I sit here in mourning and confusion for my church. I don’t know what is happening in our future. The plan we passed still awaits a declaratory decision from the Judicial council. Many reconciling and LGBTQ+ persons and churches have shared that they may be leaving or at least continuing to work in ways that would go against the plan which was passed. We have to move forward, but many of us simply don’t know how.
As the numbers came on the screen, a stunned silence fell across the room. For a moment, it felt like time stopped. Like me, most people assumed the One Church Plan would at least make it out of the legislative committee for a vote on the Conference floor. It did not, although it will likely come before the body today as a minority report. The chair of the proceedings, Rev. Joe Harris (who did a phenomenal job all day and should be recommended for sainthood), quickly continued with the next item on the agenda, but most of the room were still reeling, trying to make sense of what this now means. In ways many did not foresee, the United Methodist Church took a historic turn in that moment. It could be called a tipping point. We discovered we are no longer an American denomination.
Words -- angry, smug or divisive -- don't honor God. Prayer, conversation, and the willingness to engage others with an empathy not inconsistent with personal conviction is the need of the hour for all 'sides.' Bringing people to Jesus remains the main thing. Remember that, church. And thank you for the privilege of serving as a delegate.
No matter how you feel after the results of General Conference, I pray that you not only take comfort in these truths but also let them challenge and convict you to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world that is still lost, lonely, hurting and in need of a savior.
Today has been extremely frustrating. I’ve again witnessed the reason why very little if anything happens at this level of the church. The majority will of the body can easily be ambushed by parliamentary procedure. In my opinion this has been an example of how easy it is to throw out our “hearts of peace” when “we don’t get our way.”
Before Tuesday begins, this simple Monday update.
We crossed some sort of line today but I have been struggling to put my finger on what this really is. The only comparison I have is a parent giving an instruction to their child and hearing for the first time the response, “Make me.” It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but neither will it be quite ever like it was before. The genie is out of the bottle. We are in uncharted relational territory.
Emotions obviously ran high. It was clear that this global body was not going to approve the Simple Plan, but there were very few speeches against the plan. In the end, the Simple Plan was voted down by a 60%-40% margin – an indicator to many that the vast majority who favored the One Church Plan saw it as a stepping stone to the more progressive Simple Plan. Still, no celebration. The hurt of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies was obvious. Even in the speeches against the Simple Plan, the speakers indicated that no harm was intended to anyone, but nonetheless it was felt. Again, there were no winners in any of these votes.
Tomorrow will settle aspects of the challenge but firmly settle nothing. Last year I wrote an article about how the General Conference WILL fail and CAN succeed. I am no prophet but the words are bearing fruit. I said it would fail to settle-resolve-firmly decide the issue of sexuality. The GC could not, cannot do this in four days or 40 days. The GC could have plowed the ground toward a gracious and mutually affirming spiritual mitosis (cell division) similar to the creation of the Salvation Army birthed from the Methodist Church in England, among many examples.
It seems the deeper issue in our long-running debate about human sexuality is agreement on what is essential to following Christ and what is merely an opinion. Perhaps our prayer during this General Conference should be for the Holy Spirit to reveal the root more clearly. It may be the only way the house will stand.
A simple question has been asked a lot by folks attending, voting, and watching General Conference proceedings today. What happened? I won’t break down petition by petition or plan by plan, but a whole lot of votes were cast, speeches were made, and hearts are hurting.
If the new leading plan passes on Tuesday and a new Progressive Methodism develops from self-governing conferences enabled under the Traditional Plan, I think we will remember this as the day that United Methodism became a global church rooted in historic orthodoxy rather than a Progressive American Mainline denomination. But it is too early to make that prediction.
Nothing is settled. I won’t speculate tonight on what might happen, for in 48 hours all will know.
I find the tenor of this highly charged General Conference extremely grace giving and kind thus far. But then again, we haven’t voted on anything of significance yet. That comes this afternoon when we vote on the priority of the legislation before us. How that vote goes will be the first indicator of the will of this worldwide body. Which of the main plans that the commission outlined will the body favor? Will the body favor discussing potential exit plans for churches that cannot, in good conscience, abide by the globally discerned direction of The United Methodist Church?
