The Way Forward
proposed in the United Methodist Church
In February 2019, a specially called General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) will take place in St. Louis, Missouri to address the sole topic of the denomination’s divided position on human sexuality.
As a part of the quadrennial UMC General Conference in 2016 in Portland, Oregon, its delegates voted to ask the Council of Bishops (COB) to give leadership and direction on the topic of how the Church should go forward on this controversial issue. The COB responded with a proposal to create a commission to study the controversy and propose a definitive plan for resolving the debate which has been ongoing for decades.
The COB, over a five-month period, selected a bi-partisan commission of 32 members which then proceeded to meet nine times over a period of 17 months. This commission would become known as The Way Forward. The ninth and final meeting was held in Nashville on May 16, 2018. The COB also called for a special session of the General Conference for February 23-26, 2019, to be held in St. Louis.
The Way Forward Commission (WFC)
The WFC completed its work and its final report has now been made available to the public. The Judicial Counsel of the United Methodist Church will make final rulings on the constitutionality of the proposals in October of 2018. The WFC Report proposed not one but three options be offered to the Specially Called General Conference. These options were: (1) a Traditionalist Option; (2) a One-Church Option and (3) a Connectional Conference Option. These options were discussed preliminary in a webcast hosted by Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference of the UMC on May 12. The Marvin clergy and approximately 10 Marvin laity met in the Hub to watch the webcast.
The COB has met and received the final report of the WFC. Bishop Jones has shared that the majority of the COB supports the One-Church Option though there is support in the COB for each of the options.
The following gives a brief summary of each of the plans proposed by the WFC:
The Traditionalist Option | This option would affirm the current language of the Discipline of the United Methodist Church and enhance accountability and increased penalties for violations. [The option would also allow Annual Conferences to leave the denomination if they felt they could not comply with the Discipline – what is known as a gracious exit clause]
The One-Church Option | This option has been recommended by a majority of the COB because of its flexibility and proposed unity. This plan would remove the restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and give conferences, churches and pastors “the flexibility to ‘uniquely reaching their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of the UMC.’” Regardless, no pastor would be required to perform a same-sex wedding against his or her moral conviction nor would a church be required to host a same-sex wedding against its moral conviction (though an appointed pastor could still officiate a same-sex marriage offsite of the church property). Annual Conferences electing to retain the current discipline would not be required to ordain self-avowed homosexuals. United Methodists in central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe would retain the authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and continue to include their traditional language and values.
The Connectional-Conference Option | This option provides that the five jurisdictional conferences would be dissolved and new non-geographic jurisdictional conferences would be created around traditional vs. progressive values. Each of the world-wide central conferences could then choose to align themselves with one of the new jurisdictional conferences. Each church could vote to be a part of a given jurisdictional church. The new jurisdictions would then elect their own bishops and have their own Book of Discipline. Local churches which choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference could vote to join another conference. This option is closest to a split and would require upwards of five constitutional amendments – making it an unlikely option to pass.
Willful Disobedience of the Church’s Discipline Becomes General Knowledge
Shortly following the 2016 General Conference, Bishop Jane Middleton of the New York Annual Conference ordained and commissioned openly gay, partnered candidates for ministry in violation of the Book of Discipline. In July 2016, delegates to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference called for “ecclesial” [responsibilities related to the roles of Bishops] disobedience regarding the Church’s sexual ethics and ordination standards.
On July 15, 2016, the Western Jurisdiction elected Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly lesbian pastor, as a bishop of the United Methodist Church. At the time of her ordination, it was widely known that Rev. Oliveto had presided at dozens of same-sex marriages and was herself married to another woman, Robin Ridenour, a United Methodist deaconess in the California-Nevada Conference (Source – umc.org).
Conservation Responses in the News
During 2017, two larger churches in the Mississippi Conference voted to leave the United Church. In 2018, two smaller churches in Mississippi elected to leave the church. Some UMC congregations are considering withholding apportionments in protest. A major issue related to individual churches leaving the denomination relates to what is called the Trust Clause in the Book of Discipline.
The Trust Clause
¶ 2501. Requirement of the Trust Clause for All Property
1. All properties of United Methodist local churches and other United Methodist agencies and institutions are held, in trust, for the benefit of the entire denomination, and ownership and usage of church property is subject to the Discipline. This trust requirement is an essential element of the historic polity of The United Methodist Church or its predecessor denominations or communions and has been a part of the Discipline since 1797. It reflects the connectional structure of the Church by ensuring that the property will be used solely for purposes consonant with the mission of the entire denomination as set forth in the Discipline. The trust requirement is thus a fundamental expression of United Methodism whereby local churches and other agencies and institutions within the denomination are both held accountable to and benefit from their connection with the entire worldwide Church.
In consonance with the legal definition and self-understanding of The United Methodist Church (see ¶ 141), and with particular reference to its lack of capacity to hold title to property, The United Methodist Church is organized as a connectional structure, and titles to all real and personal, tangible and intangible property held at jurisdictional, annual, or district conference levels, or by a local church or charge, or by an agency or institution of the Church, shall be held in trust for The United Methodist Church and subject to the provisions of its Discipline. Titles are not held by The United Methodist Church (see ¶ 807.1) or by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, but instead by the incorporated conferences, agencies, or organizations of the denomination, or in the case of unincorporated bodies of the denomination, by boards of trustees established for the purpose of holding and administering real and personal, tangible and intangible property.
2. The trust is and always has been irrevocable, except as provided in the Discipline. Property can be released from the trust, transferred free of trust or subordinated to the interests of creditors and other third parties only to the extent authority is given by the Discipline.
3. Local churches and other United Methodist agencies and institutions may acquire, hold, maintain, improve, and sell property for purposes consistent with the mission of the Church, unless restricted or prevented by the Discipline.
The Present Law of the United Methodist Church on Human Sexuality
⁋ 304.2 Qualifications for Ordination
Self-avowed homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.
¶161G Human Sexuality
We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift. Although persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
[Paragraph on commercialization and exploitation of sex]
We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
¶341.6 Unauthorized Conduct
Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.
Bishop Jones will be the guest speaker at this year’s Pirtle Series on Nov. 10 and 11 here at Marvin United Methodist Church.