It is the day that many of us have been working and praying for, for a very long time: the Methodist Conference will vote today on the Marriage and Relationships Report, God in love unites us. The debate begins at 11:00 BST and can be followed at https://www.methodist.org.uk/conferencelive/.
What are we hoping for today? Firstly, that everyone in the debate today remembers that, whatever happens, we have to live with each other tomorrow. I am not troubled, as some seem to be, by strong emotions or passionate convictions about marriage or relationships. Afterall, Jesus calls us to love with ALL our heart. But we are also called to reveal the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, and I hope they are on display in the way that representatives express their commitments.
Secondly, we are hoping for a recognition of the diversity that exists in our Church, a reaffirmation of our desire for fellowship together, and an endorsement of the ‘Mixed Economy’ that retains our Connexion but respects our consciences. Whilst I understand the desire of some in our movement to want our Church to move completely and unequivocally to affirming LGBTQI+ relationships, including marriage, such a position would alienate a substantial number in our churches and would, in effect, be disingenuous. We are a diverse Church and need to become more comfortable with that reality.
We are praying for a positive endorsement of the Report’s recommendations as the first step in a process of adoption of marriages of same-sex couples. It will then go out to Districts for discussion and amendment and then return to the 2020 Conference for confirmation. Should all of that go ahead positively, our work will then turn to encouraging and equipping local Church Councils to register for same-sex marriages as soon as possible. That will involve more care-filled conversations and decisions at a local level with people, many of whom will not have read the Conference Report and may not have had any opportunity to discuss the outcome of today’s vote.
Today’s vote is critical, but it is not the end. Many good Conference Reports have been written in the past and gone unread and, by and large, unimplemented. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, will be to continue to promote inclusive justice for LGBTQI+ folk in our local churches and chapels. So, we call on everyone to pray today, and as you do, pray also to be the answer to your prayers:
God is the maker of all and it is in God that we and all people find our true dignity and worth.
We celebrate God’s radical diversity woven into the rich tapestry of creation. We will work and worship together with those who are like us and those who are not. We seek the strength never to be silent in the face of injustice. We will make space for others, even when it costs us much.
We join in God’s mission seeking a life of flourishing and faithfulness, wrestling with scripture and ever-open to the Gospel’s message of unending love. We rejoice in our Wesleyan tradition of transformation, justice and social holiness.
May we take just a step on this road today.
May we offer an open hand to each of our neighbours.
May we be a people of courage.
God of all, may it be so in our days.
God of justice, work through our lives.
God of love, transform our church and our world.