It has been nearly a month since the close of the Special Session of the General Conference (GC) of the UMC that was called to order in St. Louis, Missouri on February 23, 2019. This special session of General Conference was set in motion at the last General Conference in 2016 amid the growing concerns for the denomination’s future with respect to the matter of human sexuality and the life of ordained and laity. At the GC2016, the Council of Bishops authorized the formation of a commission to deal with the matter of church teachings on homosexuality and work to identify options to help the church stay together. The “Commission on a Way Forward” ultimately submitted three plan options (One Church Plan, Traditional Plan, Connectional Conference Plan, (separately a fourth Simple Plan was submitted by members of LGBTQ+ laity and clergy that would strike all of the harmful language dealing with homosexuality from the Book of Discipline (BOD) and allow for the ordination of self-avowed gay and lesbian individuals as practicing clergy and allowing for same-sex marriage).
Unfortunately, the delegates did little to find “a way forward” for the UMC at GC2019 to effectively address the matter of full inclusion of members of the LGBTQ+ community with respect to two primary issues:
1.) full-inclusion of homosexual persons to serve as ordained clergy within the UMC
2.) allowing same-sex persons to be married in the UMC.
In the end, the delegates of the Special Session of the General Conference came down on the side of “The Traditional Plan” which left the church’s Book of Discipline (BOD) in tacked, as published in 2016 with no changes made to the language of the BOD with respect to homosexuality as detailed in paragraph 304.3 Qualifications for Ordination. The Traditional Plan, a more conservative approach to addressing the matter of inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church essentially retained all of the policies with a vote of 438 “YES” (53%) and 384 “NO” (47%).
In short, the BOD and the policies and practices of the UMC with respect to lack of inclusion of homosexual persons in the ordained life of the church remained unchanged, and in fact, come January 2020, the UMC polity will become more stringent with serious penalties levied on clergy that perform same-sex marriage. (full year suspension without pay for clergy performing a same-sex marriage for a first offense, and full expulsion from the church for a second offense)
Words of encouragement from UMC: LGBTQIA people have not been banned by The United Methodist Church.
Church leadership is quick to point out that even though there remains condemning language in the Book of Discipline following the vote of the GC2019, the BOD still contains language that reads: “The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.”
Before the 2019 Special Session of General Conference closed, a motion was passed (405-395) to request a decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan’s legislative petitions. The bishops have requested a ruling on the constitutionality of the disaffiliation plan also. These issues will be addressed by the Judicial Council when the bishops gather in Evanston, Illinois, April 23-25, 2019.
Words have meaning.
To further illumine the language of the Book of Discipline and because it is specifically this language that has set the course of the UMC with respect to the inclusion (or better said, exclusion) of members LGTBQ+ community, I reference the thoughts and writings of Pastor Andy Bryan of Campbell United Methodist Church in Springfield, Missouri. Pastor Bryan provides a valuable perspective in his blog Enter the Rainbow. I invite the readers of this post to click on the link to Pastor Bryan’s blog for a thoughtful Scriptural interpretation of the position of the UMC and the power of what many consider to be words that have created a serious schism in the UMC.
Those harmful, insensitive and divisive words.
The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it to be incompatible with Christian teaching. UMC Book of Discipline, paragraph 304.3
As long as a door is open for full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons to live out their faith either as ordained clergy or as same-sex couples wishing to marry in the church, I’m all in. …that just may well be a new more inclusive Methodist church.
— Maurice “Moe” Parisien