As background, The United Methodist Church is a worldwide connection, meaning that we are in parts of Africa and Asia as well as the United States. We typically gather once every four years in order to do the business of the church, reviewing our stances on the issues of the day and determining how we want to engage with the world. This is also where we consider changes to our rules and regulations, and to the methods we use in doing our ministry.
For the first time in our history, we are going to meet outside of that four-year cycle, February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, in hopes of coming to consensus on longtime disagreements about ministry to and full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church.
The Stonewall riots that started the modern gay rights movement took place in Greenwich Village in 1969, one year after the formation of our denomination, and how we should respond to this next phase of the civil rights movement has been the subject of disagreement ever since. Overall statements of belief have been refined, amended and debated endlessly. Over the last fifteen years, every other mainline Protestant denomination has wrestled and eventually come to terms with their own statement of position. During that time, marriage equality has become the law in all fifty states. After a difficult and painful process, each has determined that they will no longer discriminate against LGBTQ persons, who can now be married to the partner of their choice regardless of gender, can serve openly as clergy, and can otherwise be fully part of church life.
This has not been easy, and our nation remains uneasy in not just this but all matters dealing with human sexuality. What’s more, United Methodism is not simply an American faith tradition, and many of the social movements that have been a part of our national conversation over the past decades have not occurred in other parts of the world. We believe that a unified church is the most desired outcome, but this is a big challenge in a pluralistic society, let alone a diversity of cultures. These concerns have been beneath the surface for decades, but now they have become overt to a point where they must be addressed.
At General Conference 2016, the decision was made to form a special Commission on a Way Forward to develop a way for the UMC to continue as a denomination, and it called for a special General Conference specifically to present its results, and to vote on how we can continue as a denomination
The four documents are as follows:
A two page handout provided by Bishop Bickerton. It gives basic background on the whole situation, and describes the three plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward. Last year, the Commission presented the One Church Plan as it’s recommendation for the church. It also offered two additional plans that were not endorsed, the Traditional Plan and the Connectional Conference plan.
A press release from the New York Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The NYAC BOOM is responsible for determining standards and qualifications for effective clergy in much of NY and CT, and to evaluate potential clergy to determine if they meet these standards. In early 2016, the NYAC BOOM released a statement stating that they would no longer consider sexual orientation when evaluating a candidate’s suitability for ministry, and outlined their rationale for taking this stance.
A comparison between four plans for the UMC. In addition to the three plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward, there have been other plans proposed. This chart gives a detailed comparison of the three plans coming out of the Commission alongside details of a fourth plan, The Simple Plan. Pastor Michael has included this because he strongly believes The Simple Plan is the best path for the UMC.
A history of the UMC’s stances, understanding and treatment of LGBTQ people. This handout was also offered by Bishop Bickerton, and it summarizes all of the major denominational shifts and language at every General Conference around how to engage with LGBTQ people.