This blog is an update on what has been happening in the United Methodist Church regarding the issue of human sexuality. The first two parts are reports and then the third part is my response.
Two significant meetings have been held since my last update: Judicial Council (Supreme Court of the UMC) and the Council of Bishops. I have included reports from the Judicial Council and Council of Bishops so you have original source information and not secondary sourcing.
First, here is a summary in chart form of the Judicial Council rulings:
Judicial Council Rulings 1378 and 1379
The United Methodist Judicial Council issued its ruling Friday, April 26, 2019, on legislation passed during the special session of General Conference in February. The chart below shows the petition number ruled upon, the Discipline paragraph to which that petition corresponds, a summary of what the legislation will do or would have done had it been ruled constitutional. Petitions ruled to be constitutional take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
On Friday, April 26, 2019, the Judicial Council also ruled that Petition 90066, related to disaffiliation of churches from The United Methodist Church, was constitutional. New ❡2553 became church law immediately. Key components of that petition include the following information.
Terms of Disaffiliation
◆ Terms — GCFA will develop a standard disaffiliation agreement.
◆ Apportionments — The local church must pay unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to disaffiliation as well as an additional 12 months.
◆ Property — A disaffiliated church has the right to retainits property, with all legal costs borne by the disaffiliating local church.
◆ Pension Liabilities — The local church must contribute an amount of money equal to its aggregate unfunded pension obligations to the annual conference. Wespath will calculate the liability for each annual conference, and the annual conference then will determine the local church’s share.
◆ Other Liabilities — The disaffiliating church must satisfy all debts or assign and transfer them to its new entity prior to disaffiliation.
◆ Payment — Payment must occur prior to the effective date of departure.
◆ Pension sand Health Benefits — Disaffiliated churches will remain eligible to sponsor voluntary employee benefits plans through Wespath.
◆ Trust Clause — Once the local church has disbursed to the annual conference all funds due under this agreement, the conference will release all claims commonly referred to as the “trust clause.”
Process of Disaffiliation
In its ruling, the Judicial Council found that any legislation of the Genreal Conference permitting the “gracious exit” of the local church must have the following minimum requirements:
- Approval of the disaffilation resolution by a two-thirds majority of professing members of the local church present and voting at a church conference.
- Establishment of the terms and conditions, including effective date, of the disaffiliation agreement between the annual
conference and the exiting local church by the conference board of trustees in accordance with applicable Church law and civil laws.
Secondly, the Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter for all United Methodists:
Thursday, May 9, 2019
The Council of Bishops offers a pastoral and prophetic word in response to the decisions of the Special Session and the codification of some of these decisions in our Book of Discipline.
Bishops are not judges or legislators. Bishops are preachers, teachers, shepherds, mediators, and missional strategists who appoint clergy and lead annual conferences to make disciples for the transformation of the world. We offer this reflection as an expression of our pastoral and prophetic witness. The prophetic gift to our church calls for a confession of the harm that has been done, an
Acknowledgement of grief and support of a vision of God’s promise to do a new thing (Isaiah 43). The pastoral gift is to accompany conversations across the church about our denomination’s future.
We affirm the fruitful and creative ministries in our annual conferences. Recognizing that “the Annual Conference is the basic body of the church” (BOD, 33), there is an emerging discernment that the power and hope in our connection resides in the annual conference, which is closer to local churches and better honors our different contexts. And there is a strong conviction that we cannot arrive at solutions that enhance our unity in our legislative processes.
There is also a renewed commitment to seek new ways of being in relationship. In the words of the Mission, Vision Scope of the Way Forward, “We should be open to new ways of embodying unity that move us beyond where we are in the present impasse and cycle of action and reaction around ministry and human sexuality. Therefore, we should consider new ways of being in relationship across cultures and jurisdictions, in understandings of episcopacy, in contextual definitions of autonomy for annual conferences, and in the design and purpose of the apportionment.”
There is a sense among the Council that we are in untenable times. To this end the Council is exploring models and plans of new forms of unity, including work being done in Africa, Europe, the Western Jurisdiction, a new Methodism, the gifts of the black church, among creative experiments in annual conferences and a connection of new expressions of United Methodism.
The Council has nominated a Servant Listening Team to accompany these conversations across the church. At the same time, the whole Council is called to a season of deep listening.
We grieve the brokenness in our relationships, and confess that we are complicit in this. Amidst pervasive dynamics of “evil, injustice and oppression” in the church and the world, we pledge to work for reconciliation in order to demonstrate the way of Christ, which is to love and serve one another. As we approach Pentecost, we call upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit to “make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world.”
Finally, at the risk of being too succinct, the next major step in this conversation is May of 2020. The General Conference will convene again and all of the issues name above will be discussed and voted on again. What are we at Chapel Hill going to do in the meantime?
We will continue to be faithful to our mission of welcoming all people to experience and share the extraordinary grace and love of Jesus. With God’s help, we will provide a safe place for people to grow in the grace and love of Jesus and be a field hospital to those seeking healing and wholeness from the Great Physician.
You will tire of me saying this perhaps but I am passionately committed to reminding us we are talking about human sexuality. We begin with the human side of this. We need to be careful about our conversations because we have people in our congregation who have or are in the midst of this issue with children, grand-children, siblings, parents, etc. Let us create sacred and safe space for people to learn and grow together. The reality is…we have people all over the spectrum on this issue. The majority are centrists but we have people on the extremes in both directions. As I shared this past Sunday in my sermon….”Jesus said, ‘You will know who my disciples by their love for one another.”
In light of the diversity of thought regarding the LGBTQ+ issues, this fall, we will have a book study , “Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships,” by Karen R. Keen. The author is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and has provided a resource of study and reflection which seeks to create respectful space for persons to discuss and learn about this complex issue of human sexuality. I would encourage you to purchase this book and begin reading it in preparation for this fall.
Eerdmans Publishing said about this book, “When it comes to same-sex relationships, this book by Karen Keen contains the most thoughtful, balanced, biblically grounded discussion you’re likely to encounter anywhere. With pastoral sensitivity and respect for biblical authority, Keen breaks through current stalemates in the debate surrounding faith and sexual identity. The fresh, evenhanded reevaluation of Scripture, Christian tradition, and science in Keen’s Scripture, Ethics and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships will appeal to both traditionalist and progressive church leaders and parishioners, students of ethics and biblical studies, and gay and lesbian people who often feel painfully torn between faith and sexuality.”
More to come!
Please be in prayer as we seek to “do no harm.”