An important note about General Conference 2019
I will try to keep this short and simple. Many of you know about the special called General Conference that took place in St Louis. This was a crucial meeting to help settle/resolve United Methodist Church teaching and practice regarding same-sex weddings and ordaining persons in same-sex relationships. I have shared elsewhere a little about discussion and debate up to this point, about the Commission on a Way Forward, about the plans being considered, and the One Church Plan.
In a nutshell this issue has taken up a great deal of time, energy, and attention. United Methodists (at least in the United States) wanted to see this resolved, largely so we could get back to focusing on our primary mission. The district has asked clergy to say something to their churches, so people hear about this first not from national media but from their pastor, and to direct church members to reliable information.
Short version = The One Church Plan did not pass. A Modified Traditional Plan passed. The vote was close, 438-384.
Longer version = Rather than attempting to describe the four days of General Conference 2019 I would direct you to excellent reports by Chris Ritter at People Need Jesus website = https://peopleneedjesus.net/category/general-conference/. His final report is especially important and helpful = https://peopleneedjesus.net/2019/02/27/gc2019-update-5/. I was trying to follow on social media what was going on, by 5:30 p.m. there were tweets that the Traditional Plan had passed, people wondered “what does that mean? what happens next? what are the details?” The final report by Ritter fills in important details about the Modified Traditional Plan that passed.
Here are my notes on the Listening Session with Bishop Harvey regarding (1) the Commission on a Way Forward and (2) the three plans and especially (3) the One Church Plan.
The Commission on a Way Forward and the One Church Plan
As you are aware The United Methodist Church has for decades been involved in discussion and debate regarding sexuality (and by extension regarding marriage). It operates according to policies and procedures described in the Book of Discipline. Regarding same-sex relationships the Book of Discipline currently states:
G: We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching… (§161. II. The Nurturing Community)
Which basically means people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or queer (LGBTQ) are welcome to participate in the life of the church. However United Methodist pastors cannot conduct same-sex weddings. And persons who identify as LGBTQ cannot be ordained as elders or deacons. Some believe the statement/policy should continue and be enforced. Some believe it should be changed.
Every four years, the governing body of the UMC known as the General Conference gathers to evaluate our Book of Discipline and make changes if needed. At previous General Conference gatherings this subject has dominated discussion. Many feel the subject has hindered the effectiveness of the governing body. So at the last General Conference gathering in 2016 it was decided a special session would be held in February 2019 in an attempt to resolve the matter for the United Methodist Church.
The Council of Bishops commissioned a task force called “The Commission on a Way Forward”. It has spent two years trying to formulate a way forward that could adequately address the issue. Earlier this year this commission presented three possible plans to the Council of Bishops. My understanding is all three plans will be discussed and voted upon at the special session in 2019. I was present when Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey announced the Council of Bishops has endorsed what is called the One Church Plan.
A rough summary of the One Church Plan is that it allows:
- each individual Annual Conference (led by their Boards of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Executive Sessions) will determine whether persons involved in same-sex relationships may be certified, licensed, or ordained for service and leadership
- congregations will be able to decide their marriage policies and
- pastors will be able to determine whom they will marry.