Day 3 of General Conference began with legislative committee work on the Traditional Plan. Multiple amendments were made to the plan before the plan was passed by a vote of 461 (56%) – 359 (44%). The Traditional Plan still has many amendments which must be adopted to make it constitutional. These amendments will most likely be added to the Traditional Plan when it comes back to the body on the plenary floor.
Following the vote on the Traditional Plan, votes were taken on the Disaffiliation Plans by Taylor and Boyette. The Taylor plan passed by 53% and the Boyette plan passed by 52%, so when these plans come to the plenary floor the delegates will have to choose whether or not to ultimately pass one of the these plans. For more details about these plans, please see yesterday’s blog.
The One Church Plan then came for debate by the legislative committee. After amendments were debated several of which were adopted, The One Church Plan was defeated in the legislative committee with 386 (47%) voting for the One Church Plan and 436 (53%) against it. Most delegates anticipate the One Church Plan will ultimately be brought back to the plenary floor by a minority.
Following rejection of the One Church Plan, there was a motion to have the legislative committee reject all the remaining petitions in mass. The motion passed after being amended to allow debate on The Simple Plan. Though the Simple Plan did not garner much support in the prioritization votes, delegates voted to give it a hearing within the committee as a sign of respect and willingness to listen to the LGBTQI community.
After passionate debate the Simple Plan was ultimately voted down, 323 (40%) for versus 494 (60%) against.
There was a request for the Judicial Council to give a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of all the plans coming before the plenary session Tuesday. This request passed and, most likely, we will hear the decision of the Judicial Council tomorrow morning.
The depth of divisions within our denomination are becoming more and more clear in our votes thus far. As I was reflecting on the difficulty our divisions present, I looked down at my travel Bible on the table beside my book of legislation. Within the pages of the Bible, I found a piece of paper from my time serving as Minister in Residence for a week at Camp Wesley Woods last summer. On that piece of paper were the names of every child at camp that week – which I spent a week studying and trying my best to memorize. Some of those children accepted Christ that week. Many others rededicated their life to Christ.
This piece of paper reminded me that decisions made at this General Conference could have the effect of making children whose names are on that piece of paper feel unwelcome in the UMC. It also reminded me God knows each of our names, the number of hairs on each of our heads and loves each enough even at our worst to die for us – and no decision about a Way Forward for the UMC changes any of that.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Day 2 of General Conference began with worship and a sermon from Bishop Ken Carter asking the delegates to trust God to provide a way for the church to remain united and carry out its mission to make disciples.
A lengthy and informative report was given by the Commission on the Way Forward. The report celebrated the way the Commission members came to love and respect one another in an extraordinarily diverse environment while working together on an extraordinarily difficult task.
During the report of the Commission, the One Church plan was recognized as having the support of the majority of Commission members and the majority of the Council of Bishops. It was presented as a plan that could keep the church together while respecting diversity. The Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditional Plan, however, were presented to the General Conference by members of the commission who supported them strongly.
The Connectional Conference plan was lifted up as a plan which creates the necessary organizational space to maintain unity in mission. The Traditional Plan was presented as a plan that would enable unity in adherence to the Book of Discipline while creating a realistic path for progressive churches and annual conferences to form a new expression of Methodism where they could follow their consciences in relation to LGBTQ inclusion.
A Judicial Council Decision
The General Conference received a report from the Judicial Council sharing the results of Decision #1375 in which the Judicial Council ruled petition 90052 (A Traditional Way Forward with Enhanced Enforcement) was unconstitutional for infringing on the right of annual conferences to vote on clergy credentialing. Petition 90078 (part of the Modified Traditional) was also ruled unconstitutional for violating paragraphs 49&50 of the Discipline by infringing on the rights of the Council of Bishops by creating a Global Episcopacy committee which was proposed to increase the accountability of Bishops.
After quickly implementing the standing rules, the General Conference moved to the work of prioritizing the plans. The votes to prioritize legislation dictate the order in which the legislative committee will consider legislation. Some delegates may well vote for something to get on the agenda to show their support for a certain viewpoint who would be quite reticent about voting for the same legislation in its final form because of concerns for its unintended consequences. Still, the prioritization vote sets the tone and provides momentum for the plans or petitions which receive the highest prioritization.
