In part one, we looked at the events of the first week of General Conference, the conservative advances that were being made, and the secret meeting that brought the church to the point of asking the Council of Bishops to intervene. Today we will examine what the Conference did with the proposal and what it might ultimately mean for the future of United Methodism.
On the day the Conference was expected to vote on issues of sexuality, and seemed poised to strengthen the Biblical interpretation, the bishops instead offered a new proposal to delegates. It would set aside debate on sexual matters, form a commission to study the issue, and return in two or three years to a special General Conference to finally vote. After an incredibly confusing debate, this ultimately passed with a 23 vote majority, 428 for and 405 against. There were several questionable parliamentary maneuvers that kept that vote in place for the remainder of the conference. If you want the nuts and bolts synopsis of this process, here is a play by play. The end result was that all the hard work from the previous week ironically served to build the pressure that ultimately led to the creation of the bishops’ commission. The truth is that there is no way a negotiated settlement could have been worked out at General Conference, so a commission is really the only way we could move toward a permanent resolution of our division. If handled with integrity, the depth of our division will be clear, and steps can be taken to move us either back to a covenant-based unity or an amicable separation. If the Council of Bishops does not deal in good faith with the more conservative commission members, there will be major opposition from what has become the evangelical majority of the UMC.
Some Good News
During that second week of Conference, there were some very positive petitions that passed which did not deal with questions of sexuality. There was good news on the pro-life position, accountability for bishops, our relationship with Israel, women’s ministry, and changes for dealing with petitions in future General Conferences. For more detail on those positive developments, click here.
In the meantime, those who view changing the Book of Discipline as a justice issue continue to press their case. Since 2012, charges, trials and accountability have been in short supply. Some bishops have chosen to quietly resolve these issues under the cloak of secrecy and “just resolutions.” We have even had a retired UM Bishop perform two “gay marriages” with absolutely no repercussions. Some of the more radical bishops have been quietly moving conservatives out of their
pulpits and replacing them with younger, more theologically compatible clergy. At least four annual conferences have signaled that sexual preference will have no bearing in the ordination of pastors in their areas. Many pastors are now “outing” themselves and thousands of others have signaled they are in solidarity with them in an attempt to put pressure on the church. Groups like “Love Prevails” and RMN (Reconciling Ministries Network) are calling for more disruption and chaos in the future. There are even rumors that at least one of our Jurisdictional Conferences may elect and consecrate a bishop who is gay. I predict these acts of rebellion will only escalate with the tacit approval of a conflicted Council of Bishops.
We’re a united church in the same sense that two cats tied together at the tail are united.
What this all ultimately means is that the UMC is standing on the verge of something new. It is clear that the present course cannot be maintained. The conservative/progressive battle has created a crisis of identity. There are some who said we left Portland a united church. That’s true in the same sense that two cats tied together at the tail are united. The string that holds us together has grown perilously thin. We live together in the same house, but share little in common. In the end, this conflict is not about sexuality. That is merely the symptom of far more foundational differences in this broken church. We have different understandings of biblical truth, different beliefs about Christology, conflicting convictions of morality, and opposing views of mission and ministry. IT’S TIME to set one another free to pursue these very different roads.
There’s no way around it, it’s going to get messy. So what can the local churches do as all this works itself out?
- Be a lighthouse in your community. The world is deeply longing for the truth of the gospel. The local church has always been the best way to touch individual lives, and ultimately build the Kingdom of God. The fields are ripe; get to harvesting!
- Pray hard. There is a movement to pray for our UMC every Monday between now and the called General Conference. Search for “Pray UMC” on Facebook for a weekly guide to prayer. Meet with others each Monday and ask God to help us navigate these uncharted waters.
- Don’t run away. That is the first inclination when this level of conflict confronts us. I suspect that part of the strategy of the left is to act out in such outrageous ways that it will provoke those who are more conservative to leave. But I firmly believe there is going to be a strong, conservative, biblical Methodist fellowship that will spring from the ashes. Hang in there and see what God has planned for the future.
- Press for accountability. If you are in a conference where the Board of Ministry is opening the doors for the ordination of LGBTQIA persons, flood the bishop’s inbox with mail. Demand that the Book of Discipline be followed. Shine the light on the acts of rebellion. If pastors do not refrain from performing these same-sex marriages, file charges and push the bishops to deal with the issue. Make some noise. Some believe the bishops’ letter signaled a cessation of enforcement of our BOD with no charges or trials on LGBTQIA matters for at least two years. That moratorium comes as over 100 clergy taunt the church with revelations of their homosexual relationships. That should be unacceptable to the ones who pay the salaries of these bishops. I overheard one pastor in Portland say, “No charges, no trials, no accountability …no apportionments.” I’m not saying you should do that, but it might be a measure of last resort. After all, covenant is a two-way street.
- Inform others. The truth is that many of our laity have no idea how serious this division is. The silence has allowed the cancer to grow in the darkness. Don’t just tell them about the problems, but tell them there is hope for a new Methodism on the horizon. We will once again faithfully stand for the truth of God’s Word and call the world to holiness.
A Hope and a Future
I left Portland with more hope than I’ve had after any previous conference. I believe that after more than 40 years of fighting the same battles, the tide has turned, and that we will hold fast to the biblical principles and covenant that John Wesley established over 2 centuries ago. There is much hard work ahead of us, but we owe it to the generations that follow to stand for biblical truth until the end. I’m still standing. Will you join me?