More and more people have started asking me the question, “What is the United Methodist Church going to decide about the issue of homosexuality?” They are referring to the impending decision that will be made by the special called session of General Conference in February 2019 to deal with this matter. My honest reply is, “I really don’t know.”
As United Methodists there is a process to the way we make decisions. Hence the name, “Methodists.” We have a method for doing things. With regard to the issue of the marriage and ordination of those who are gay and lesbian, the process has been going on since the end of General Conference 2016. At that time, the General Church was struggling to the point of possible division. Finally, someone stood and asked that the Council of Bishops figure out a way forward for the Church.
The Council of Bishops appointed a task force called, “The Commission on a Way Forward.” This commission was to study and make recommendations to the Council of Bishops and then the Council of Bishops would meet to make a recommendation to a special called General Conference. When the General Conference meets in February of 2019, a decision will then be made, but not until that time.
Currently, The Commission on a Way Forward has recommended to the Council of Bishops three possible scenarios for the Church.
1. Leave the language in the Book of Discipline as it is presently. Essentially, this states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian Teaching.
2. Remove all language referencing homosexuality from the Book of Discipline. This would return the Book of Discipline to the position it held in 1968. The net effect of this would be that each Annual Conference would choose for itself whether or not to ordain those who are gay and lesbian; each clergy person could choose whether or not to perform a gay or lesbian wedding; and each local church could choose whether or not to allow a same sex wedding in their sanctuary or receive an openly gay pastor.
3. Create a multi-branch denomination in which each branch is based on its particular theological perspective. For example, one branch might choose the traditionalist approach (essentially choice 1); one branch might choose the progressive approach (which would allow for full inclusion of homosexuals); and one branch might choose the approach where all language is removed from the Book of Discipline (essentially choice 2). All three branches would remain under the larger umbrella of the United Methodist Church, but each local church would be free to choose which branch bests expresses that Church’s theology.
At the present time, the Council of Bishops is wrestling with which approach they want to recommend to the General Conference. From all that I have read, the Council of Bishops seem to be leaning towards choices two or three, but no decision has yet been finalized. As a matter of Church law, they will need to make their recommendation by the end of this July. Of course, as I stated earlier, their recommendation is not the final word. Other recommendations could be brought up at the General Conference in February of 2019 and may receive the majority vote.
So, as I say, I do not know what the Church will decide. What I do know is a couple of things. First, you are likely to hear all sorts of things between now and next February. Please do not immediately assume that what is said is speaking for the Church. Only the General Conference can speak for the whole Church.
Second, patience really is the best policy. Let’s allow the Church to go through the process that has served our Church well throughout its long history.
Third, no matter which way the General Conference goes, part of the wonderful strength of DUMC has been its diversity of thought. Long before I arrived at Dunwoody, members of the Church disagreed with one another about this subject, but in the words of John Wesley, we have found “unity in diversity.” We have been like a family that has not always seen things through the same set of lenses, but who are bound by our love of Jesus Christ and our love for one another. As a result, we have done wonderful ministry together.
So, my hope is that no matter which way the General Conference goes, we will not allow DUMC to be defined by this one issue. It is not that the issue of homosexuality is unimportant. It is very important. But it is not the only important issue. My prayer is that we will be defined and known as the Church whose love for Christ is so strong that nothing can tear us apart.