General Conference 2019:
From February 23rd – 26th, the United Methodist Church’s central law making body met in St. Louis. The purpose of this special session was to consider our stance on the marriage and ordination of LGBTQIA persons. Below is a summary of their actions, links to other commentary, and Pastor Rennie’s response from his observations while in attendance.
Summary of Actions:
The General Conference gathered on Sat. Feb. 23rd for a day of prayer and preparation. Several bishops led the 864 delegates in a time of worship and celebration of the common ministries of our church throughout the world. On Sunday, the body turned its attention to the work before it. The day began with a powerful worship service and moving sermon by Bishop Ken Carter, president of the council of bishops. Next, the Commission on a Way Forward presented its work. They recommended the One Church Plan to the body. Following lunch, the delegates began the process of defining the scope of their work and prioritizing the petitions before them. Monday began with a brief time of song and prayer followed by a legislative session to amend and assess which petitions they would consider as a body. This work took the day and was full of debate. Many petitions were not considered and others were voted down including the One Church Plan. On Tuesday, the delegates continued to work on those petitions they had deemed essential for this meeting. The petitions included: Wespath (retirement benefits) legislation for exiting churches, the Traditional Plan, and an exit path for churches that decided to leave the denomination. The debate intensified as the conversation turned to the Traditional Plan, which eventually was amended and passed 438-384. However, much of this plan was ruled unconstitutional despite efforts to amend it. Finally, the exit path previously ruled unconstitutional was amended but may not be upheld even with the new language. In the end, much is still left to be decided and many are left feeling deeply hurt or at least disappointed and frustrated. No legislation passed will take effect before Jan. 1, 2020, should it be upheld.
The following article gives a fair overview of what happened and next steps: UM News Article
Dear Friends, Brothers & Sisters in Christ, and Others,
I have struggled with finding the right words to express my experience and heart around the actions of our General Conference. Maybe there are none. While I have read the thoughts of many, my own thoughts, feelings, and spirit continue to be perplexed and complicated. What I have so far expressed is my own disappointment and heartbreak at just how divided we are within the body of Christ. I am indeed angry that our global church cannot seem to hear one another in love, nor speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. And neither can I. Essentially, we seem to be having our Babel moment and the center is human sexuality. So, I offer these words from my frailty and uncertainty but with hopeful faith in the work of God.
Sadly, pain is the place where I must begin. Many are in pain these days following the decisions of the General Conference. Our LGBTQIA family, friends, neighbors, and siblings in Christ are especially in pain. They have long watched and waited for the church they love so dearly to love and celebrate them. They have willingly stayed in fellowship with many who denigrate them. And in this, they are a bold witness to the love of Christ Jesus. The wounds we have here inflicted make no progress toward deeper relationships between disagreeing parties. Rather, we have codified our ability to keep them at arm’s length. This is not the way of Christ. Thus, I believe our first response must be one of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. We must confess our own sins of marginalizing and de-humanizing those we disagree with. We must work for reconciliation by faithful relationships built on genuine desire to learn and be changed by God’s spirit. And we must forgive the failure of those within the church to truly inhabit Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Healing is hard work, but we must start here.
As part of this work, patience is our next order. No, I am not calling on us or those most harmed to simply sit down and be silent until minds and hearts are changed. We must be steadfast in our commitment and work for God’s kingdom come on earth. I hope that at least on the local level and in our congregation, we may continue to do this together. Like the global UM church, we are not of one mind on this and many other points. But perhaps we can be of one mind on the saving work and gracious love of Christ for us all. In this, we can and will continue to welcome all persons to be part of our congregation. We will celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to each one through Christ Jesus. We will continue to “live and share real faith with ALL people.” And, we will not stop, cower, or shrink from our resolve that God is faithful and will guide and show us how we can best serve the world through serving the people next to, among and around us. The work goes on, because God goes before us and with us. The new day will dawn.
Finally, we must continue the conversation. This is not settled. It is not settled in our denomination. It is not settled in the church. It is not settled in the world. And most of all, it is not settled in us. We may have strong opinions. They may be rooted in scripture and the Holy Spirit. But we cannot settle for being right (whether we are or not) when we are called to be righteous. And we cannot be righteous if we are convinced of our own self-righteousness. We must speak our positions with passion, but we must also listen to the words and hearts of those who disagree. We must wrestle together with scripture. However, we must also wrestle with the Holy Spirit. This is what it has always meant to be called the people of God. And so, we continue to speak to one another. Perhaps, going forward, we can do it better than we have.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum of belief about human sexuality and faithful discipleship, I hope you will engage the above values with me. As we enter the holy season of Lent, it seems only appropriate that we focus on learning once again what it means to love God and love our neighbors. If attending General Conference taught me one this, it was this: we still have a long way to on our journey toward holiness. But, God goes with, around, and before us. May we enter God’s presence with humble awe and bountiful gratitude. And may we invite others to join us on the journey.
With grace and peace,
Rev. Rennie Salata
Western NC Bishop Paul Leeland’s Response: Video / Letter
There is no shortage of other responses that can be found on social media. Read these at your own discretion.