Response to General Conference 2019
Updates to the information on this page may be found here.
What’s Going On
In February of 2018, The General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to retain traditional language in the Discipline which forbids any United Methodist clergy to perform same sex unions, and which prohibits the ordination of “self avowed practicing homosexuals.” This action, though affirming policies already in place, has proven highly divisive and controversial in our denomination.
In addition, the General Conference passed legislation making it possible for churches to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience surrounding the denomination’s stand on homosexuality. In order to take such an action, a church would need to make application to its Annual Conference requesting disaffiliation before December of 2024.
It is not the desire of our current church leadership to disconnect from the United Methodist Church. However, we feel it would be irresponsible leadership to allow this “window” of opportunity to expire without seeking prayerful input from the congregation as a whole.
In March of 2019, we convened a group to talk about the General Conference actions, and to hear concerns the people of our congregation may have surrounding this issue. We entitled the event “Healing in His Wings.” You may access the original documentation for the event here.
We began the even by polling those present on their feelings surrounding the issues raised by General Conference. The results of those surveys may be viewed here. The long and short of it is that we belong to a local congregation that is divided on this issue, and that the division is decisive. People have strong opposing views, and very few people find themselves undecided or “in the middle.”
We next turned our attention to discussion in smaller groups around tables. The tables were asked to think of some things that they could say about our church and how they hoped we would respond to these divisions among us. Each table then was invited to share their statements with the full group, and the full group was asked which of those statements they could affirm as a body. Of 26 statements that hit the wall that morning, the group came together to affirm 23. You can see this list here.
The group committed to three action steps coming out of the gathering:
- Conduct a Bible Study tohelp inform the congregation what the Bible says about homosexuality and how persons on both sides of the issue have interpreted it.
- Produce and post a public statement describing where our local church stands on the issues surrounding homosexuality.
- Develop a policy about which parts of church life, especially as regards to leadership, should be open to persons in conflict with the traditional language of the United Methodist Discipline.
During the Summer of 2019, the pastor led an eight week Bible Study focusing on those passages of the Bible that speak specifically on homosexuality. The stated purpose of the Bible study was to increase dialogue and to foster respect for those whose viewpoints on the subject may be very different than our own.
Healing in His Wings was meaningful and informative to those who attended, but we realize that it did not include everyone who deserves a voice in this conversation. As we moved towards a public statement, we were very anxious to get input from the remainder of the congregation. We developed a survey based on the affirmations suggested by the original Healing In His Wings gathering and set a goal of making this survey available to every member of our church family. The goal of this survey is the same as the original discussion: to discover what things we as a local church can agree upon together. The survey instrument may be viewed here.
Why Is This Important?
In addition to affirming the traditional language of the United Methodist Discipline, the 2019 General Conference also created a “disaffiliation window.” Historically, Methodist churches who wish to withdraw from the denomination have been required to surrender their church property. It’s often a surprise to church members to discover that our church building does not belong to the local congregation. Instead, it belongs to the denomination. When any United Methodist Church ceases to be a United Methodist Church, the church property reverts to the denomination. This is called “the trust clause” in United Methodism, and it reflects our sense of connection to one another.
General Conference 2019 gave churches permission, working together with their Annual Conferences, to leave the denomination without surrendering church property if they are able to demonstrate that the denomination’s stands on the issue of homosexuality offend the conscience of the local church. This window for disaffiliation is open until December 2024.
While our church leadership does not support the notion of disaffiliation, we feel it would be irresponsible leadership to allow this window to expire without the local church as a whole making a deliberate decision whether to remain Methodist or seek other avenues for our ministry. We believe that the first step towards making this very important decision is to be able to articulate as a body our views on homosexuality, and to determine if those views are compatible with the larger climate of United Methodism.
What Happens Next?
After we complete a thorough, confidential survey of the congregation, we will call another open meeting of concerned members of our church family to begin to combine and refine the pieces of a written statement. This will probably take several tries. Chances are good that we will seek opinions from the congregation through additional surveys as pieces of the language come together. Eventually, when we feel we have a statement that reflects the priorities of the congregation as a whole, we will present the statement to the church’s Administrative Council. The Administrative Council may elect to make this a church-wide meeting. It may take more than one session of the Administrative Council to arrive at a final version of the document that they feel they can affirm.
Once we have a statement that we can agree upon, we will try to use those church-affirmed values to develop more specific policies around practical issues of church membership and leadership. As with the Values Statement, we will seek to keep the full congregation in the loop at various steps along the way as we develop these policies so that we arrive at answers that reflect the spirit of the congregation as a whole.
When these two documents have been completed to our mutual satisfaction, our plan is to make them available to to the denomination for their review and ask them to rule on whether our values and practices are in alignment with their own. Then… and only then… we will enter into discussion about whether or not to pursue disaffiliation. You can count on this part of the conversation not taking place until at least Fall of 2020.
How Can I Be Involved?
First: Fill out the surveys as they came out. Don’t surrender your voice in this!
Second: Participate in the open meetings. They will be publicized copiously. If you’re afraid you might not hear about them and want to be involved, call the church office and ask to be put on the e-mail list for our General Conference Response Events.
Third: Check back here. Every time we create another document or tabulate another survey, the results will be posted here on this web page.
Finally: Pray. This is no throw-away statement. If you take a look at the world around us you can see the fallout of divisiveness at every level of our society. It is no exaggeration to say that we cannot survive this crisis together without God’s help.