It should also be noted here that several petitions did not come before the legislative committee because they affected Central Conferences (conferences outside the United States) and by the Discipline thereby must be referred to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The Standing Committee has not yet report back on these petitions, so the list below of prioritization should be considered somewhat incomplete. Some of the individual petitions from the Traditional Plan and The One Church plan were among those petitions sent to the Standing Committee.
The top 5 plans or petitions receiving votes for prioritization were:
Other results of special interest include: The Simple Plan received the 8thhighest priority with 153 votes (19%). The Connectional Conference Plan was the 15thhighest priority with 102 votes (12%).
The Wespath Recommendation deals with two petitions: 1) Churches wanting to leave the denomination would need to pay (at least, but not limited to) their share of their annual conferences unfunded pension liability as calculated using commercial annuity rates (a very conservative growth estimate which would have the effect of greatly increasing pension liability calculations). 2) Pastors withdrawing from the denomination would have their defined benefit accounts converting to personal investment accounts based on a calculation of the current value of the current projected value of the future defined benefits they have earned.
You can learn more about the Traditional and Plan and the One Church plan at http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties_UGC/learn/documents/GC2019-Plan-comparison.pdf.
The Disaffiliation petitions focus on means whereby churches wishing to withdraw from the United Methodist denomination could do so without being held to the standard of the trust clause (which states that local churches hold their property in trust for their annual conference meaning churches withdrawing for the denomination would have to leave without their property or repay the annual conference for the value of their property).
The Taylor petition allows disaffiliation from the UMC with a two-thirds vote of a church conference after a 90-day period of study and discernment without being held accountable to the trust clause if they leave due to disagreements with the denomination over the practice of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual unions.
The Boyette petition allows for disaffiliation with a 55% vote of the church’s professing members or a two-thirds vote at a charge conference without being held accountable to trust clause if the church cites irreconcilable differences with the doctrines and teachings in the Book of Discipline. This petition also requires churches to pay their unfunded pension liability to the annual conference.
Legislative Committee Work
Once the General Conference moved into legislative committee session, the Wespath petition were passed with 95% of the vote. The conference then moved into a time of worship followed by adjournment for the evening. It is expected the General Conference will begin its work on Monday morning by considering the Traditional Plan in legislative committee. (For more on the role of the legislative committee, please see yesterday’s blog.)
What Does This Mean?
The Traditional Plan has the most momentum right now though, as noted earlier, garnering over 50% of the vote is much easier in a priority vote than in a vote for final passage.
The One Church may pick up additional support from a few delegates who voted solely for The Simple Plan in the prioritization vote who will now begin to support One Church due to its higher feasibility. There is also the matter of what to think about the perspectives of at least 3-4% of delegates who voted for both the Traditional Plan and the One Church plan to receive high priority. No one quite knows where their votes will land, if anywhere, when it comes time for final passage.
Were There Any Protests?
There was a rather mild protest by progressive advocates after the results of the prioritization voting were read. The protest involved chanting from the back of the arena. The protest did not interrupt the work of the General Conference which continued on schedule. It is understandable for LGBTQ United Methodists and progressive advocates to feel quite hurt by the vote and feel the need to express their hurt. Several moderate delegates, however, commented to me the protest did not sit well with them.
What Are My Priorities
I have been asked often how I will vote during this General Conference. I always respond by saying that a delegate’s voting record at the General Conference is secret for good reason. We want delegates to vote their conscience without fear of retribution. So, though I often choose to share my perspectives with you in an effort to be transparent, I would ask that you not expect the same from all other delegates and that you would refrain from pressuring any delegate to tell you how they voted.
I have been honest throughout the process of seeking a Way Forward for the UMC that I desire to see a UMC where we recognize there are compassionate, intelligent, Bible-Believing, Jesus-Loving United Methodists who are quite traditional and compassionate, intelligent, Bible-Believing, Jesus-Loving United Methodists who are very progressive in their beliefs about LGBTQ inclusion in the church. I know this because many of those on both sides of this divide have offered me Christ and mentored me in the faith. (If you are wondering how I can believe Jesus-Loving, Bible Believing Christians can disagree about LGBTQ inclusion in the church, please click hereto read a chapter from my recent book, Unafraid and Unashamed, which addresses this question directly.)
