While in a meeting the other day, someone asked me a question; the answer to which I assumed was obvious. She asked, “Is our church going to follow the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church?” She was referring to the book that contains the policies, procedures, practices and theology under which all United Methodist Churches operate.
I understood why she asked the question. In the weeks following the General Conference, there have been a number of news articles and responses of churches and church leaders who have at least implied that they had no intention of following the Book of Discipline. My questioner knew that we have people on both sides of the issues dealing with human sexuality and she was wondering where we stood.
I assumed the answer to the question was obvious, because forty-two years ago this June, I stood before the North Georgia Annual Conference and vowed I would uphold the Discipline, and throughout my entire ministry I have sought to do so. I have not always agreed with the Discipline. There were times when I thought parts of it needed to be changed. Nevertheless, I have always sought to uphold the Discipline.
I looked around the room, and again to my surprise other people in the meeting acknowledged that they were wondering the same thing. In fact, they suggested that many throughout our congregation want to know what we are going to do about the Discipline. So, I answered the question rather emphatically. I don’t remember the exact words I used, but it was something to the effect of, “As long as I am a United Methodist Minister and as long as I serve this church we are going to follow the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.”
My questioner then asked a follow up question and it was a good one. She asked, “What about those who disagree with the Book of Discipline? Will you support them if they seek to bring about change?” Again, I answered affirmatively.
The Book of Discipline is a living document. It undergoes change in one way or another every four years. That is the main reason why the General Conference meets every quadrennium. Much the way Congress has to meet to review legislation that needs to be revised, the General Conference reviews the Book of Discipline to see what needs to be revised.
That said, we have processes by which those changes are to take place. As long as the processes that are described in the Book of Discipline are followed, I will support the right of people to work for change in the United Methodist Church. That is true whether I personally agree or disagree with the specific changes people are seeking to enact.
Finally, I would add that this is not new. As indicated above, it is not new for me, nor is it new for this church. From its inception, this church has taken its connectional responsibilities seriously, and as time has passed, DUMC has become a leading example of how things can be done and be done right. And this is no exception!