Special Session of the General Conference 2019

To my brothers and sisters in Christ:  As we process the events of the General Conference, first let me say how much I appreciate the efforts you have made to understand the multiple viewpoints and concerns that were voiced at the conference.  It is hard to step out of the comfort zone of cherished and long-held beliefs, understandings, and traditions in order to better understand those who believe differently.  For your efforts, I thank you.

A colleague of mine (the Rev. Emily Cannon) wrote an excellent summary for her congregation, which I am basically copying below with just a few edits and additions.

“The One Church Plan (which would have permitted different regions to set their own policies on clergy in same-sex relationships, and would have allowed pastors/local churches to set their own policies on same-sex weddings) did not pass. It was defeated by 50 votes (of 822 votes cast).

The Modified Traditional Plan (MTP), which reaffirms the current ban on same-sex weddings/pastors in same-sex relationships but creates more stringent penalties for violations of church policy) was passed, by 46 votes.  However, much of this plan has been ruled unconstitutional, meaning that much of it is not permissible under the structure of the UMC. As a result, it has been referred to the Judicial Council for further review.  This review will happen at the next meeting of Judicial Council at the end of April.

The unconstitutional parts would have penalized Annual Conferences/churches/clergy that defy the current ban by ordaining gay pastors or conducting same-gender weddings. Although the plan doubles down on the exclusionary language, it is powerless to enforce that language because of its unconstitutionality.

One reason the UMC has been struggling so much with this issue is our global nature. While in the U.S. there is strong support for full inclusion of LGBT persons, more than 40% of our church membership (and thus more than 40% of the delegates at the conference) is outside of the US, primarily in Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia.  While there is great diversity among those delegates as there is among U.S. delegates, the reality is many of our delegates come from countries/cultures where homosexuality is culturally taboo or even illegal. It is difficult for many of them to discuss this topic at all.

We really don’t know what will happen next on the denominational level. There are a lot of different futures that could play out, some of which depend on what the Judicial Council ultimately decides. One conservative group (the Wesleyan Covenant Association, or WCA) is positioning itself to break off and form a new denomination, and a group from the Western Jurisdiction (which has many openly-gay pastors, as well as a married lesbian bishop) implied that they will be exploring possibilities that could lead to the creation of a new progressive denomination.”

So, the bottom line is that there is still much waiting and watching to do in the days ahead.  But, there is also great ministry to do.  As we wait, we will continue to do what Jesus has called us to do:  feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  We will continue to pray, worship, and learn together. The work of the Church continues, as we continue to be perfected in love by the Savior who desires that his followers will be one as he and the Father are one.

Grace and peace to you all.

~~ Pastor Carol