Dear Sisters and Brothers of the South District,
We are all most likely aware of the famous quote by Mark Twain in his later years, when rumors began that he was on his death bed. The well-known response by this great humorist was, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Now that the Special Session of the General Conference has come to an end, it seems many hearts feel the demise of the United Methodist Church is at hand. I would join with Mark Twain and say this is an “exaggeration.”
First the facts: In a nutshell, the Special Session did vote to pass a “Traditional Plan” in which prohibitions against homosexuality as listed in the current Book of Discipline were maintained, and in fact, accountability for the rules of the Book of Discipline were increased. However, this same plan is viewed mostly unconstitutional according to the United Methodist Constitution. In addition, a petition on how churches may exit the UMC was also passed. In the final moments of the Special Session, there was a successful motion to refer these decisions to the Judicial Council for rulings as to whether the work done at the Special Session is constitutional. The Judicial Council will meet this coming April and could rule the work of the Special Session moot, due to unconstitutionality of the legislation passed.
In some ways, I would assert that not much was truly “decided” at the Special Session, but some things were certainly “clarified.” As a denomination, we have not achieved a decision which is binding and defines us all. At the same time, we have clarified the deep divide that exists between us on this issue.
Now more than ever, I am clear that the church I was born into as a child, and called to serve as an ordained clergy, is a church of great diversity, united in God’s all-inclusive, grace-filled love. I believe this is the core of who we are as the body of Christ called United Methodists. It is this all-inclusive love — this unwarranted Grace of God — that can work through the instrument of the church that is the hope for the world. The church that I serve as a disciple, and lead as a clergy member, grieves with pain too great for words because part of the body seeks to divide us by excluding our sisters and brothers based on sexual orientation or gender identification. To my traditionalist sisters and brothers with whom I have shared decades of ministry and love dearly, on this issue our course for the future ministry must now diverge. So what, then, is our response to this situation?
I know, and to some extent understand, that many in our LGBTQIA community and those of us who support them will see this as the time to disavow the United Methodist Church. For me, I am not done yet. I believe many options will present themselves as the dust settles. Some would suggest intentional steps toward “secession” from the United Methodist Church to create a “new” denomination. Others feel we should continue to live in “disobedience” to the written law in the Book of Discipline while retaining our membership in the denomination. Still others would continue to work for some compromise that would allow the “amicable divorce” within the denomination to create two new church families. As soon as the Bishop and Cal-Pac delegates to the Special Session of General Conference return home, we will gather to consider the options to which we feel God is calling us.
As for me, I need a change. I need it clear and I need it soon. But, I will remain to work for it. I affirm the statement made by the Western Jurisdiction Leadership of the United Methodist Church which can be found in its entirety here.
In the days ahead, I encourage you to hold each other and our church in prayer. As a district, we will post the times and places where debriefing gatherings and Q&A sessions will be held to help us discern where we go from here. In addition, I remind you that there will be a worship service this coming Sunday, March 3, at 6:00 p.m., at the First UMC of Pasadena where Bishop Grant Hagiya will preach and give perspective and direction. Details for attending via livestream will be released soon here.
“I See a New Church” is the theme of this coming Annual Conference, June 13-15 at the University of Redlands. I truly believe it was the guidance of the Holy Spirit that set that theme long before the Special Session of General Conference convened. Together, let us make it so.