I desire for there to be a United Methodist Church were the diverse views of my mentors are honored, respected and protected. For this reason, I resonate with many of the ideas expressed in the One Church Plan which strongly guards freedom of conscience. I resonate with some of the ideas of expressed in the Simple Plan which questions why the church must take a stance on issues which compassionate, intelligent, Jesus-Loving, Bible Believing Christians can disagree on. I also resonate with some of our current standards which allow for diversity in practice, if not in theory. I cannot support The (Modified) Traditional Plan which establishes one perspective as the law of the land and encourages those with other perspectives to act against their consciences or leave the denomination.
I understand your perspective on United Methodism may not match my perspective. If not, I hope you know you still have my respect and love. And I hope you will find my articulation of the actions of General Conference to be fair and thoughtful.
If you are an LGBTQ person reading this blog, please know you are a beloved child of God not an issue merely to be debated.
If you are a concerned United Methodist of whatever perspective who simply wants to the church learn how to love the people Christ loved the way Christ loved them, please continue to pray Christ will work in, through, above, beyond and if need be in spite of us and our sacred, yet imperfect way of doing church together.
Blessings to all!
Day 1 of the General Conference began with 7 hours of worship, prayer and fasting.
Beginning with Prayers and Praises
The day focused on surrendering and submitting to God. Bishops led prayer from the stage and delegates took time to gather with one another for discussion and prayer.
Prayers were offered from each area of the world. Representatives of Europe and Asia celebrated churches bringing together youth from Ukraine and Russia to help bring peace among two conflicted cultures. They celebrated the way United Methodist Churches were welcoming migrants coming to Europe from all over the world and helping start new churches. They asked for prayer for the churches in Russia where new governmental restrictions severely limit the ability of churches to share the Gospel in their communities.
Churches from Africa celebrated new churches starting with almost no budget and trusting God to provide. They prayed for God’s strength for the church to remain united and continue its work in Africa in the areas of combatting preventable diseases and promoting women’s education and empowerment.
Churches from the United States asked for prayer for discrimination affecting migrants and African Americans. There was also a time of prayer for LGBTQ persons in the room and throughout the UMC.
UMC churches from the Philippines and Southeast Asia prayed for an end to violence against women, extrajudicial killings, terrorism and economic stagnation forcing many of their church members to seek employment in other countries to provide for their families.
The hours of prayer and worship concluded with a communion service and a scripture reading about the day of Pentecost from the book of Acts.
It was a beautiful morning to hear so many different languages and see so many diverse people praying for God’s will for our lives and the life of the church.
The business portion of the conference started in the late afternoon with a review of the plans and organization for the legislative portion of the conference which will begin in earnest tomorrow. For the first time the General Conference is employing a professional parliamentarian to help guide the chairperson and Bishops as they preside. Delegates were given significant training in the rules of order by the parliamentarian.
What to Expect Tomorrow
Sunday, after an opening worship service, the General Conference will prioritize legislation and elect officers for committee work. Expect to see votes designed to judge the priority which should be given to differing pieces of legislation. This will provide a bellwether for which plans and petitions have the most chance of eventual passage. The conference will also elect officers to preside over the legislative committee work on Monday.
Due to the rules of General Conference all legislation must go before a legislative committee before initially coming to the plenary floor. Due the focused nature of this General Conference there will only be one legislative committee comprised of all the delegates on Monday. Then anything the delegates pass in committee on Monday will go to the plenary floor on Tuesday for final approval or defeat.
Since there is only one committee, there only be one chairperson, one vice chair, and one secretary elected as officers. There will be significant discussion among delegates about how to elect officers who can be trusted to be impartial, efficient and able to oversee the committee in such a way that all delegates have equal opportunity to be involved in the deliberations of the committee.
How People Are Feeling
Throughout the morning of prayer and worship a feeling of anxiety and foreboding gradually gave way to a warm feeling of fellowship and shared hopes. There are still many fears, but our hope is that the peace which comes from prayer will help us speak the truth to one another in love rather than resentment or hate.
Some delegates fear a church that would adopt policies out of line with their understanding of scripture which would cause them to feel the need to leave the denomination. Others fear a denomination which no longer recognizes their call to ministry and where the calls of many other LGBTQ persons are ignored. Parents fear a church where their LGBTQ children do not feel entirely welcome. And many share the fear that a divided church would no longer be able to carry on all the ministries we celebrated and prayed for today. Pastors fear conflicts within their local churches and the possibility of struggling to provide for their families if church budgets are detrimentally affected.
