The General Conference of the United Methodist Church finished their work on Tuesday of this week. The Conference had been called for two purposes. First to form policy around the United Methodist Church stance with regards to the marriage of LGTBQ people by our pastors and in our churches. Secondly the conference was called to form policy with regards to the ordination of qualified LGTBQ people as pastors. 864 delegates from United Methodists Churches around the world gathered to try and do this work. A number of different plans had been proposed.
The plan supported by an over whelming number of our bishops and supported by a large majority of United States United Methodist delegates was called the One Church Plan. It was a plan that would allow some freedom for churches and pastors to marry same-sex individuals if they chose too. No pastor however would be compelled to marry anyone and no church would be compelled to host a same gender wedding. Annual conferences would have had the opportunity to decide whether to ordain LGTBQ person or not and churches would have had the opportunity to accept or decline an appointment of an LGTBQ pastor. It was believed that One Church Plan would create some freedom and would allow ministers and churches to better engage with the communities where they were located. It was also believed that the One Church Plan would help the United Methodist Church to stay as united as possible in all our other areas of mission and ministry where we have agreement.
The One Church Plan, which I supported, was not adopted. Rather a small minority of United States Delegates and large delegations from the continent of Africa and delegates from Eastern Europe were able to secure enough votes to narrowly pass the Traditional Plan. Homosexual activity is still illegal in most African nations and is punishable by imprisonment or even death in some cases.
The Traditional Plan maintains the current language we have in our Discipline that states that “the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The adopted Traditional Plain further provides mandatory and harsher penalties for any pastor or bishop who marries a same gender couple or any bishop who ordains an openly professing homosexual.
The adoption of the Traditional Plan caused a great deal of pain and anger among many of the US Delegates and others who supported the One Church Plan and who felt like our church is saying that we do not care about LGTBQ people, their families, and friends. Those who supported the Traditional Plan would say that is incorrect and that they care deeply about all of God’s people, but that they are trying to follow what they believe is the authority of the Bible. The One Church Plan people also believe that they are following the authority of scripture and trying to be loving like Jesus to all of God’s people. The One Church Plan people would point out that the Traditional Plan people want to follow what they feel is the authority of scripture in this particular instance, but that they are not following biblical authority in other instances, like when it comes to what Jesus says about divorce in Mark.
The Conference was as expected emotional and passionate. The Traditional Plan although it passed, now has to be reviewed to be sure it is in line with the United Methodist Constitution. Many believe that large portions of it will be deemed unconstitutional. That won’t be determined until April.
What all this means for Wright’s Chapel is that we continue to be a church that welcomes and loves all people in the name of Christ. We will continue to seek ways to reach out and make disciples of Jesus so that we can be a part of the transformation God is seeking in this world. We will continue to feed meals to the hungry, deliver wood to to those who are cold. We will sing songs in worship and teach our children in Sunday school about the love of Jesus. Our youth will continue to come to Bible study and we’ll go together to serve in mission.
What are the long term implications of this General Conference decision for Wright’s Chapel? Right now I don’t know. As we wait to discern where God is leading us and others who want to be in ministry with all people, we continue to worship God and try as best we can to serve and love all our neighbors. Where people are hurting because of this decision we are called to sit with them in their pain and offer any comfort that we can. I am aware that there are lots of discussions going on amongst United Methodist Churches and pastors who want to be able to be in community and ministry with all of God’s Children. But right now I ask that we simply wait and worship and serve Jesus together.