General Conference - Portland, OR
Before, during, and since the United Methodist General Conference that was held in Portland, Oregon from May 10-20, 2016, there have been many articles in the Columbus Dispatch, on social media, and on the internet about the United Methodist Church and her direction. As you read these different articles written from varying perspectives, many of you have expressed your concerns, both in person and through email. I understand your frustrations and concerns and I have my own. For those of us who followed it closely, it was an emotional roller coaster as the events of this General Conference unfolded.
From the beginning, it was expected that the debate over human sexuality was going to be the focus of the conference which would foster further discussions about the structure of the United Methodist Church in the future. The human sexuality issue has been at the center of debate for the last 44 years. Instead of acting on the issues of human sexuality, the General Conference narrowly adopted a non-binding, non-unanimous plan for a way forward from the Council of Bishops. Since Bishops only can preach or preside at General Conference, the Council of Bishops responded to the request of the General Conference for leadership in this area.
The full text of the Bishop’s Statement is posted on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NewZionUMC. I encourage you to read it. According to Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Great Plains conference, there are “social media statements which are based on misunderstandings of this document. The following key points will help you understand what it does or does not say:
- We are committed to the unity of the United Methodist Church and will seek to strengthen it.
- We will lead the church in every part of the world in times of worship, study, discernment, confession and prayer for God’s guidance.
- We are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another.
- We have heard that some believe there is “contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate language concerning human sexuality in the Book of Discipline.” However, no agreement about the truth or falsity of this claim has been reached either by the Council of Bishops or by the General Conference.
- The Council of Bishops will form a Commission to study all paragraphs in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. The subject has been referred to the Commission, and it will be named sometime between now and November 2.
- The Council of Bishops may choose to call a special session of the General Conference before 2020 to deal with recommendations of the Commission. No decision has been made about whether this is a wise use of the Church’s money and time.
- The Council of Bishops will have conversation about how the church can best live in grace with one another, including discussion about ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm.
- The Bishops will uphold the discipline of the Church while these conversations continue.
- All provisions of the Book of Discipline, 2012 on matters of human sexuality will remain in force until a General Conference changes them” (Jones, Scott J. Letter to the Great Plains Conference. May 2016).
Hopefully this clarifies and helps answer questions about the action or lack of action on issues of human sexuality at General Conference 2016.
However, this repeated focus on the issue of human sexuality at our General Conferences over the last 44 years saddens me. It seems that human sexuality is what the church is all about. When I take my dog on his walk, I want him to go to the bathroom, but, inevitably, he gets sidetracked by some special scent in the grass which keeps him from taking care of business. We, as the church, have been distracted from the greater work God has called us to do—making disciples of Jesus Christ. When our focus becomes Christ and lifting Him up and making disciples of Jesus Christ, then, perhaps, we truly will achieve that unity that Jesus Christ prayed for us to have. “You have nothing to do but save souls . . .”
Continue to pray for our Bishops as they form the Commission. Pray for the United Methodist Church, New Zion Church, and the Church worldwide.
Praying with you,