And everyone hopes and prays God will moves us forward to a faithful future.
Please join us in these hopes and prayers.
This Saturday Feb 23 through Tuesday Feb 26, the United Methodist Church will convene a special called General Conference in St. Louis. The purpose of the conference is to act on the report from the Commission on the Way Forward. The Commission on the Way Forward was formed after delegates at the 2016 General Conference reached an impasse over issues involving the ordination of lesbian and gay persons and whether same sex weddings could be hosted in United Methodist Churches and/or officiated by United Methodist Clergy.
Currently, the United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits ordination for “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and prohibits same sex weddings from taking place on church property or being officiated by United Methodist clergy. The impasse stemmed from the actions of clergy with progressive views who, after years of unsuccessfully trying to change these policies, felt their consciences left them no choice but to openly violate these policies without penalty in some cases and with severe penalties in other cases based on the viewpoints of the clergy’s annual conference and Bishop.
In response, the 2016 General Conference formed the Commission on the Way, a 32 member commission comprised of United Methodist clergy and laity from all over the world with diverse viewpoints representing the traditional, moderate/centrist, and progressive perspectives. The Commission on the Way Forward considered 3 plans: The One Church Plan, The Traditional Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan. Ultimately, the majority of the commission members and the majority of the Council of Bishops expressed support for the One Church Plan. A progressive group of United Methodist clergy has also submitted a plan to the General Conference called The Simple Plan.
Understanding The Plans
The One Church Planacknowledges the disagreement with the UMC over issues of LGBTQ inclusion and allows annuals conferences to decide questions of ordination, local churches to decide whether to host same sex weddings, and pastors to choose whether or not to officiate same sex weddings. It provides protections for pastors and churches of various viewpoints to follow their conscience in these matters.
The (Modified) Traditional Plan strengthens the enforcement of the prohibitions which are already in place and encourages progressive annual conferences and churches to leave the UMC to form other expressions of Methodism. The plan is sometimes referred to as “modified” because of modifications which will be offered in the form of amendments at General Conference to fix constitutional problems in the original legislation.
The Connection Conference Plan creates 3 sub-denominations (traditional, centrist, and progressive), termed “connectional conferences” within the United Methodism. The connectional conferences would set their own standards for ordination and marriage. This plan is unlikely to pass due to the need for constitutional amendments requiring 2/3 of the vote as well as ratification by annual conferences. All other plans require only 50%+1 of the vote.
The Simple Plan takes out all language regarding homosexuality from the Book of the Discipline as well as removing gender specific definitions of marriage. Practically, this would make decision-making on these issues localized without the protections for freedom of conscience found in the One Church Plan.
You can find a more detailed overview of the plans at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties_UGC/learn/documents/GC2019-Plan-comparison.pdf
In recent months, there has also been much talk of whether “gracious exit” plans should be considered which would allow churches who disagree with the UMC stance on homosexuality to leave the denomination while keeping their property and avoiding a cost prohibitive penalty. Several petitions including formulas for such a provision will be considered by the General Conference.
What to Expect At General Conference
How Can I Follow the Work of the General Conference?
How Can I Respond to the Work of the General Conference?
The Judicial Council recently ruled regarding the constitutionality of the three plans for the Way Forward designed by the Commission. Here’s a brief synopsis and some more detailed resources.
What this Means?
The One Church Plan will go to the 2019 General Conference largely intact with three minor adjustments. The Traditional Plan is currently being reworked with the hopes of maintaining its essence while adjusting its structure to become constitutional. There is no way of knowing right now if the revisions to the Traditional will be able to maintain the essence of the plan or whether the revisions will be deemed constitutional or not.
What’s Happening Now?
The debate has begun to shift significantly to focus on the idea of a gracious exit. Expect a more detailed blog on this matter soon.
How can I know more about the details of the Judicial Council Ruling?
Blessings to you and your church,
In the last few months more has become clear about the plans and process for the Way Forward for United Methodist Church that will be debated at the special called General Conference in St. Louis Feb 23-26 of 2019 to deal with the current impasse over LGBTQ inclusion with United Methodism. Here’s a brief update on what we know of the plans, judicial deliberations, legislative process, and political maneuvering as February approaches.
