Marvin Family, February has arrived and the important Called General Conference for The United Methodist Church will be occurring this month. On Feb. 23 in St. Louis, Missouri, 864 delegates from around the world will gather to prayerfully discern a “way forward” for The Book of Discipline’s statements regarding marriage, sexuality and the ordination of homosexuals. Though the 17- month bi-partisan study group of laity and clergy called the “The Commission on the Way Forward” presented three plans for consideration and vote, there has been much work done over the past months to modify these plans, add additional plans for consideration and prepare for the called Conference. Renewal organizations and centrist groups have been busy promoting their ideal outcome while some have made contingency plans should the denomination find itself at an impasse that can only be relieved by a “gracious exit” of Annual Conferences or churches. In the midst of all this, the work of the church has continued.
Because of the nature of conference work and the changes that can occur once the formal work begins in St. Louis, it is difficult to predict with confidence the final outcome of the vote. Many believe that the church’s 50-year stance on sexual ethics and its current teaching on marriage, a monogamous covenant between a man and woman, will pass. This would be known as the Traditionalist Plan. Should this be the result, performing same-sex marriages in our church will continue to be in violation of our Discipline.
Should the One Church Plan, or some modification of it, pass, restricted language from the Discipline would be removed and conferences, churches and pastors would have the flexibility to reach out to their missional context in relation to human sexuality. Pastors and churches would not be required to perform same-sex marriages and Annual Conferences would determine their own ordination policies.
Though pragmatic, this plan changes the United Methodist’s official teaching on marriage and sexuality and blesses a practice that I personally believe is out of alignment with the teaching of Scripture. This plan also creates confusion in our denominational witness as churches within our connection would have diametrically opposite teachings and practices.
At a recent meeting with our Bishop and other Texas Conference clergy, the Bishop was asked if he thought that the vote would be “tabled” for a future General Conference to resolve. I thought that the Bishop’s answer was insightful as he replied, “There is no perfect plan out there that is yet to be discovered, a plan that will make everyone happy.” There will undoubtedly be people who will be happy while others may be disappointed regardless of the outcome of the Conference vote.
My prayer for you, our church and myself during these uncertain times is lifted from the Scriptures, 2 Timothy 4:5: “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” On Feb. 27, Jesus will still be Lord and we will know what the governing body of the greater church has decided on this important matter. Here is what Bishop Scott Jones has promised his churches:
On Feb. 27, the day after General Conference dismisses, a short video will be available on the Conference website stating what has occurred. It will be good to hear our Bishop’s understanding of things.
On March 2, the following Saturday, there will be greater analysis shared on the outcome with the opportunity to send questions by e-mail for immediate response.
As we wait and while the Conference is meeting, I call upon the church to be in prayer, study, respectful dialogue and to consider fasting. Special materials will be supplied to assist you, available on-line and at the church. As we lean into God during this time, let us remember that all people are of sacred worth, created in the image of God. May our thoughts and conversations be guided by Jesus’ command to “love one another.”