For some time now we have been praying for the people preparing for a Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The purpose of this gathering is to be “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.” It will happen in St. Louis, Missouri on February 23-26 2019. This is an unprecedented event and its outcome has the potential to substantially change the structure of the United Methodist Denomination. Following our LGBTQ Dialog this winter, I thought it would be appropriate to share some background information so that we all might be better informed.
A Brief History
Since John Wesley founded our denomination, Methodists have always been governed by our Book of Discipline, a document that is rewritten every four years by our General Conference (a gathering of equal numbers of representative clergy and laity from around the world and the only body that can speak for the denomination). It contains our Constitution, doctrine, polity, and Social Principles.
In 1968 the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Four years later language was added to the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality. We have debated this language ever since. Realizing that, after more than 40 years, General Conference 2016 was no closer to agreement on the subject, they did not debate the numerous diametrical petitions on the docket regarding homosexuality. Instead they turned to our Council of Bishops and gave them permission to name a special commission (the Commission on a Way Forward) that would completely examine and possibly recommend to the bishops revisions of every paragraph in the Book of Disciple related to human sexuality. The Commission would represent the different regions of our denomination from around the world as well as the varied perspectives of the church and ended up with 32 members. To see their most current work, go to:
http://www.umc.org/news-and -media/bishops- see-progress-in-unity-effort -but -offer few-details
Over the years, the language in our Discipline has been amended but never removed or edited to please everyone. To read a brief background and the actual wording of our Discipline, you may go to the following two web pages:
http://www.umc.org/what -we-believe/human- sexuality-backgrounder
http://www.umc.org/what we-believe/what -isthedenominations- position-on-homosexuality
In February we held a two week LGBTQ Dialog. Ten people participated in this event which covered the history, the Discipline wording, and the theology of both conservative and liberal Christians (if you would like a copy of the information shared regarding biblical interpretation, please let me know). We also watched a video dialog modeling a thoughtful and respectful sharing of perspectives. The gathering was a time of learning, questioning and sharing and we discovered that we are, like our denomination, not all of one mind. We did, however, discover that we could talk lovingly. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, we will offer other opportunities in the months to come.