The Commission on the Way Forward at the request of the Council of Bishops produced a reportcomplete with accompanying legislation for the 3 possible plans: the One Church Plan, the Traditionalist Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan.
The Judicial Council ruledthat other United Methodist groups and individuals could submit legislation to the 2019 General Conference. The Commission on the General Conferenceis charged with evaluating the additional legislation to ensure it is within the purpose of the called General Conference. Any other legislation that meets this criteria will be published and submitted for consideration by the General Conference. While most of this legislation is still unknown, one submission called The Simple Plan is already gaining attention.
The Judicial Council will meet Oct 23-26, 2018 to consider constitutional challenges to the One Church Plan and the Traditional Plan. If the Judicial Council finds any part of these plans to be unconstitutional then the plans could be amended significantly or the necessary constitutional amendments could be added to the plans.
There have been increasing calls from some corners of United Methodism for amendments to the trust clause to allow local church a “gracious exit” from the UMC for reasons if conscience regardless of which plan passes at General Conference. (The Trust clause holds that all local church property is held in trust by the Annual Conference thus preventing churches from leaving the denomination with their property unless they pay its value to the annual conference or negotiate other arrangements.) This movement is most prominently supported by a newly formed group called United Methodists for a Gracious Exit.
Now, let’s consider the plans and their details.
The One Church Plan:
· Acknowledges different views of human sexuality within the UMC
· Places the power make decisions regarding how to apply issues of human sexuality to the ordination process within the Annual Conferences, primarily within the Annual Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference.
· Gives local churches the power to decide whether to host same sex weddings on their property and whether to receive an openly LGBTQ pastor into their pulpits.
· Gives clergy the right to decide whether to officiate same sex weddings.
· Requires no constitutional amendments in its current form. It can pass at General Conference with a 50%+1 vote.
The One Church Plan has been endorsed by a majority of the members of the Council of Bishops and a majority of the members of the Commission on the Way Forward. Among United Methodist groups, the One Church plan is supported most prominently by the Uniting Methodists.
The Traditionalist Plan:
· Maintains and strengthens current language identifying homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibiting the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexual persons as well as the celebration of same-sex weddings on church property or officiated by UMC clergy.
· Adds stricter enforcement policies and creates mandatory minimum penalties for clergy who perform same sex weddings. Clergy who have a complaint against them for performing a same sex wedding that goes to a church trial would receive a mandatory minimum penalty of a one year suspension without pay for the first offense and the loss credentials for the second offense. If such a complaint were to be resolved using the Just Resolution process rather than a church trial, then the commitment not to repeat the offense would be a requirement within the resolution.
· Annual Conferences and Bishops would be required to certify that they would uphold the policies regarding human sexuality. Annual Conferences, local churches, and clergy who desire more progressive policies in regards to human sexuality would be encouraged to leave the UMC and join or form other expressions of Methodism.
· Requires no constitutional amendments in its current form. It can pass the General Conference with a 50%+1 vote.
The Traditionalist Plan is supported by a minority of the members of the Council of Bishops and a minority of the members of the Commission on the Way Forward. Among other United Methodist groups, the Traditionalist plan is most prominently supported by the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The Connectional Conference Plan:
· Creates 3 Connectional Conferences (traditionalist, centrist, and progressive). In essence, these connectional conferences serve as sub-denominations within the larger umbrella denomination of United Methodism.
· Jurisdictions, Annual Conferences, and local churches choose their connectional conference.
· Clergy credentials are held within the connectional conferences. Clergy will have the possibility of holding credentials within multiple connectional conferences.
· Is unlikely to pass due to constitutional amendments requiring a 2/3 vote of the General Conference and subsequent ratification by a 2/3 aggregate total vote of the annual conferences and central conferences.
While initially enjoying significant support, enthusiasm for the Connectional Conference has declined as its high level of complexity has become more apparent.
The Simple Plan:
· Goes back to the language of the Discipline in 1968 by taking out all LGBTQ references from the Discipline, thus drawing no distinction between LGBTQ persons and heterosexual persons.
· Would permit very different implicit standards for LGBTQ inclusions in different places within the UMC.
The Simple Plan is supported most strongly by progressive groups who see the One Church Plan as still officially sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ persons. It has been submitted to the General Conference by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus.
