Editor’s Note: Click here for the press release detailing the Council of Bishops' recommendation on a Way Forward, released May 4.
1. What happened in the Council of Bishops’ meeting?
First, a motion was approved by the Council of Bishops that the three plans discussed by the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward will be included in a report to the special session of the General Conference in February 2019. These are:
- A traditionalist plan that retains the present language about human sexuality
- A one church plan that removes the language and allows for adaptation, and
- A connectional conference plan that allows for three distinct bodies within a larger church, with different perspectives on human sexuality.
The motion of the COB was passed with strong support. And all three were carried forward, to be discussed, because the values of our whole church are present in the three different plans, and we did not want to suppress the conversation. We also wanted to honor the legislative work that will take place in the delegations. This work was done with intense prayer, listening to scripture and to each other, and with love for the Lord Jesus Christ and his body, the church.
2. Did the Council of Bishops make a decision?
The Council of Bishops recommends the One Church Plan as our best way forward. Again, this vote was by a significant majority. The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of our mission with all people. It allows for central conferences, especially those in Africa, to retain traditional language and values. It honors conscience of traditionalists in their own contexts and at the same time creates a spiritual home for the LGBTQ community within our denomination. In other words, it includes protections and permissions.
3. What was the basis for this decision?
I have been drawn to a number of biblical texts, including 1 Corinthians 12-14 (there is a diversity of gifts, and the greatest gift is love); Galatians (the relation of love and law) and John 15 (Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, we are called to love one another and bear fruit). Of great importance as well is the Mission, Vision and Scope of the Commission on a Way Forward: to “maximize as much United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible,” to allow for “as much contextual differentiation as possible,” and to seek “as much unity as possible.”
4. What are the outcomes of these decisions?
This work will be in the hands of the delegations to the 2019 special session of the General Conference, approximately 800+ clergy and laity from around the world. They will assess the plans and approve a way forward. Again, the bishops want the delegates to know of each plan while recommending the One Church Plan. In this plan, no local church or annual conference will be required to vote. There is a way to honor religious liberty and inclusion. And there is a recognition that missional contexts are different: our global denomination is present in some contexts where homosexuality is illegal, or does not have a meaning in the cultural language, and also in settings where laws, customs and family relationships are very different.
5. When and how can I read the report?
The report will become available as final editorial work is completed, as it is evaluated alongside our constitution by the Judicial Council (three laymen, three laywomen, three clergy), and as it is translated into the official languages of our global church (English, French, Portuguese, Swahili). This is expected to be completed no later than July 8. In the meantime, a summary is available and portions will be released, including the missional and theological frameworks.
6. What will happen between now and the special session of the General Conference?
- In Florida, local churches are having a POV (Point of View) Conversation, which was designed by a diverse team of laity and clergy, with a spectrum of viewpoints, including traditionalists, local church pastors and members of the LGBTQ community.
- Many delegations are learning from a text entitled The Anatomy of Peace, which is about how we learn to live with a heart of peace instead of a heart at war, how we can avoid exaggerating our differences and how we can respond to the escalation of conflict in our communities.
- We can participate in Praying our Way Forward, which calls for prayer every day from 2:23-2:26 p.m., numbers which correspond to the dates of the special session in 2019 (2/23/19-2/26/19).
7. What does this mean for my local church, and for the Florida Conference?
We will continue to worship God, to serve in our communities, and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. We will continue to support the connection that blesses so many through Campus Ministries, the Children’s Home, the Young Adult Missional Movement, Fresh Expressions of church and Camping Ministries, to name a few. We will gather in June to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church. The bishops believe that God’s grace is available to all, and we want to create local churches that open doors of faith, hope and love to new people, in new places and in new ways.
To learn more, or to stay in this conversation, please share the following resources: