The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward are using a three-part commentary this summer in helping United Methodists throughout the world to understand work of the Commission.
The commentary will deal with the mission, vision and scope of the Commission, which was named by the Council of Bishops after the 2016 General Conference to assist the bishops in discerning a way forward for The United Methodist Church regarding human sexuality and the resulting questions about the unity of the church.
The moderators, Bishops Ken Carter, Sandra Steiner Ball and David Yemba, will use the original document approved by 2016 General Conference to offer the commentary.
Below is the first part of the commentary, dealing with mission. The words in bold are from the original document approved by General Conference.
Part One: Mission
The Commission will bring together persons deeply committed to the future(s) of The United Methodist Church,
The plural (s) assumes that we are presently on parallel tracks or living in silos, or plotting alternative futures that mean more to some part of the church than the whole. This assumption is relevant to many of our most passionate leaders in advocacy and renewal groups.
with an openness to developing new relationships with each other and exploring the potential future(s) of our denomination in light of General Conference and subsequent annual, jurisdictional and central conference actions.
If we want to create change, we develop relationships beyond our echo chambers. If we want to maintain the status quo, we try to fix or change those who differ from us. The exploration of the future must necessarily include major events in our denomination over the last year, including the Western Jurisdiction election, annual conference and board of ordained ministry proclamations, and negotiations with departing churches by annual conferences.
We have a profound hope and confidence in the Triune God,
We are more than a human institution, there is more going on here than organizational behavior, and we desire the unity that Jesus speaks of with the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit in John 17, and we believe that Jesus prays for this very reality on our behalf.
and yet we acknowledge that we do this work in a climate of skepticism and distrust, from a human point of view.
At the same time the church is a human institution, and we are aware of the context in which we do this work; this is most obvious in social and denominational media, which often interprets the commission’s work through a hermeneutic of suspicion. This is a natural and human way of seeing the work, and may even be justified—institutions are flawed and can do harm to persons. Yet it does not capture the fullness of the commission’s mission, vision or scope, which is biblical and missional in nature.
We are a connection, and we admit that our communion is strained;
One of the beauties of United Methodism, from the local to the global level is our connectionalism—there is strength and power in these relationships. Yet the strain upon our connection (or communion) can be heard in the spoken desire (across perspectives) for “space.” Because persons have done harm to each other, and have objectified each other, there is a natural distancing. This is more evident in the meeting of the General Conference itself and in social media characterizations.
yet much transformative mission across our world is the fruit of our collaboration.
This is a cautionary word, a reminder that much investment in sharing the gospel through word and action would be at risk should we not find a way forward.
The matters of human sexuality and unity are the presenting issues for a deeper conversation that surfaces different ways of interpreting Scripture and theological tradition.
Methodism in America has always included multiple streams of theological tradition, among them revivalism, social gospel, Boston personalism, neo-Wesleyanism, process theology, liberation theology. The present moment seems to be one that cannot abide by or include these different values. Can we embrace pluralism or diversity, or must this be the cause for division?
The work is meant to inform deliberation across the whole church and to help the Council of Bishops in their service to the next General Conference in finding a way forward.
Increasingly, the commission will offer models to annual conferences through the residential bishops, who are committed to leading and teaching in their own contexts and working with delegations to the Special Session of General Conference called for February 2019.
Bishop Ken Carter
Bishop Steiner Ball
Bishop David Yemba
Next up: Vision of the Commission
About the Commission on a Way Forward
The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in their charge from the 2016 General Conference to lead the church forward amid the present impasse related to human sexuality and resulting questions about the unity of the church.