Pastoral Letter on A Way Forward

5/8/2018

Editor’s note: Below is the pastoral letter issued by Bishop Frank J. Beard on May 8 following the Spring 2018 Council of Bishops’ meeting

Greetings in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ!

It is an honor to serve as your Bishop. My love and appreciation for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference (IGRC) family continues to increase and grow. I am especially thankful for the prayers, cards, calls, and other acts of kindnesses expressed during the recent loss of three of my siblings. Your support is priceless.

The Council of Bishops (COB) has just concluded our spring meeting. All of our meetings are bathed in prayer, dependent on the Holy Spirit, anchored in worship, and involve much open caring and honest in-depth conversations.

One of our ongoing churchwide conversations centered on The Way Forward report that was presented to the COB. I write to share with you the decisions that emerged from our gathering.

The COB has agreed to release our full report to the General Conference no later than July 8, 2018. The report is currently being edited, translated (into six different languages), and is under Judicial Review for compliance with our Book of Discipline. The entire report will be available to all after it has been properly prepared.

The COB and the Commission on a Way Forward sought to honor the 2016 General Conference's request to help our denomination to find a way forward on issues related to human sexuality.

The Council's discernment process was guided by the over-arching desire to strategically help the General Conference to move forward while recognizing and affirming that as United Methodists we hold a wide range of positions regarding issues of human sexuality. The COB is committed to the mission and vision of our denomination and are united around preserving the unity of our denomination for the sake of our global witness for Jesus Christ.

Our goals were:

  • To design a way for being the church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness.
  • To allow for as much contextual differentiation as possible, given our global realities.
  • To create as much unity as possible to achieve our stated mission.
Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the special session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:

All three plans for a way forward presented to the COB that was considered by the Commission.
1. The Traditionalist Plan
2. The One Church Plan
3. The Connectional Conference Plan
 
The Council's recommendation to the General Conference is The One Church Plan. While this plan will be singled out for primary consideration, the other two plans remain a possibility for adoption by the General Conference delegates.

In the spirit of transparency and full disclosure the COB will provide an historical narrative of the Council's discernment process regarding all three plans. We believe it is important to show folks how we arrived at our decision.

Rationale: In order to invite the church to go deeper into the journey the Council and Commission has been on, the Council makes all the information considered by the Commission and the Council of Bishops available to the delegates of the General Conference and acknowledges there is support for each of the three plans within the Council. The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans. The majority of the Council recommends The One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.

It is critically important to understand that three official actions are included in this one formal motion and rationale.

First, the Council of Bishops is forwarding three complete plans as part of its report to the General Conference: The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan. This means the General Conference will have all three plans in front of them for consideration, and has the right to adopt, reject or amend any of them.

Second, in a series of conversations and polls, the preference of the majority of active bishops on the Council was to recommend one plan to the General Conference and for that recommendation to be the One Church Plan. Not surprisingly, there was significant support for the other two Plans as well.

Third, the Council is going to share the full body of the Commission and Council's work with the delegates, so they will have the identical resources we used as they decide the best way forward for the United Methodist Church. 

Ultimately it is the General Conference - and not the Council of Bishops - that will chart the way forward for our Church next Feb. 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis.

I cannot begin to explain to you how complex this issue is given the global nature of our denomination and the changes that are taking place in our society and world.

The United Methodist Church operates in some contexts where it is against the law to even discuss issues related to human sexuality in public. There are contexts where religious persecutions are taking place and our Bishops that serve in those places could be subject to jail and confinement should the church adopt policies that are not in harmony with governmental laws and regulations. In other contexts, same gender rights have been affirmed by the laws of the land, and many feel the injustices of denominational limitations hinder pastors and churches from being able to fully engage in ministry to the LGBTQ community.

Our members hold a wide range of positions regarding human sexuality. Each member operates out of sincerely held beliefs and are convinced of the moral views they espouse.
 
Each can and have shared biblical, theological, and missional rationale for their beliefs. This issue is as complex as is our global community and the decisions we make must consider the broader needs of our global family.

I encourage us all to continue to operate in a spirit of collaboration, communication, and Christ-centered focus, recognizing that each of our views may stand in need of corrections. I do not believe that we should allow issues of human sexuality to divide or split our denomination.

A hurting, broken world needs the testimony and witness of the church's ability to remain united, anchored in Jesus Christ, despite the challenges we face.

I encourage us all to continue praying for our delegates as they prepare to wrestle with this crucial issue. I encourage our pastors to lead us with humility and with the same mind exhibited by the Lord Jesus Christ. I remind both lay and clergy leaders in the spirit of John Wesley's General Rules; Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.

The recommendation from the COB reflects our global complexities and offers a way forward that does not force or compel any church or person to adhere to a position that they do not choose to embrace. The plan offered recognizes that there is a wide range currently present among faithful United Methodists. This recommendation reflects the wide diversity of perspectives within the COB. We believe that the One Church Plan is our best way forward as a denomination. The General Conference will decide which of these options is our best hope for moving out of our current impasse.

Ultimately the decision on this matter lies with the 800+ clergy and lay delegates from around the world who will convene at the General Conference in St. Louis in February 23-26, 2019.

Between now and then, I will be working closely with our delegation as they discern where they believe the Holy Spirit is leading the church. I urge you to pray, daily, for me and for them, as well as all the delegates of the General Conference.

I love The United Methodist Church and am convinced that this issue need not divide us. I am convinced that we can live together, like family, and still have differences in our approaches regarding issues of human sexuality. I remain committed to the preaching and teaching of the Good News of the Gospel. I remain convinced that everyone needs a personal relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. I believe the United Methodist church is stronger and can accomplish more when we focus on those things that unite us; GRACE, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, FORGIVENESS, and our MISSION and MINISTRY to the World that God loves.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me at bishop@igrc.org .

God Bless,
Bishop Frank J. Beard