A Way Forward


A way forward
General Conference 2016 of The United Methodist Church concluded without a holy war.  For all the drama predicted from a supposed schism, radical structural change envisioned by a new version of Plan UMC (it failed the Constitutional test again), an unsuccessful attempt at tenure episcopacy for U.S. bishops to a predicted raucous debate and protracted demonstrations on human sexuality, General Conference had its skirmishes but no war. 
Some have cited the Council of Bishop’s response as a reason why.  Here is what we asked: 
First, “defer all votes on human sexuality.”
Second, “refer the matter to a special commission named by the Council of Bishops (COB).” 
Third, ask the “special commission to submit their work to a special session of GC prior to the 2020 GC.” 
Why the COB offering brought forth a relative truce on schism, floor battles on human sexuality was a God thing.  What happened or didn’t happen was beyond all we could “imagine or think.” 
Folks who have read every jot and tittle of the COB proposal do have a matter interpretive discourse that our Disciplinary skirmishes remain in vogue.  For example, how does one interpret this sentence: “We (COB) will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another-including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.”  Which takes precedence? “ways to avoid complaints, trials and harm or upholding the Book of Discipline? 
Here’s the response guiding me during my 20 years as a Bishop.  Do your best to be as grace-filled leader.  If a complaint is filed, do not avoid it, deny it or make a public scene of it.  Administer the Disciplinary process of supervisory response and be committed to finding just resolutions.  If those processes do not work, follow the process still even if it leads to a Committee on Investigation that leads to a trial.
In my 20-year episcopacy, two complaints have resulted in trials.
On another note, the “way forward” leads to my last Annual Conference in the active episcopacy.  I look forward to wonderful worship, life-giving legislation, reports of the church in mission, snapshots of General Conference from our delegation, the memorial, retirement and ordination service, etc.  Finally, I am looking forward to completing the $1 million goal for Africa University. 
In our lifetime and beyond it, annually, eight students will receive scholarship for their education at Africa University when we raise $1 million dollars.  Be prepared to give what it takes to finish what we started.  I am.  Dr. Jim Salley, vice chancellor of Africa University, will make that appeal.  With God’s help and education, the abundant life for the “least of these” comes to fruition.
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton