We are midway through the next to last day of General Conference. The divisions in the denomination continue over the issues of human sexuality and there is great pain in many quarters. We have had a difficult time finding a way forward.
On Tuesday we passed a nonbinding resolution asking for leadership from our bishops to help us find a way forward. Yesterday they issued a statement and a plan they entitled “An Offering for a Way Forward.” That statement is reproduced below. The General Conference narrowly voted for their way forward to help us find a way to live together as a denomination in unity without having unanimity around these issues.
The plan calls for a commission appointed by the Council of Bishops and representing all points of view across the spectrum that will work in conjunction with the bishops of the church to bring back proposals to a called session of the General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to deal only with those proposals. Near the end of the document there is this statement of direction: “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.”
I am hopeful. When our Council of Bishops has stepped forward to exercise their “temporal and spiritual” leadership of the church, it has been helpful to the General Conference in doing its work. The 2008 General Conference — which we hosted in Fort Worth — adopted Four Areas of Focus and Seven Vision Pathways to guide our work. Those came from the leadership of our bishops in conjunction with the boards and agencies of the United Methodist Church. I believe that this leadership at this time in the life of our denomination will also help us move forward in unity. That is my hope.
Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we complete this General Conference tomorrow.
Grace and Peace,
Galatians 3:25-29 (NRSV)
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Your bishops were honored to receive the request of General Conference to help lead our United Methodist Church forward during this time of both great crisis and great opportunity. As far as we can discover, this is the first time that a General Conference has ever made such a request of the Council of Bishops, and we accept this request with humility. We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord. Yesterday, our president shared the deep pain we feel. We have all prayed for months and continue to do so. We seek, in this kairos moment, a way forward for profound unity on human sexuality and other matters. This deep unity allows for a variety of expressions to coexist in one church. Within the Church, we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23.
We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God. We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviors, a new way of being, and new forms and structures, which allow a unity of our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” while allowing for differing expressions as a global church. Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we, your bishops, commit ourselves to lead this effort. We ask you, as a General Conference, to affirm your own commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church. We will coordinate this work with the various efforts already underway to develop global structures and a new General Book of Discipline for our church. Strengthening the unity of the church is a responsibility for all of us.
We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead the UMC in a “pause for prayer” — to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God’s will for the future. As a Council of Bishops, we will lead the church in every part of the world in times of worship, study, discernment, confession, and prayer for God’s guidance. We ask you, as a General Conference, to join us in this effort, beginning this week. We were moved by the sight of delegates praying around the table, and we hope these efforts will continue. As your bishops, we are ready to join you and to lead you in these times of prayer.
We have discussed in-depth the processes that might help our church heal and move forward — up to and including the possibility of a called General Conference in 2018 or 2019. We have not finalized our plans for such processes, but we will keep working on options we have heard from many of you, and we will keep reporting to this General Conference and to the whole church.
We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language that is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional, and global contexts. We will name such a commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and we will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an ongoing dialogue with this commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two- to three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)
We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another —including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church. Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1 – 2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.
So what can you do? During the conference, you can:
- READ and learn more about the issues at General Conference.
- CONNECT and participate in ongoing discussions through:
- SEE the members of the CTC delegation here.
- BOOKMARK and follow our CTC delegation’s news website.
- SPEAK UP through our CTC email address.
- PRAY for our delegation and denomination through a special General Conference Prayer Ministry.