A response to the decisions made at the United Methodist Church General Conference Special Session, Feb 23-26 2019.
“IT was our aspiration that we would find a way forward beyond our impasse. That was to try to really listen to people and listen to their values and understand them as people, rather than issues. I will simply say we have work to do. We did not accomplish that.”
These words were spoken by Bishop Ken Carter, President of the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops, after the special session of the General Conference met in St Louis, Missouri from February 23-26 to attempt to find a way forward on the topics of same-sex marriage and the ordination and ministry of LGBTQ+ clergy.
Over four days, more than 800 delegates from the USA, Asia, Africa and Europe prayed and debated and voted on different plans, including the One Church Plan, recommended by the Council of Bishops, which would have enabled a mixed economy agreement across the UMC.
However, when it was time for voting, this plan was rejected and instead, more than 53 per cent of the delegates supported the Traditional Plan’ which reinforces the church’s bans on same gender unions and ‘self-avowed practicing’ gay clergy.
There has, understandably, been a huge reaction to this conference and to this vote.
You can read some responses here:
Bishop Karen Oliveto’s blog.
Dean Jan Love from Candler School of Theology on Candler’s official website.
Retired Bishop and Duke Divinity School lecturer Will Willimon in a guest post on the Christian Century website.
As a separate church, British Methodism is not directly affected by any decision of the UMC General Conference. However, the repercussions of this vote will reverberate around the Methodist world and may further polarise the debate around justice and inclusion for LGBTQ+ people.
Sam McBratney, Chair of Dignity and Worth, says:
‘It was heart-breaking to watch the scenes from St Louis as the votes were taken. Lots of LGBTQ+ United Methodists went into this meeting hopeful that a way forward could be found that allowed their church to embrace the diversity of theology and practice that exists.
This was not to be. Instead, we saw decisions taken that would increase the vulnerability and hurt felt by LGBTQ+ ministers and members and we could well see public trials and expulsions of LGBTQ+ people and their allies.
Our hope is that, when British Methodists see the profound damage done by this decision, it will spur us on to embrace our diversity and work for the kind of justice that seeks full inclusion and participation of LGBTQ+ folk in our church. We were reminded that, in the end, this is about people, not policies, relationships, not resolutions.”
What happens now? The United Methodist News Service (umnews.org) is well worth following on social media for updates. Journalist Heather Hahn writes: “Still uncertain is how much of the legislation will take effect – or whether it will change the dynamic in places where…United Methodists, including entire annual Conferences, openly defy these rules.”
The delegates in Missouri did agree that the Traditional Plan should be referred to the UMC’s Judicial Council to decide whether or not it is constitutional. The Council will meet on April 23rd in Illinois.
If the plan is declared unconstitutional, it will not be included in the Book of Discipline (the UMC’s policy book).
In June, the British Methodist Conference will be asked to vote on a set of proposals coming from the Marriage and Relationships Task Group, which will include same-sex marriage.
Caption for top photo: United Methodist Bishop Robert Hoshibata meets with protestors upset about the passage of the Traditional Plan, which affirms the UMC’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex weddings. The vote came on the last day of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS.