We United Methodists have challenging work to do as we distinguish between essentials and non-essentials and define what is important in our witness, what is indispensable in our mission, and how we’ll organize and govern our common life.
Following the debacle of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, a diverse coalition of United Methodists, shaped and animated by Methodism’s emphasis on God’s extravagant grace and committed to making the world more loving and just, declared an emphatic “no!” to the hurtful and punitive policies of the Traditional Plan.
Many who yearn for practices that assure the full participation of LGBTQ people in every aspect of leadership and ministry, as well as the removal of targeted prohibitions and penalties related to marriage and ordination, have formed alliances to elect sympathetic delegates and adopt clarifying resolutions at recent meetings of the U.S. annual conferences.
Looking Ahead to 2020
A number of annual conferences adopted resolutions calling for changes or the repeal of the Traditional Plan and pledging bold acts of resistance as they look ahead to the 2020 General Conference.
Our best estimate is that over 73% of U.S. delegates to the upcoming General Conference now embrace approaches contrary to the Traditional Plan. Accurate information about the likely voting preferences of delegates from the central conferences in Africa, Asia, and Europe will accumulate over the next months.
We don’t know if there will be sufficient changes in voting by these delegates to gain over 50% support and rescind actions taken in St. Louis. If not, the apparent chasm between the prevailing views in the U.S. annual conferences and some in other regions cries out for solutions that are more redeeming and faithful than narrow win/lose votes at the next General Conference.
As many have observed for decades, outcomes that hinge on such close votes hardly achieve our Wesleyan aspirations as the beloved community, and instead generate unhealthy wedges that alienate us from one another.
Moving Forward Together
From our inception in 2017, the Uniting Methodists movement has been steadfast in understanding our calling and reaffirming our commitments to seek and build a robust unity. What we mean by unity is not an uneasy organizational calm, but a dynamic life and witness that assures mercy and justice for all while making room for diversity of experience, conviction, and conscience.
We share with many the deep desire to turn much of our attention to missional witness for spiritual and social transformation enriched by Methodism’s graceful evangelistic witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, and persistent investment in “doing justice” in places far and wide around the world.
How do we move forward?
- We must fashion solutions to our brokenness and disputes that do as little harm as possible.
- We must continue to grapple together to fully discern God’s expectations and our response. There remain seemingly irreconcilable differences over core principles for how we interpret the Bible and shape social teaching, and we need a path forward that keeps faith with the “think and let think” character described in Our Doctrinal History (¶ 103, page 56 of The Book of Discipline).
- We must invest even more in the means of grace, including Christian conversation as we look for ways to join hands in mission, worship, and spiritual growth, with less dependence on legislation and rule-making to order our common life.
- We must work to rescind the provisions of the Traditional Plan at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis and remove from the Discipline the incompatibility language and prohibitions concerning LGBTQ ordination, celebration of marriage, and financial support for related educational ministries.
- We must shift more prerogatives, responsibility, and accountability for governance closer to each ministry context and depend less on the General Conference to set rules for a diverse and expansive global church. This requires establishing the basis for distinct governance through something similar to central conference structures in every region, including the United States.
What You Can Do
Uniting Methodists urge all United Methodists to:
- Continue to pray and study scripture;
- Participate in holy conversation – especially with others who see things differently;
- Plan with others ways to make your local church a welcoming and safe place, a center in your community for vital ministry that boldly assures room for all;
- Engage and learn about actions at your recent annual conference and potential for legislation at the 2020 General Conference;
- Identify participants in the coalition in your annual conference committed to and working for change, and join in their efforts;
- Contact the members of your annual conference’s delegation to the 2020 General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference, and ask how you can help; and
- Contact Uniting Methodists for the names of persons in your annual conference who are committed to making room for all.
Uniting as Methodists
Let’s all commit to reshaping and rebuilding our historic and vital United Methodist witness.
Let’s engage each other with prayerful humility and with commitment to “first do no harm” as we grow in love of God and neighbor and affirm with the psalmist: “I run the same path as your commandments because you give my heart insight” (Psalm 119:32 CEB).