who believe in scriptural authority. I believe the UMC is a big tent in which we respect those whose opinions differ from our own. We have never mandated unilateral interpretation, just recognition of the Bible’s authority. Our own history shows this. At one point we disagreed vehemently over the ordination of women. We also disagreed (believe it or not) over slavery! Yet the Bible seems to be clear (at least in some places) on these issues and what those verses say flies in the face of what we generally accept and practice today! So we have a history of disagreeing, coming to new interpretations, maintaining our unity, and I, for one, believe we can do this again.
That is what the One Church Plan allows. In fact, I would say that the church I serve, St. Luke’s UMC, is a good model for our denomination. We have a variety of opinion in our congregation, yet this is one issue we aren’t fighting over. We are an “open community of Christians helping people find and give hope through Jesus Christ.” We do not believe in limiting some based on sexual orientation. It’s always easier to leave than love; to exit than engage, and St. Luke’s has been willing to do the challenging thing of welcoming all, and I believe it is the kind of church Jesus is proud of.
The Council of Bishops have recommend the GC support the One Church Plan. I ask that our delegates support our bishops. I feel our bishops have done what we asked them to do, so let’s get behind them in order that we turn our attention to pursuing our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
If you want your voice to be heard send an email to our delegates. There are an equal number of clergy and lay delegates from congregations across the state. They are devoted people who have taken on the huge task of representing our Indiana United Methodists at this most critical time in our 50 year history of being a UnitedMethodist Church. Share with them your thoughts, but go beyond sharing which plan you hope they will support. Share why you feel that way. Tell some of your own faith story. If it is important to you that the UMC be an open community of Christians, let them know why. If it is important to you that we preserve our unity for the sake of our global missions, schools and seminaries, and vast ministries, let them know that as well.
If we stay where we are (which the Traditional Plan by and large does), we are saying that the gay and lesbian members of our churches are people God does not deem worthy of the same rights and benefits of membership afforded those who are straight. And the Connectional Conference Plan basically makes the UMC look like a segregated denomination, sort of a religious version of “separate but equal.” The OCP is not perfect. It is what helps us continue to be united as we together continue to seek God’s will for us.
If you wish to write our delegates and let your voice be heard, send your email to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.