A Way Forward for the United Methodist Church:
Human Sexuality and the UMC
At the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, something quite unusual happened. The conference asked the Council of Bishops to lead in a new and different way to break a stalemate that has existed since 1972.
The General Conference (GC) is the only body that can speak for the United Methodist Church. The GC writes our church laws and policies, re-writing portions of our Book of Discipline every 4 years to keep the church relevant to our changing times. (Similarly, no individual has the authority to speak for the UMC.) The Council of Bishops share in the duties to preside at the sessions of the GC; they do not vote, and they do not (normally) make recommendations.
In the UMC, every member of a local church every clergy person, and every annual conference is permitted to submit a petition to the GC on any subject.
Since 1972, there has been a considerable amount of time spent at every GC debating our denomination's stance on issues of human sexuality since they receive a large number of petitions related to these issues every time they meet. At the 2016 GC, the bishops made a decision to make a statement of concern about this pattern which had developed over 44 years and which reveals a deep division in our family of faith.
Attached you will find several resources to provide you with information on what was decided by the 2016 General Conference as well as what has happened in the interim and what is coming in February, 2019. There is a lot of information available, and the links below are organized in what we hope will give you the overview of the facts and then the opportunity to dig deeper if you wish.
These materials were used for the RUMC Information Sessions:
Slides from RUMC presentation. This packet is made up of 1) slides to give participants a little background and context of how the UMC makes policy, 2) quotes and information taken from a presentation by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar to the Baltimore-Washington Conference on May 31, 2018, and 3) slides that accompany the video presentation (see link below) by Rev. Tom Berlin to the BWC on June 1, 2018. The slides include the notes that I used for the presentations so that you can "fill in the blanks" with what was said, not just look at the slides which are summaries and excerpts for the most part. Rev. Berlin's presentation offers a clear description of the plans developed by The Commission on a Way Forward. Click Here
Bishop Easterling's Statement provided at the end of the work of the Commission on the Way Forward. Her statement summarizes the Council of Bishop's recommendation to the General Conference. Click Here
- Paragraph 161.G from The Book of Discipline. The issues involved in this current processes are: Par. 161.G, Same Sex Marriage, and Ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexual persons. Click Here
- The bulk of the Information Session presentation is a video by Rev. Tom Berlin, the pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, and a member of the Commission on a Way Forward. Rev. Berlin offers some background on how people who are wrestling with a polarizing issue work together, how the Commission did it's work, and a clear description of what he calls the three "sketches" of how the church may move forward. He also talks a bit about the choices that the congregations will need to make following the decision to be made in February of 2019. If you can view the video and look at the slides at the same time, you will get the most out of the presentation. To view the video, click here.
- Though it is not ready yet, we have been collecting the questions raised at the Info Sessions and we will post an FAQ in the near future.
You may find the following materials of interest if you are struggling to understand more about how faithful, committed Christians find themselves on opposite sides scripturally and theologically when it comes to matters of human sexuality.
Rueben P. Job and Neil M. Alexander, Editors, Finding Our Way: Love and Law in the United Methodist Church
By Adam Hamilton:
- Seeing Gray in a Black and White World – Chapter 19, “Homosexuality at the Center”
- When Christians Get It Wrong – Chapter 5, “In Dealing with Homosexuality”
Resources on the Baltimore-Washington Conference website -- http://bit.ly/2lVRraL
Resources found at UMC.org -- http://bit.ly/2KVdERu
Finally, please hold our church -- RUMC and the global UMC -- in prayer during this time of discernment. Jesus prayed that "all may be one." In discussing how Christians didn't always agree, John Wesley said "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity." Pray for patience and that all of us may find in each other the image of God.