By Andy Adams
This morning, while most of you were in worship at one of your great churches, at General Conference we worshiped together then began our business, highlighted by the report from the 32 member Commission on the Way Forward. This commission was charged with the task of outlining options for ways forward for the United Methodist Church despite deep differences in approach to and belief about human sexuality. They were not a monolithic group by any means. They were, in fact, a diverse group of people – men and women, bishops and pastors and laity, theological conservatives and moderates and progressives, heterosexuals and members of the LGBTQIA community.
Before getting down to business, the group spent significant amount of time building relationships with one another despite their differences. The commission’s report included powerful testimony from Alice Williams, a layperson who identifies as LGBTQ+. She was deeply intimidated and initially wondered if she was “invited but not welcome.” She shared her heart that not only were LGBTQ+ voices heard, but she was loved and respected by the entire commission. What a great witness to the broader church.
Multiple prayers yesterday and today have emphasized a desire to love those who think differently than us. We’ve sung songs about needing one another. In fact, our General Conference delegation from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference agreed to such values at the beginning of our meetings and deliberations. We borrowed it from a document called “Hearts at Peace” that was affirmed by the delegates of our broader North Central Jurisdiction. I believe it captures the heart of love and a graceful way to handle difficult conversations. Let me share some excerpts from that “Heart of Peace” document (italics are mine for emphasis):
In affirmation of the values expressed in [Ephesians 4:2-6]
- We will have a heart of peace toward one another and will avoid objectifying or demonizing those with whom we disagree.
- We will come to General Conference in a spirit of discernment, trusting that if we allow the Holy Spirit to move, God will show us the way.
- We will be good stewards of our time and resist delaying our discernment process by excessive focus on the rules. We will honor the work of the Commission on the General Conference and the design of the called special session by working within the existing rules.
- We will work for the betterment of The United Methodist Church and the realization of its mission, especially as that mission is expressed in the ministries of local churches and of other connectional structures.
- We will honor the work of the COWF because we believe that the years of relationship building and discernment given to the Commission was a gift that we cannot replicate in the four days of the called session.
- And, we will honor the leadership and discernment of our Council of Bishops in the recognition that the delegates of General Conference 2016 specifically asked our bishops to lead.
We understand that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This statement is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.
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?
This afternoon will be telling, and I anticipate that once the results of legislative priorities are revealed, we will all hear a collective gasp and roughly 45% of our General Conference delegates will be tempted to cry, clench their fists and exchange their “heart at peace” for a “heart at war.” Will you join me in praying that whoever is disappointed after this afternoon, delegate or not, will participate in the values of peace, love and gentleness that the Commission on the Way Forward and our Illinois Great Rivers Conference has chosen to adopt?
Although there is a lot of work still to do, our Sunday afternoon prioritization of legislation may indicate the general will of the body. Please note that it is possible for people to vote for MULTIPLE plans and legislation as “high priority” – So, conceivably, some delegates could have voted “high priority” for ALL of the legislation below. The numbers below indicate the people who voted “high priority” for each piece of legislation or plan.
Remember, the rest of today and Monday we will work as a legislative committee to “perfect” each piece of legislation through amendments and substitutions, etc. We will then vote on each piece of legislation/plan and if that is passed by 50.01%, then it will be passed on to the plenary body (all of us) on Tuesday.
Also note, I haven’t reported the breakdown of several other pieces of legislation we voted on because each one would take significant time to explain. Let’s just say none of them were any better than the options below!
Pension Work (applies to ALL plans)
Pension legislation – 518/815 – 63.56%
Way Forward Plans
Traditional Plan – 459/826 – 55.57%
One Church Plan – 403/828 – 48.67%
Simple Plan – 153/819 – 18.68%
Connectional Conference Plan – 102/820 – 12.44%
Exit Plan (Taylor) – 412/823 – 50.06%
Exit Plan (Boyette) – 406/820 – 49.51%
Exit Plan (Ottjes) – 395/816 – 48.41%
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.
Furthermore, it seems like about 50% of the body favors considering an exit plan for churches who cannot, in good conscience, abide by whatever Way Forward plan we end Tuesday with.
I was encouraged that despite the magnitude of these revelations that nobody cheered and there weren’t any overly disruptive protests. It seems that at least for now, we are continuing to proceed with the work before us with grace and respect.