Category Archives: United Methodist Connection

A Follow Up on the Way Forward

In response to the last post, I was asked: “Is this direction good or will be more division?” My answer is twofold, I think that in the long run, this will be a good direction, but in the short run, there will be more division. There is already a great deal of division, and we are already losing people on both sides of this debate. In my experience, those who want to uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible tend to leave loudly in anger, while those who want to be more affirming of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters tend to leave quietly with sadness. For this reason, to merely continue to hold onto the status quo is not really feasible. Something needs to be done, and the way forward that the bishops have chosen maintains the vital unity of the church (something for which King Jesus himself prayed).

We have been through this before. In 1844, the church split over the issue of slavery and was then reunited when, after the civil war, all the biblical citations that could be mustered in slavery’s defense become moot points. More recently, we argued about how closely we would adhere to Jesus’s strict teachings on divorce—I have a colleague who was encouraged to surrender custody of his child so that the churches he might be appointed to would not guess that he was divorced—but that is no longer a live issue. We all seem to have arrived at the understanding that regardless of Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12, divorce does not disqualify someone from full participation in the church. Until 1956, we disagreed over the ordination of women, with many citing 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their opposition to the practice, but, at present, I know of only one United Methodist who even questions it.

I give the examples above because they are reminders that we have had fierce arguments over divisive issues in the past, but a new consensus always eventually emerged. I think the same is true of the issue of homosexuality. This proposed way forward makes space for a new consensus to emerge.

A Way Forward: The One Church Plan

The Council of Bishops has met and endorsed “The One Church Plan.” According to the summary on umc.org:

To find a way forward on the denomination’s homosexuality debate, bishops are recommending the church allow more freedom at the conference and local church levels.

Under what the Council of Bishops calls the One Church Plan, decisions about whether to ordain LGBTQ clergy or to officiate at same-gender unions would be made closer to the congregational level.

The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so. [1]

Our understanding (Jenny’s and mine) is that if this plan is approved by General Conference (a big if) it would leave individual annual conferences to decide whether or not to ordain LGBT folk and individual congregations and pastors to decide whether or not marriages between same-sex couples would be performed in a local church. Bishop Saenz has a pastoral letter here: http://bit.ly/2jtP3qw.


[1] United Methodist Communications, “Bishops Propose Plan for Way Forward,” The United Methodist Church, May 04, 2018, accessed May 04, 2018, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/bishops-propose-plan-for-way-forward.

 

Judicial Council Rules on Gay Bishop

The Judicial Council (the United Methodist version of the Supreme Court) has ruled that the consecration of self-avowed practicing homosexual is contrary to church law. The ruling was long and complicated, but you can learn more about it here. You can also read the response of Great Plains Bishop Saenz here. I’m still processing, so I don’t yet have that much to add except that I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

Links: www.umc.org/news-and-media/consecration-of-gay-bishop-against-church-law and
www.greatplainsumc.org/newsdetail/bishop-saenz-issues-statement-on-judicial-council-ruling-8112539

The Council of Bishops on the Recent Shooting Deaths

One of the reasons, I’m thankful that the United Methodist Church has held onto the episcopal office of Bishop is for their ability to speak both to the church and on behalf of the church in times of crisis. Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement on behalf of the Council in the wake of shootings in the U.S. this week:

In the aftermath of violent deaths this week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Dallas, Texas, we speak to a nation that is overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair. These deaths have left our hearts and voices crying for justice. The preliminary evidence and the shocking video images are a convincing reminder that we have work to do. The deaths of young black males in encounters with white police officers call for the need of a bi-partisan political and legal response, beyond (but including) the statements and prayers of the church. The subsequent deaths of police officers remind us of the honorable service of the great majority of these public servants and the destructive cycle of violence and retribution.  We pray for each family in their  profound loss and grief.

We call upon the people of the United Methodist Church to enter into the challenge and complexity of this present moment.  We affirm that every person is created in the image of God.  We acknowledge our complicity in the sin of institutional racism, which denies the inherently sacred nature of every person.  We confess that we have often allowed our ideological differences to become more important than our unity in the One Body.  We repent of our temptation to live in fear of one another and to seek security apart from God.  We claim the essential need for all Christians of privilege to listen and seek deeper understanding when our brothers and sisters cry out for justice.  We commit ourselves to speak on behalf of those who are denied justice.  We support the difficult work of those in law enforcement and at the same time seek ways of moving toward better community engagement.  We pledge to address the problem of mass incarceration of young black males in our society. We recognize the temptation to become numb in the face of persistent mass violence, and we hear the call as disciples of Jesus to move beyond lovers of peace to become peacemakers.

Let us together pray that God will work through us to bear witness to Christ’s call to bring healing to a fractured community and a broken world.  When we cannot find the strength within ourselves,  may we turn to you, for we know you call us to love our neighbor.  Remind us O God that love casts out all fear.  Make us a people of transformational change, of reconciliation, of justice and instruments of your peace.  Even now and especially now – for we offer this prayer in the face of struggle, pain, tragedy and unrest, and yet with confidence in the power of your love – our God, our Redeemer, Healer, the prince of peace!  We pray in our own time for the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Zechariah on the first Advent, even as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” and claim the promise of the gospel:

By the tender mercy of our God
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:78-79)

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops
Issued on behalf of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church

Bishop Jones on the Tragedy in Orlando

Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Great Plains Conference issued the following statement Monday morning in response to the attack on people at a nightclub early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida.

