The United Methodist Church is organized around and governed according our Book of Discipline (BOD). In essence, it is our denomination’s constitution. The only body within the denomination which can amend the BOD is General Conference, which is comprised of elected delegates of every United Methodist annual conference globally. General Conference meets every four years to vote on changes to the BOD, which have to be ratified by all annual conferences the following year.
The United Methodist Church is very diverse—racially, ethnically, and theologically. We see this as a strength. At the same time, such extreme diversity can also be the cause of disagreement and, worse, division. One of the hot-button issues that has been causing great division in The United Methodist Church for many years centers around human sexuality, specifically, the role and place of those in the LGBTQ community within the life of the church.
At the 2016 General Conference, a group called The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. They would bring their report to the Council of Bishops, after which some kind of plan to move forward would be brought to a special-called General Conference in February 2019 for vote.
After fulfilling their task, The Commission on a Way Forward presented their report to the Council of Bishops at their 2018 spring meeting. The Commission developed three possible plans to move forward:
- One Church Plan (recommended by the Council of Bishops): The one-church model would allow different United Methodists in different places to make different decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates everywhere throughout the worldwide church. This plan would remove restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and give conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to “uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.” United Methodists in central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe would retain the authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and could continue to include their traditional language and values. This plan would also protect the rights of United Methodists whose theological convictions will not allow them to perform same-sex weddings or ordain LGBTQ people.
- Traditionalist Plan: This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the BOD and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations of church law.
- Connectional-Conference Plan: This plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three connectional conferences would function throughout the worldwide church and the five existing U.S. jurisdictions would be abolished. Adaptations to the Book of Discipline would be allowed by each connectional conference. Annual conferences would determine their affiliation with a connectional conference. Local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference could vote to join another conference. This plan would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution.
For those of you who would be interested in participating in some “listening sessions” where people will have the opportunity to talk and listen to one another about this subject matter, the following have been set up:
- October 9: Lake Orion UMC, 7 p.m.
- October 15: Grand Rapids area, location to be determined
- October 16: Detroit area, location to be determined
- October 17: Kalamazoo First UMC, 7 p.m.
- October 21: Northville UMC, 4 p.m.
- October 22: First UMC, Midland, 7 p.m.
- December 6: Area Ministry Center, Lansing, 7 p.m.
- January 2019, TBA