Apart from claims to the contrary, each plan, if enacted, would dramatically change the current landscape of United Methodism. Thankfully, the change at the local church level would likely happen slowly. Any decision made during this General Conference would not take effect until 2020 and the full impact on the mission and ministry of the church would not be realized for several years. The delegates’ challenge is to “play the movie forward” and imagine how their decisions this week will affect global United Methodism in 10 years.
My hope moving forward is that we honor and recognize the work of the Commission on the Way Forward in our discussions and in our actions. My hope is that we reach across aisles and speak plainly and intentionally to those with whom we may not agree. My hope, personally and openly, is that we acknowledge our family in Christ, including our LGBTQ+ siblings, who are hurting & feeling marginalized and asking love to prevail, to tell them that we see them, that their voices, our voices, are heard. Do not make them shout over protesters outside, but let their stories be shared in whispers to those who will listen & spoken softly as in prayer, to be lifted up to God as the beloved children they are. Help them claim the place at the table and acknowledge their stories matter.
Here’s my brief interpretation. It seems that by a slight margin (50 or so votes) the body seems to prefer the Traditional Plan over the Once Church Plan. Neither the Simple Plan nor the Connectional Conference Plan gained much traction. As a delegate at the 2016 General Conference, this is not surprising. Most of the delegates are the same from 2016 to 2019 and these vote differentials are about the same as we dealt with similar “Local Option” legislation then.
Today was a day of prayer and worship in preparation for General Conference proper. Here’s some good news and bad news from the day along with a brief discussion of what might be the most likely outcome to GC2019.
Saturday of GC19 began (for me) with a breakfast reflecting more traditional delegates and churches. Roughly 500 were present, perhaps double the number one found at a similar breakfast in Portland. Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia gave a rousing mini-message that set a positive tone. The official day of the conference was dedicated largely to prayer, highlighting the various global regions of the church in addition to prayer for the upcoming business of the conference. The final 2 hours prior to 6:30 adjournment was a briefing for delegates on the logistics of voting and process, which begins in earnest after Sunday worship.
For me, the evening ended with a delegation dinner. We shared stories with colleagues and their families. We talked about our experiences, what lies ahead, and where we may find ourselves when we leave St. Louis. While our delegation is not of one mind when it comes to plans and other legislation, we do recognize the importance of unity, that we come together and that, at the end of the day, we can look at one another and say, “You are my friend. You are my family in Christ and you are loved.”
In our day of prayer, I was ejected from that tunnel by the Holy Spirit. We spent segments of our day in prayer led by United Methodist bishops from all across the world. We prayed for the church in Europe and Eurasia, singing songs in Russian and Swedish. (By the way, did you know that “How Great Thou Art” was originally a Swedish hymn?) We were led in powerful prayer by representatives from Africa – the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Yes, we were also led by leaders from the United States but concluded our regional prayer-times with moving leadership from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Again, God’s Spirit reminded me of what I already knew. Roughly 45% of the 864 delegates to this General Conference are from outside the United States. In my attempt to remain open minded to all viewpoints, I realize now that I missed hearing from nearly HALF of our connection.
American Traditionalist delegates are guardedly optimistic this week about the defeat of the OCP, even as they dread the path it will take to get there. There is the feeling of stepping into an arena none of us chose. If either of the leading plans pass, a large percentage of delegates will leave emotionally distraught. All will step into an uncertain future. Passing the OCP will mean schism, but how much, how long, and how divisive? Passing the MTP will do one of two things. It might cause those defying the Discipline to take the gracious exit path built into the plan so they can give birth to a progressive Methodist Church with ongoing relationship to the UMC. More likely, however, it will ignite a year of defiance, delay, and legal challenges aimed toward a rematch at General Conference 2020.
Whatever plan we pass will change the United Methodist Church in some way. People may leave. People may mourn. And the body of Christ that is called United Methodist will not be the same, no matter what we decide here. Because if we look and act the exact same after this conference as we are now, arguing about interpretations of scripture while hiding behind screens or ink & paper, the definition of marriage versus a definition of love, and sneering across aisles at our siblings, our family in Christ, then we will have failed. No matter what, we need to be the church not just presently, but the day after GC 2019 closes. We need to continue to make disciples. Continue in our mission. How we go about that, what we will look like, at this point, no one can say.
Yep, by the end of the conference no doubt media and others will report how 'the sausage was made,' and no doubt some antics will deserve mention. But I can say this. We will have prayed over the sausage before we made it, while we made it, after we made it, and while we serve it. Jesus is Lord.