At the last General Conference, held in 2016, the United Methodist Church as a whole was headed towards a messy division over the matter of human sexuality. The General Conference was deeply divided over how to respond to inclusion of LGTBQ persons and particularly how to address the matter of same sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals. These have been contentious issues since 1972 and it has been increasingly difficult to find unity and agreement across the denomination.
At the last General Conference, division was averted at the last moment with the establishment of a commission that would study the issues and recommend structural changes to be considered by the General Conference at a special session to be held in February 2019. This commission (known as “The Commission on the Way Forward”) presented its report to the Council of Bishops this month and the Council voted to recommend one of these plans, called the “One Church Plan” to the General Conference. You can read our own bishop’s letter on the Commission and the Council’s recommendation (http://www.bwcumc.org/news-and-views/bishop-easterlings-statement-on-a-way-forward/) You can read more about the Commission at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward. No matter what the General Conference decides to do with the recommendation, the United Methodist Church will undergo significant change.
I remember well my professor of Christian Ethics pointed out that deep conflicts usually do not come about because some people are right and others are wrong. Deep conflicts come about when there are values and principles that at odds with one another and people have to choose one sort of good over another.
Here are the issues that we are facing:
- How do we treat people with love even if when those people practice behaviors that some might find objectionable or contrary to their understanding of scripture?
- Does our reading of scripture lead us to treat some people differently than others?
- Does our own sense of who is God requires give me the right to judge others?
Again and again, I find that gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace and mercy and compassion that comes from God and we are to share with one another. I rely upon that grace, for I know I desperately need it. I have also come to see that the United Methodist Church that I have known and loved and served for more than 30 years is not the most important thing in my life. As a human institution, it always stands in need of reform and greater faithfulness so that it might be more of the body of Christ God.
With regard to these particular matters, there does not seem to be a way to heal the present division or avoid some sort of schism. Any plan that will be adopted with mean that some people will be disappointed and disagree with the decision. Each annual conference and local congregation will need to make decisions about the practice of connectionalism and inclusion. It will get messy, I am sure. And through it all, I will be doing my best to serve as pastor to everyone who calls Calvary United Methodist Church home. We will pray and study, speak and listen and practice showing charity and love to one another, even those with whom we disagree. I would hope that we would all be able to show the world we are Christians by our love rather than by hate or prejudice.
Grace and peace,