As many of you know, a tragedy has befallen the community of Orlando, Florida, and, indeed, our entire country.

A gunman opened fire early Sunday morning inside a nightclub frequented by people in the LGBTQ community there. According to news reports, at least 49 people were killed and at least 53 people were wounded.

We are learning more details about the shooter, who himself was killed when he tried to engage police responding to the shootings. We are still learning more details about whether he had leanings toward terrorist organizations and why he targeted this particular establishment. But these things we do know for certain: Such violence can never be condoned, and all life is precious. And in this case, it appears people were targeted because of their sexual orientation.

News reports say that the people killed ranged in age from 20 to 50. These people were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, spouses, college students, professionals – people from all walks of life. They were gunned down in this latest example of senseless violence in our country.

As my colleague Bishop Ken Carter of Florida said, may we “announce God’s unconditional love for all people and God’s desire for nonviolence through Jesus Christ who is our peace.”

Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families. Pray for the recovery of those who were wounded both physically and emotionally. Pray for our nation that such violence would be prevented and that we never again have to face such tragedy.

General Conference Summary

This past Sunday, I told the gathered congregation that I could not provide a summary of General Conference because I was still processing it. It was good that I waited. The Council of Bishops has helpfully provided a summary for me:

To the people of The United Methodist Church:

The Council of Bishops brings you greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has called us to be servant leaders of the church. In 1812, Bishop Francis Asbury, Bishop William McKendree and General Conference Secretary Daniel Hitt sent the first letter to churches following General Conference. This letter seeks to revive that tradition. Many bishops will also be communicating individually with their own areas.

Hundreds of lay and clergy delegates from around the world gathered in Portland, Oregon, along with bishops and pastors, church members and staff, volunteers and visitors, to engage in Christian conferencing, to make decisions for our church’s future, to affirm our global connection, to worship and to celebrate God’s faithfulness.

We celebrated the success of our Imagine No Malaria initiative, which seeks to raise $75 million in the fight against malaria, a disease that takes the life of a child in Africa every two minutes. We celebrated our ecumenical partnerships as we move into full Communion with the Uniting Church in Sweden and toward full Communion with the Moravian church. We celebrated our heritage: the 250th anniversary of our oldest church, John Street United Methodist Church, the 200th anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the 150th anniversary of United Methodist women, the 25th anniversary of Africa University and others.

We continued in our acts of repentance with a presentation from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the Methodist involvement in the 1864 Sand Creek massacre. We shared in the consecration of deaconesses and home missioners and the commissioning of missionaries. We moved toward a global Book of Discipline and global Social Principles. We voted to add five new bishops in Africa after 2020, and approved a churchwide study on our ecclesiology.

The Episcopal address set the tone for the event, focusing on humility and lifting up our accomplishments. We heard from our laity an invitation to members to be more involved in making disciples and getting involved in ministries to bring the love of Christ to others. We heard our young people say they “are engaged in Christ’s journey with energy and love.” We also heard them say clearly that they do not want a divided church and urged us to “be in unity even if we do not have unanimity.” They give us hope for our future.

The body had difficult and challenging work before it as we acknowledged our differences over human sexuality. Amidst those differences, the delegates affirmed they want their bishops to lead and we found ourselves with an opportunity for a holy moment. We spoke candidly about what divides us and what our church might look like in the future if we dared to consider new possibilities. We offered a way forward, postponing decisions about sexuality matters and committing to having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.

Our differences do not keep us from being the body of Christ. They do not keep us from doing good in the world. They do not keep us from making a difference – and so we set forth bold new goals: to make a million new disciples of Jesus Christ; to engage 3 million new people to make a difference in the world; to transform 400 communities for vital abundant living; to reach a million children with lifesaving health interventions; and to double the number of vital congregations.

Most importantly, we affirmed our commitment to stay united. We proved that we are more than debates and divisions, more than rules and resolutions. We stood together as the body of Christ. As we reflect on our time in Portland, our prayer is for unity in the church for the advancement of our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

As John Wesley reminded us, “Best of all, God is with us.”

Signed on behalf of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council

Where the Church Stands on Homosexuality

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church reached an impasse over the church’s stance on homosexuality. The conference requested leadership from the Council of Bishops (the bishops are the executive branch, General Conference is the legislative branch, and thus they waited for the request rather than take action on their own). The bishops offered leadership, which was originally rejected but later adapted. In short all debate on LGBT+ issues was postponed and a study committee will be appointed to bring recommendations to the next General Conference in 2020 or to a special, called General Conference in 2018 or 2019.

Here’s the statement from the Council of Bishops: http://bit.ly/1W900fX

Here’s an article that details the process by which it was adopted: http://bit.ly/1OGbwYA

I really don’t have anything to add at the moment; I’m still sorting things out.