As you may be aware, there will be a special General Conference of the United Methodist Church held in St. Louis, MO on February 23rd-26th. The sole purpose of this meeting will be to discern the way forward for the UMC on the issue of inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Our denomination has wrestled with this matter since 1972, so the hope is that some resolutions can be agreed upon. Here is a brief summary of what has happened up to this point in preparation for the Conference. This is information that can be found in much greater detail on our Conference website (www.michiganumc.org/resources/a-way-forward/),
At the 2016 General Conference, a Commission on the Way Forward was established in order to formulate possible plans that could be adopted so that the UMC could address perhaps in new ways the inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Currently, there are restrictions in our Book of Discipline that forbid pastors from officiating at same-sex weddings (and for churches to host them), as well as for the ordination and licensing of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” as pastors. Over the last two years, the diverse group of persons who make up the Commission have met frequently and have subsequently come up with three possible ways forward for the denomination that will be considered and voted upon at the General Conference. Their full report can be accessed on the above website, but very briefly, these plans are:
The One Church Plan would remove the restrictive language from the Discipline and at the same time allow pastors and churches who wish to retain the restrictions to do so without penalty. While no official “church vote” would be needed, a church may desire to change its wedding policies. A majority of UM bishops are in support of this plan.
The Connectional Conference Plan would replace our current geographically-based Jurisdictional Conferences (we are in the North Central Jurisdiction) with three affinity-based conferences—Progressive (which would remove all restrictions), Unity (which would be similar to the One Church plan), and Traditional (which would retain the restrictions). Annual Conferences, local churches, pastors, and bishops would choose in which new Jurisdictional Conference to have membership.
The Traditionalist Plan would retain all restrictions as well as standardize the penalties for pastors who officiate at same-sex weddings. This plan would also offer a path for churches who desire to be more inclusive to exit the denomination. Exactly what this would look like has not yet been fully determined.
In addition to many anticipated motions to amend the above plans, there are also other plans that will be brought before the Conference from individuals and/or groups other than the Commission on the Way Forward. So in conclusion, there is no way to know exactly what the outcome of the Conference will be. In the meantime, I am encouraging all of us to be as informed as possible. There are detailed summaries of the three plans and a resource list on the table outside the sanctuary. This list includes two helpful books available for purchase in the church office—Is It Time: Helping Laity and Clergy Discuss Homosexuality One Question at a Time and Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church. This second book is designed as a four-week small group study. I would be happy to lead a group during February if there is sufficient interest, so watch for a sign-up opportunity in January.
In the meantime, I would urge you to pray! Pray for the four delegates from our Michigan Annual Conference who will represent us at the General Conference, and pray for our denomination that we might find a “way forward” in being the church into the future.