This is a primer intended for the members of Deer Park UMC. It is meant to answer basic questions leading up to the Bishop’s livestream on May 12 and our Community Conversation on May 13. All facts are represented to the best of my knowledge and ability and the impressions are my own.
For the last 2 years (and about 46 years before that) the United Methodist Church has been engaged in a heated conversation about the nature of scripture, especially as it pertains to human sexuality. That means a lot of things theologically. Practically, it means there are roughly three segments of our denomination who do not fully agree on the place of LGBTQ+ in our congregations, whether we sanction their marriages, or if they can be ordained for service to the Church.
In 2016, our worldwide legislative body, the General Conference, came to an impasse and requested the Bishops provide insight into how we ought to resolve the crisis. They proposed a commission to meet, formulate options, and offer observations; from these, the Council of Bishops would make a recommendation to a special session of General Conference. This plan was accepted and The Commission on the Way Forward began its work. (on their website you can see interim reports and other writings from delegates).
In March/April, the Commission concluded its work and sent a report to the Council of Bishops, which the COB took up at its April/May meeting. Last week the COB released the outline of its recommendation, with a detailed report and legislation to follow before the 8th of July. You can read their full statement here.
As it stands now, the General Conference will consider three plans of moving forward. The best succinct explanation I have seen of these was from Bishop Laurie’s pastoral letter of May 5:
- The Traditionalist Plan, which would retain the current disciplinary language around homosexuality* and provide accountability.
- The One Church Plan, which would allow churches to contextualize language and practice around sexuality in support of witness and mission. The current prohibitive language in the Discipline around same-sex marriage and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals would be removed. Local churches could decide whether or not to host same-sex weddings, and clergy could choose whether or not to officiate at same-sex weddings. Central Conferences in other parts of the world would continue to be able to adapt the Book of Discipline to their context.
- The Connectional Conference Plan, where local churches and clergy could decide to join traditional, centrist, or progressive “connectional conferences” that would be formed according to theological conviction.
The Bishops recommended the One Church Plan. We will not have full details on what any of these plans look like until the final report and legislation come out this summer. All of these plans would mean some level of change, at least for Conferences in the US.
Our Bishop, Scott Jones, will host a live webcast with two members of the Commission on the Way Forward on Saturday at 10am. It can be viewed on the TXCUMC website or youtube channel. Our conversation on Sunday will center around answering questions on what we know, what the bishop has to say and the process going forward.
I urge you to join me in praying daily for our church, our denomination and our leaders in this season of discernment. If you have questions and are not able to attend on Sunday, please email or give me a call.
Grace and peace,
*All Discipline language on homosexuality can be found on the UMC website.