I hope you have found this summary helpful to you and your church. My next post will most likely focus on constructive ways to present this information to your church. If you don’t want to wait for the next blog, you can view a recent webinar I conducted on this matter by clicking here.
Blessings to you and church,
For most of the past two years, the Commission on the Way Forward has been working with Council of Bishops to create a plan to overcome the current impasse over LGBTQ inclusion and move the United Methodist Church towards a faithful future.
In late 2017, we learned the Commission and the Council of Bishops were considering three possible options: 1) A Traditionalist Option which would maintain language prohibiting full LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC and would strengthen the ability of the denomination to enforce these prohibitions. 2) A One Church Plan which would allow decisions about LGBTQ inclusion to be made locally in different parts of the world to allow the church throughout the world to minister effectively in very diverse contexts. 3) A Connectional Conference Model (initially referred to as the Multi-Branch Model) that would create 3 sub-denominations (progressive, centrist, and traditionalist) within a larger umbrella denomination known as United Methodism.
With the conclusion of the work of the commission in May 2018 followed by a statement from the Council of Bishops and an important ruling from the Judicial Council, we now know a lot more about the short-term future of the United Methodist Church than we did just a couple weeks ago.
The Council of Bishops will recommend the One Church plan to the special called General Conference in 2019 and they will submit the accompanying legislation to be included in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) – the official pre-Conference legislative publication of the General Conference - to enact the One Church plan. The Bishops will also include a report detailing their research into the traditionalist plan and the Connectional Conference Model. The details of this report of its accompanying legislation will be published simultaneously in all the official languages of the General Conference no later than early July. So while our current knowledge of the report is admittedly incomplete, here are a few educated guesses about what to expect.
The legislation proposing the One Church Model will highlight the Bishop’s theological discernment that LGBTQ inclusion should not be a church dividing issue. The legislation will most likely eliminate language condemning or affirming same sex romantic relationships and marriages. It’s also highly likely that the legislation will continue to allow the annual conference Boards of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Sessions to determine the requirements for ordination. Regarding same sex marriage, individual pastors would decide whether to officiate wedding ceremonies and local churches would decide whether their buildings would be used for such occasions.
Regarding the traditionalist option, it is likely that the Bishops’ report will highlight the public and expensive conflict that would take place in annual conferences and in the courts if this option were put in place. In regards to the Connectional Conference Model, which in the beginning was the favorite of many United Methodists in theory, the report will most likely note the difficulty of passing the necessary constitutional amendments to implement such an option and the current lack of strong constituent support from any side for this option.
Shortly after the statement from the Council of Bishops, the Judicial Council released a decision that legislation for the special 2019 General Conference would be received from any United Methodist organization, pastor or lay person so long as the legislation was in line with the purpose for the General Conference of helping the United Methodist Church move beyond the current impasse over LGBTQ inclusion.
This means that in addition to the Bishops legislation, other legislation will be submitted to the ADCA in advance of General Conference. In all likelihood this will mean that legislation will be submitted by individuals or groups to propose the traditionalist option, the multi-branch option, and a progressive option which would mandate full LGBTQ inclusion in all United Methodists churches and organizations throughout the world.
If this is the case, then it should be expected that when the One Church approach proposed by the Bishops is placed on the floor of General Conference that those who have submitted legislations calling for other approaches will come to the floor to make a motion to substitute their legislation in place of the One Church plan from the Bishops. The General Conference will then vote on whether to consider the Bishop’s legislation or another option before finally seeking to perfect and pass or defeat whichever option is selected.
In July, we will know a lot of the details that we can only guess at today. Until then, the most important thing any of us can do is work in our local settings to help our people understand the differing points of view within United Methodism, the work of our denomination through the world spreading the Gospel and eliminating suffering and oppression, and the importance of our local churches in our local communities.
Until we know more specifics about the legislation, my next blogs will focus on how to guide the people of our churches into these important conversations and how I have come to see that these conversations really can be moments of building up faith rather than tearing one another down.
Blessings to you all and your churches,
Over the past 6 months, I have personally led or coached numerous churches through helping their people learn about and discuss the way forward for United Methodism using the material provided in Unafraid and Unashamed: Facing the Future of United Methodism. The large majority of these conversations have turned out to be extremely constructive and surprisingly enrichening for the participants. Pastors have reported to me after the conversations their congregations exhibit less anxiety about the future and a greater commitment to their local church.
In a couple instances, however, the conversations have turned into less than helpful debates that have created unnecessary tension between participants. In each case, I’ve tried my best to figure out what makes the difference between a constructive discussion and destructive discussion. Are there any commonalities we can identify between conversations that went well and discussions that turned out to be unhelpful?
Interestingly, I have found one factor that all the unhelpful discussions had in common and it has nothing to do with whether the pastors and churches self-identify as traditionalist, centrist, or progressive. In the unhelpful conversations, the leader of the discussion came across as explicitly trying to convince the group that their opinion regarding LGBTQ inclusion was correct (or in one instance the leader allowed a participant with a similar agenda to dominate the discussion.)
I know right now some of you may be thinking: But how we think about LGBTQ inclusion is important. In fact, it’s crucial to our witness and it has a direct impact on many lives. How can you say we should not have an agenda when it comes to talking with people about it?
It’s true, how the United Methodist Church addresses LGBTQ inclusion will impact millions of lives and it is crucial to our witness. However, when we invite our congregations to talk about the future of United Methodism and they discern that our invitation contains within it a hidden agenda to get them to think more like us about LGBTQ inclusion, they feel threatened and defensive.
I’m not saying it’s not important to share how we feel about LGBTQ inclusion and even try to persuade others to do the same. There are settings where that is exactly what needs to be done. I am just saying the place to do it is not in a conversation about the most faithful path forward for the United Methodist Church given the different viewpoints on LGBTQ inclusion within it.
Every single United Methodist Church will have and needs to have conversations about the future of United Methodist and LGBTQ inclusion. The question is will these conversations take place prayerfully in the church building or heatedly in the church parking lot.
Instead of going into such conversations trying to convince others to think like you, go in trying to help each participant understand how others who love Jesus and love people could think differently than they do. Take your que from the full version of the serenity prayer which encourages us to “take, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have.” When it comes to talking about the future, let’s discuss our beloved and imperfect UMC as it is not as we would have it if we ruled the world. Focus on understanding the various perspectives of sincere disciples within our denomination and then help your congregation ask: "Given our varying viewpoints and the mission of our church, what is the most faithful way to move forward?"
I think you will find when you approach a conversation from this angle the participants will be more likely to truly engage the issues because they do not feel the need to constantly defend their current position. You might be interested to know that a few participants in discussions based on Unafraid and Unashamed have changed their opinions about LGBTQ inclusion after the discussion which I found quite surprising since I had rarely if ever seen individual opinions shift in numerous church and clergy conversations solely about human sexuality over the years. I can’t tell you everyone who shifted their opinion shifted in the exact same manner, but I can tell you they all felt they were able to find a deeper sense that their opinion about the issue stemmed from their faith rather than simply the dominant culture views of their locality.
These results remind me of something a wise mentor said to me a couple decades ago: “The more you try to control others, the less you influence them. The more you try to understand others, the more you influence them.”
In writing Unafraid and Unashamed, I attempted to be brutally honest about the future choices facing our denomination and unrelentingly honest and charitable in my representation of the differing viewpoints within the UMC. I did this because I have found the best way to place ourselves in the path of God’s miraculous power is to be brutally honest about our current path and unceasingly loving to those in our lives. Perhaps if we can help our people have wholly honest and kind conversations about the way for the UMC, we will place ourselves in a position to discern God’s holy way forward for the UMC.
Your people will be having these conversations no matter what happens. You can allow these conversations to happen haphazardly with misinformation or you can proactively help shepherd your church through the issues of our day and age just as faithful leaders have done in previous eras.
In my next post, I’ll focus more on why our churches need their leaders to help lead these conversations.
For now, please accept my sincere wishes for a happy new year and blessings to you and your churches!
Recently, the Commission on a Way Forward presented an interim report to the Council of Bishops in which they shared their preliminary proposals. In a news release, the Council of Bishops reported they received three different options from the commission.
Proposal #1 – Maintain the current language in the Book of Discipline and strengthen accountability procedures.
Proposal #2 – Remove language forbidding ordination and marriage based on sexual preference from the Book of Discipline. Allow churches and conferences to work out their response to questions regarding LGBTQ inclusion in their local context. (Similar previous proposals have often been referred to as “The Local Option”.)
