It is a very anxious time as the scheduled 2019 General Conference is now only a few weeks away. Many rank and file United Methodist members are perhaps only now hearing what is at stake while others have had significant discussions for months. Very few congregations will have a unified view on the direction needed and the best outcome. The General Conference taking place February 23-26 has often been called “The Way Forward Conference” since it is being convened at the direction of the 2016 General Conference to help our denomination find a way forward in dealing with the impasse over sexuality. A special task force met for many months, and as a result of their work, three main plans will be presented to the delegates at the 2019 Conference.
Briefly summed up the three plans are as follows:
1. The Traditional Plan or modified traditional plan reaffirms our denominational stance and teachings on marriage and ordination. It would maintain the current status quo position of homosexuality and stress the importance of accountability and consequences for
disregarding the current Book of Discipline statements.
2. The One Church Plan redefines marriage and ordination in our denomination. This plan has been recommended by a slim majority of United Methodist bishops. Basically it would permit annual conferences, local congregations, and ministers to hold different views on homosexuality while removing any requirements or prohibitions from our current denominational stance.
3. The Connectional Conference Plan restructures our denomination based on different understanding of marriage, sexuality and
ordination. This plan would allow for differences based on culture and geography across the whole denomination, but keep everyone under the same spiritual umbrella. This plan is the most complicated and would take a number of years to fully implement so it is really
considered the dark horse of the three plans.
One other major consideration at the 2019 General Conference will be discussion of an exit provision for conferences and churches to leave the denomination if conscience will no longer let them accept whatever position the denomination declares. The truth of the matter is no one has any idea what will happen at this conference. There is a real possibility of a deadlock with nothing being decided. It has been suggested that this may be the worst outcome of all and certainly cause a splintering of the denomination. There is a possibility that either the Traditional/Modified Traditional or the One Church Plan will narrowly be approved. If that happens, don’t think the issue is settled because all the annual conferences with a majority needed for passage will then vote on whatever plan passes out of the general conference. To further muddy up the waters, the regular 2020 General Conference will not be bound by this year’s conference so the whole issue could be revisited and re-voted with a different outcome. I would suggest regardless of what happens this February we will still be looking at two to four years before the dust clears. In light of that, I would suggest three things for us at Aldersgate:
1. Be patient. Let us see how all of this unfolds. The day following the conference the sun will still come up, Jesus will still be Lord and we will be working on carrying out our ministry for the next 150 years. Granted we may have some difficult and painful decisions to make at some point down the road, but for now let us remain calm and focused on being a faithful congregation.
2. Let’s have some discussion. The time for saying nothing is past. We have people on both sides of the sexuality issue, but we can be mature enough to discuss and hear each other. Some opportunities are going to be provided both to listen and share. We will attempt to do any discussion in a spirit of Christian charity whether we agree or disagree.
3. Let’s pray like we have never prayed before. Pray for our delegates from all over the world that they arrive at the 2019 Conference safely and securely (especially the large African delegation who will be making financial sacrifices to come). Pray that the Holy Spirit will quicken hearts and minds to know God’s righteous and holy will for any decisions. Pray for our future as a denomination. I am asking for our congregation to come to the prayer room on Saturday, February 23, at 9:00 a.m. to pray for the 2019 General Conference as it begins.
I will be glad to tell you where I stand on the issues facing our denomination. As long as I have been your minister, I don’t think it is any great secret that I fall into the conservative traditional camp on such matters. I am not unbiased in the direction and position I desire to see accepted by the denomination. I also want to keep our focus on Christ so, that as a church, we continue to be faithful to the saving gospel as the main thing we offer to a broken and lost world around us.