A Way Forward
For several decades the UMC has been at an impasse when it comes to the issue of full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church. Over the last 40 years, conservative, progressive and moderate voices and groups have all put forth proposals at the Annual & General Conference levels to help us find common ground and resolve our different theological and cultural understandings (with little success), particularly around the issues of the ordination of LGBTQ individuals and clergy officiating at or participating in same-sex unions.
At the 2016 General Conference, the Commission on a Way Forward was created for the express purpose of helping the Council of Bishops to develop a path (or multiple paths) that would help us to move beyond this stalemate so that our best energies can be used to make disciples for the transformation of the world (the mission statement of the UMC). The 32-member Commission, which was intentionally formed to represent diverse viewpoints, global and regional contexts and both clergy and lay perspectives, developed three models for the future structure/mission/polity of the UMC and ultimately presented two of them to the Council of Bishops. The Council of Bishops, has in turn, endorsed one of these models (the “One Church” plan) but will send forward the other two (the “Traditional” & “Connectional Conference” plans) to the 2019 General Conference for informational purposes.
Bishop Easterling’s Response
Here is BWC Bishop Latrelle Easterling’s pastoral letter which provides a good summary of this process and what the Bishop’s are proposing. She does an excellent job of describing the three different models developed by the Commission on a Way Forward and the way the Bishops have been working together to come to consensus.
Staying in the Loop at SPUMC
We held four information forums back in June with our pastors to discuss the UMC Council of Bishops’ report of the Commission on a Way Forward. They offered an historical snapshot of the tensions in the UMC around issues of LGBTQ inclusion and also an outline of the process that leads up to the 2019 Special General Conference. Here are the information sheets that we distributed for those gatherings.
In the coming months we will be offering additional forums for discussion and small group studies to help us understand and explore the issues that are before our denomination. We will continue to build a resource section on our website to provide articles, books and links to help us all stay in the loop on a local level about proposals that potentially could change the shape of our global church.
Resources to Help You Understand this Issue
We are distributing a basic information sheet at our Sunday forums in June that provide an overview of the issues and processes facing our church. You can get yours here.
One of the best resources that will provide you with an overview of the issues that are under discussion is a presentation from the 2018 Baltimore-Washington Conference by Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC and a member of the Commission on a Way Forward. Click the link to view this informative and helpful video which is just under an hour: Tom Berlin at BWC Conference.
Rev. Berlin also has developed a shorter video that you may find helpful in getting the thumbnail “big picture” of why faithful people of good conscience within the UMC find themselves at odds with one another: Tom Berlin Sugar Packets.
Another good website for resources is a group that Rev. Ron belongs to a group called Uniting Methodists which offers a collection of essays and videos from pastors, theologians and laypeople from across a theological spectrum about what is at stake in the UMC: Uniting Methodists Website.
Cokesbury has published and carries an array of books (some of which we will be using here) if you want to read more about the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in the church. Some are written for group study and they encompass a wide range of theological views and biblical understandings. Faultlines is a specific suite of resources developed in anticipation of the 2019 General Conference: Faultlines PDF & Cokesbury Resources on LGBTQ Inclusion in the Church.
Our Baltimore Washington Conference Website is a great resource for continuing coverage of this issue in the broader church and good place to return to regularly for news and updates. They recently posted the full report of The Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishop’s Response: BWC Website.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
In April of this year, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the United Methodist Church which involved the coming together of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church in 1968. What will be the shape and structure of our church moving forward is very much on the table right now and hard to predict. Will we find a way to continue to be United Methodists? I hope and pray so.