Proposal #3 – Create a system where 2 or perhaps 3 denominations with different standards regarding LGBTQ inclusion operate and share ministry together under the larger umbrella of United Methodism. In essence this plan would create 2 or 3 sub-denominations within one larger denomination.
Here’s what we know and what we don’t know from the Bishops Report.
I hope you find this blog helpful as you discern how to prepare the people of your congregation for the debate over the future of United Methodism. In my next blog, I will be writing about the best practices for leading a fruitful conversation about the future of the United Methodism and a few of common mistakes leaders make which prevent the conversation from being constructive.
Blessings to you and your church,
Have you been pondering how to initiate conversations about the way forward for United Methodism in your congregation?
As you know, I wrote Unafraid and Unashamed in the hopes of providing churches with a resource to guide these conversations in an honest, constructive and faith-filled manner. In my last blog, I provided suggestions for creating a timeline for these conversations. In this post, I want to share how to structure these conversations based on the time and setting available to you.
If you have 4-8 weeks available for your study, I recommend downloading the free leader’s guide and teaching one or two chapters per week as dictated by your schedule. The leader’s guide is a great tool written by Rev. Glenna Manning, an ordained United Methodist Deacon who combines an insightful theological perspective with keen insights into teaching theory gained from decades working in the public-school system.
But what if you don’t have enough time to follow the leader’s guide through each chapter?
Let’s say you have only 3 sessions to teach the class and there is no way you can work through all the material in that time. I have already taught several three session classes myself on the book and here’s my recommendation.
Week 1 – Focus on chapters 1&2. These chapters provide a history of the debate with United Methodism around LGBTQ inclusion and charitable respectful articulations of the traditionalist, centrist, and progressive viewpoints.
Week 2 – Focus on chapter 5. This chapter looks at all the other challenges the United Methodist church must face to minister effectively in a rapidly changing culture outside of LGBTQ inclusion. It concludes by inviting participants to reflect honestly on whether the denomination can face these challenges within its current structure and to consider how their local church can best reach out to its changing community.
Week 3 – Focus on chapters 7&8. These chapters help participants calmly and faithfully consider what to do if they feel differently from their local church or denomination about LGBTQ inclusion and the importance of working with Christians of various perspective on the issues we all agree on.
Okay, now let’s consider what to do if you do not have the luxury of multiple sessions. What if you only have one 50-minute session? Can you still discuss these complex issues in less than an hour? Yes, you can. Here’s how:
Minutes 0-5 – Discuss the “About This Guide” section and pray the “Opening Prayer” from page 2 of the leader’s guide. This will help establish an honest and respectful atmosphere for your session.
Minutes 5-20 – Focus on chapter 1 and the history of the debate within the UMC. Without knowing the history, it is very hard to make sense of the present and very easy to become disillusioned.
Minutes 20-35 – Focus on chapter 2 and understanding the different viewpoints within United Methodism. Without understanding why sincere Christians might see things different, it is hard to engage in constructive conversations about the future of the church.
Minutes 35-45 – Focus on chapters 7&8. Spend just a few minutes discussing 2 questions with the class: 1) What should you do when your opinion is in the minority within your faith community? 2) Where can Christians of different perspectives on LGBTQ inclusion work together to bless the world and spread the Gospel?
Minutes 45-50 – Q & A.
Be prepared for participants to ask you to provide more classes. I have received this request at every presentation I have made about this topic. Your church members know this is a big deal and they want to be ready to face it with honest informed perspectives.
What to do if you have another class format not covered in this post? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to brainstorm with you about the right set up for your context.
By the way, if you have been waiting to order copies of Unafraid and Unashamed for your church this may be the best week to do it. Throughout this Cyber Monday week, my publisher is offering discounts of 30% on all orders of 5 or more books using the coupon code CMBULK on purchases made through marketsquarebooks.com. Individual copies can be purchased at a 20% discount using the code CMW2017.
Blessings to you and your church,
Wil Cantrell serves as the Associate Pastor of Concord United Methodist Church in Farragut, TN. Wil’s driving passion is to help people live an authentic life while experiencing a real growing faith in Jesus Christ. Previously, he served as the associate pastor at Middlebrook Pike UMC and as the pastor of Lebanon Memorial UMC (Lebanon, VA) before coming to Concord UMC in July 2015.