Greetings and Blessings:
I feel compelled to set aside my planned message for this month’s Pastor’s Pen, because of recent events which have made the national news concerning the United Methodist Church. The last weekend in February, the worldwide United Methodist Church (UMC) held a special General Conference where delegates representing all of United Methodism gathered in St. Louis to discuss and vote on changes to our Book of Discipline (the UMC by-laws). Normally this conference happens every four years, but this was a special gathering to discuss only those matters surrounding human sexuality and specifically the church’s position on LGBTQ marriage and ordination into church leadership.
This meeting was the culmination of a 3-year process started in 2016. A group representing all different viewpoints and perspectives worked tirelessly to try and come up with “A Way Forward” that would allow our denomination to stay together despite deeply held conflicting views on the topic. This group, The Commission on A Way Forward, met on many occasions over a two-year period and came up with a plan with which an overwhelming majority of those involved could agree. The plan known as the “One Church Plan” had widespread support within the United States, but, as it turned out, little support worldwide.
On the very first day of the conference, the delegates from around the world rejected the “One Church Plan” by a 55% to 45% margin.. Instead, they began trying to fix an alternate plan called the “Traditional Plan” which was created by a small subgroup of the commission and lobbying groups. The Traditional Plan reinforces the idea that our LGBTQ friends are not welcome in our church, are not allowed to get married in our church, and are strictly forbidden from leadership positions. It adds severe punishments for clergy who disobey these rules.
In the last hour of the conference, the Traditional Plan was adopted by a vote of 438 (53.3%) to 384 (46.7%). There are large parts of the Traditional Plan that are likely to be ruled unconstitutional (per the United Methodist Constitution) by the Judicial Council, so it is likely that no new plan will actually take effect. This would still leave the current anti-LGBTQ language and rules in place. The implication of this vote is that the whole of United Methodism around the world clearly leans towards excluding our LGBTQ friends.
For now, however, nothing will change in our local church. We will still be the same inclusive, loving congregation that we were before this Special General Conference. Those in leadership in churches here in the United States, especially in the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, will be looking at many options going forward. Currently, there is a statement on their website that shows we are not alone in welcoming all into our UMC congregation. I will bring more information to you when it becomes available. Until then, continue to share God’s love in real and practical ways, continue to welcome all people into our church, and continue to pray that God’s message to love your neighbor as yourself will be in your heart, in our church, and throughout the world.