By Bob Phillips
A more stimulating day, for the most part welcome. Opening worship included fine and rousing music (appreciated) and a homily by Bishop Sally Dyck that declared those who hold principled disagreement with her on issues of human sexuality as people without mercy (not appreciated). Thank you ma'am, may I have another?
The good news is that this was the first time any such one-sided or divisive comment sloshed over the crowd. Folks who may have deep disagreements over certain issues (not just sex or boycotting Israel) have been respectful and kind in modeling gracious conversations, so I have great hopes for a powerful witness to a world that expects and even hopes we knock heads in nasty ways.
Most of the day was spent by delegates in various committees sifting the hundreds of petitions that have come from individuals, churches, interest groups and whoever else. I have been impressed also (as a first and only timer at a GC) with the care taken to ensure all petitions are read, discussed and treated with seriousness and respect. If there is any dark conspiracy to game the system by stacking the deck in this or that committee with religious hacks, I have not seen it, and I am glad.
My sub-team from Higher Education and Ministry, 13 of us, unpacked a number of petitions relative to clergy issues. This included a bundle of petitions calling for the elimination of language in The Book of Discipline that forbids United Methodist clergy from conducting same-sex marriages. After extended discussion that was honest, crisp and respectful, 10 of the group voted to remove such language and authorize (but NOT compel) clergy who are comfortable with performing such ceremonies permission to do so. I joined the two African delegates on the sub-team in asking that no change be made. After the lopsided tally I could honestly thank the rest of the group for the quality and spirit of the conversations, even though I wound up much in the minority.
That and several similar petitions then went to the entire 80 member committee for discussion and vote. Every one of the petitions calling for this change was defeated by a clear majority.
That outcome surprised me, certainly at the committee level. The petitions still can be heard by the plenary, and at least some probably will be heard, which is fine. There was no language that denigrated or mocked anyone in the discussions, as Christian sharing was the model. Some people were surprised to learn the potential for horrendous and dangerous implications to African Methodists if certain actions were deemed acceptable by the denomination. And yes, some others from the US appealed for ways to minister more completely to gay and lesbian persons who seek church ministry.
Tomorrow begins with our delegation gathering for prayer at 7:30 a.m. and sessions that are slated to run until 9:30 p.m. Sunday the only scheduled item is a Pentecost Sunday service led by our African brothers and sisters, starting at 11:30 a.m. and ending...around 6 p.m.? Once the Spirit moves, get out of the way. In the meanwhile, please remain much in prayer for the people, the process and the issues as the discerning and deciding challenges continue for this branch of the church of Jesus.