A Way Forward
Friends and Family in Christ,
While vital expressions of mission are happening here at Central UMC and in the World-Wide United Methodist Church, major changes are coming to our denomination. For decades United Methodists have disagreed regarding the acceptance and inclusion of gay persons in the United Methodist Church. Since 1972 our Book of Discipline has included the statement: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Later, restrictions were placed on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” being ordained or appointed to ministries, and clergy were prohibited from officiating at same sex unions or conducting them in United Methodist churches.
The disagreements on these issues come down to differences in how we interpret the bible. Faithful people stand on both sides of this issue, but differ on what scripture, reason, tradition and experience say to us. Many want to hold to the language of our Discipline and many others want change that will allow full inclusion and acceptance of gay persons in the UMC.
Over the decades legislation has been brought to church conferences advocating for changes. And while debates have intensified, no solutions have ever come. This reached a high point at the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church (the world- wide decision making body of our denomination). There delegates asked the Bishops to help with the impasse. In response the Council of Bishops formed a commission, A Way Forward, to help move us past our standoff around inclusion of LGBTQ persons. The commission has the task of advising the bishops on possible ways through the impasse. The bishops will use that advice in determining what it submits to a special General Conference called for May 2019. As of today A Way Forward has submitted its work to the Bishops. The Bishops will meet this month and in May when their report will be adopted. This report will then be shared with the church in the summer of 2018.
Why this Matters
This debate is personal and too painful to continue as we have. It is especially painful to gay United Methodists who are treated as an “issue” to be dealt with. Few United Methodists are content with the current state of the church on this matter. It is time to move forward.
Here is what A Way Forward may look like (see linked article).
The Traditionalist Model
This possibility would affirm current church restrictions related to LGBTQ individuals and aim to add more accountability for enforcement of those restrictions.
The Centrist Model
This possibility would remove the Book of Discipline's restrictive language and allow more freedom for United Methodists to set policies around LGBTQ inclusion, according to their own contexts. Conferences individually could choose whether to ordain openly gay clergy, and local congregations could decide whether to allow same-gender weddings.
The Multi-branch Model
This possibility would create multiple branches of the denomination. The branches would share one General Conference, which would have responsibility for overseeing shared services such as certain general agency functions. Under this denominational roof, there could be a branch that wants to maintain the current Book of Discipline’s language, a branch that favors a more local approach and a branch that wants full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in all parts of their fellowship.
All three models would come with a way for churches to exit the denomination.
My hope is that some form of Centrist Model could emerge that would allow us to stay together in mission. Many questions still exist and, as with any relationship, the deeper the difficulties the more complex are the answers.
Because I want Central Church to be aware of this and its impact, we are hosting a “State of the Church” gathering on Wednesday evening, April 4th, following the Wonderful Wednesday Meal. On the front end of this meeting we’ll spend a brief time celebrating the vital ministry that is happening here at Central Church. Following that, Pastor Chris and I will share the above information with more detail and allow time for discussion, questions and answers. I hope you will attend. If you can’t attend, we plan to post the meeting on Facebook and at our website.
I remain hope-filled about the future of the UMC and Central Church. For 234 years Methodists have proclaimed and lived-out the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our spirit of openness and outreach to all people will continue to be heart and soul of our mission.
Please pray with me for our church using this prayer offered by our Bishop David Bard:
Gracious God, there is much still to be decided as The United Methodist Church moves into the future. Even in the unknown, even where there is chaos and confusion, remind us again and again of the power of your love which ripples through history changing lives, transforming the world, and creating new possibilities for kindness, compassion, caring, and connection. May these ripples of your love and grace flow freely out from us. May these ripples of your love and grace flow deeply into us. Enlarge our hearts. Enliven our minds. Expand our imaginations. Make gentle and generous our spirits. In Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.
On the Journey with You,
Below you’ll find resources for reading and discussion:
Latest Update on A Way Forward
February 12, 2018
The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.
Faithful United Methodist Christians who love God and follow Jesus hold differing views concerning same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. Despite our differences, we have learned to live together and to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, affirming the same historic creeds, attending the same churches, Sunday school classes and Bible studies, and participating side by side in mission and ministry. We are bound together in a Wesleyan understanding of God’s love and grace.
Letter from Bishop David Bard “Praying Our Way Forward” in this time of important decision making.
Living into our shared baptismal covenant, Reconciling Ministries Network equips and mobilizes United Methodists to resist evil, injustice, and oppression as we seek justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Methodist Federation for Social Action
The Conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association