Today is that day after the end of the called session of the General Conference in St. Louis. It was a very painful conference. It was painful for those of us who are for full inclusion of all our brothers and sisters, including LGBTQ people. It was painful for those who are more traditional, but who believe in the concept of a big tent that allows the church to reach as many people as possible in as many places as possible. It was painful for our many LGBTQ United Methodists, their families, their friends, and their allies.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement taught three simple rules. These are called the General Rules:
Do no harm.
Do good of every possible sort.
Stay in love with God.
Do no harm. I am afraid that the General Conference broke this rule. Some of the speeches made in favor of the traditional plan were hurtful and harmful. The vote (53% to 47%) for the so-called Traditional Plan, which tries to put in place enhanced enforcement of church law (not the General Rules) sent a message people are receiving that does NOT represent who we are as a congregation — that there are some people who are not quite fully children of God.
I moved that the General Conference refer the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on its constitutionality. This motion passed. The Traditional Plan has already been declared largely unconstitutional, and it was passed mostly in the same form as before. The passage of this plan sent a harmful message.
Do good of every possible sort. What good was done at General Conference? I have combed through the past few days and I am having trouble finding a single instance where the conference really did good.
Stay in love with God. Maybe we did better here. We did worship together. We took communion together. We prayed together. We sang together. But love of God and love of brother and sister are bound up together. (1 John 4) I wonder whether we demonstrated love for one another and what that meant for our love of God.
As I have wrestled with and worked through the challenges and opportunities we face, I keep coming back to the words of Lesslie Newbegin, the evangelical theologian and Bishop of the Church of India. He noted that every organization or entity can be defined either by its boundaries or its center.
The church, he said, is sent to every nation, so it can never be bounded by local limits or national interests. But the church is defined by its center. As he puts it, “It is impossible to define exactly the boundaries of the church, and the attempt to do so always ends in an unevangelical legalism.
“But it is always possible and necessary to define the center. The church is its proper self, and is a sign of the kingdom, only insofar as it continually points men and women beyond itself to Jesus and invites them to conversion and commitment to him.” [Lesslie Newbigin, Sign of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), p. 68]
I am concerned that the United Methodist denomination, by its actions at General Conferences over the past forty years and particularly at this last General Conference, has fallen more and more “into an unevangelical legalism,” to use Lesslie Newbigin’s words. However, First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth has not and will not do so.
We continue to be defined by our center, who is Jesus Christ. If the Church is a circle with Christ at the center, then the closer we move to Christ, the closer we are drawn to one another. It is an open circle and all are invited and welcome to be a part of it.
I want you to know how blessed I am to serve with you in our church. I love you all and the kinds of diversity that make our community stronger and certainly more interesting as we share our different stories, perspectives, experiences, and opinions about a multitude of areas of our life together.
I love it that we are a UNITED Methodist Church — united in One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. We disagree sometimes, but we love one another. We may have heated discussions, but we serve the Lord together. What happened at General Conference doesn’t change our commitment to Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives. We will continue by God’s grace to “go out to be God’s people in the world.”
This Sunday, March 3, at 2:00 pm in the Sanctuary we will meet so that I can share with you what happened and didn’t happen at General Conference — and what that means for our church. I hope to see you then.
Grace and Peace,
Called General Conference Info Session
Sunday, March 3, 2019 | 2:00 – 3:00 pm | Sanctuary
A special called session of our General Conference met February 23 – 26 in St. Louis, Missouri to vote on A Way Forward from three plans proposed by The Commission On A Way Forward and recommended by the Council of Bishops regarding the paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality.
This Sunday, March 3 at 2:00 pm in the Sanctuary, Dr. Bruster will recap the work of this Conference and offer additional insight on its process, votes, and what it all means to our church and our denomination.
During the Called General Conference I was interviewed each day — on Day 1, prior to the beginning of the conference, at the end of Day 2, and at the conclusion of the Conference with CTC Bishop Mike Lowry. Below are these three videos if you’d like to follow the progression of the Conference more closely.