A welcoming, reconciling congregation with open hearts, open minds and open doors to ALLReconciling Ministries logo
2019 Special Session of the General Conference

2019 Special Session of the General Conference

This Special Session of the General Conference from February 23 -26 in St. Louis has been called to focus on the issue of human sexuality and church unity with the goals of ending distracting and mission-compromising disagreement about how to be in ministry with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.  Lots of Additional Resources are listed at the bottom of this page.

Once the conference begins, United Methodist News will report from on-site. UM Insight will offer different perspectives. Ask the UMC will continue to field questions. The event will be streamed by United Methodist Communications in its entirety — beginning with worship on Saturday, February 23 at 7:00 a.m. (PST) and adjourning at 4:30 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday, February 26. Other Resources are listed at the bottom of this page.

Livestream

Please continue to pray for the work of the General Conference and all the delegates, especially from 2:23 to 2:26 p.m. daily; you can find prayer posts at UMC Prays.

What is this all about?

The governing policies of the United Methodist Church are determined by the General Conference, a global conference of United Methodist leaders held every four years. For years, there has been tension and disagreement about full inclusion of LGBTQ people and talk of a potential denomination split. To help us break this stalemate, the 2016 General Conference authorized the Council of Bishops to form a commission to discern a path forward regarding same-gender weddings and full inclusion of LGBTQ people in ministry. The Commission on a Way Forward was created as a representative body (32 people, 9 nations, all jurisdictions, 15 states, men and women, straight and gay, laity and clergy, multigenerational) for this purpose. In May of 2018, the Commission presented its report to the Council of Bishops who voted to present the One Church Plan to a Special Called General Conference on February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. The Conference will also have before it two other plans (Traditional Plan and Connectional-Conference Plan) that the Commission initially considered, and a two other plans (Simple Plan that the UM Queer Clergy Caucus submitted and a Modified Traditional Plan). Being a denomination with such a broad theology and folk with very strongly held opposing positions, the Special Called Conference will be a challenging time, and there is the possibility that afterwards that the churches that are unhappy with the decisions that are made, will seek to leave the denomination. Our Bishops are asking us to pray for four minutes daily from 2.23 p.m. to 2.26 p.m.

 What does the Book of Discipline say now?

¶ 161.C defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
¶ 161.G says that sexual relations are affirmed only in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage
and that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
¶ 304.3 says that self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
¶ 341.6 says that ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.
613.19 and 806.9 prohibits funding for gay caucuses and groups and the use of funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.
¶ 2702.4 enables clergy to be brought up on a chargeable offense for  being a self-avowed practicing homosexual, or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual union, or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Why does Sierra Pines UMC warmly welcome LGBTQ people?

In practice, despite what the Book of Discipline says, many churches and annual conferences have been ignoring and openly defying these paragraphs, while also seeking to change them. Clergy and laity have been going back to the Bible and re-interpreting passages in the light of modern-day science and our current understanding of human sexuality. Over the centuries, churches have changed their minds on other things such as slavery and the role of women. Some churches, like Sierra Pines UMC, have become Reconciling Churches and have joined the Reconciling Ministries Network and offered a welcoming space to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in Christ, where they are loved and encouraged and not condemned. Clergy have conducted same-sex weddings and churches have used their buildings to host those ceremonies. Many Annual Conferences have also knowingly ordained self-avowed practicing homosexuals, and our Western jurisdiction elected an openly lesbian Bishop in 2016 (Bishop Karen Oliveto, now serving Mountain Sky Conference). There are clergy who have been brought up on charges; in some areas (like ours) these have been dismissed and in other more traditional areas, clergy have been defrocked.

What plans are being considered?

  • One Church Plan. The One Church Plan acknowledges “persons of good conscience” can interpret what Scripture says about sexuality differently. Related petitions will amend the Book of Discipline to remove the language about incompatibility with Christian teaching and marriage being limited to a man and woman. Annual conferences will determine whether to ordain LGBTQ clergy and allow individual churches to vote whether to perform same-sex weddings in their buildings. No clergy would be required to perform a same-sex wedding and clergy will be able to transfer or be reassigned if their beliefs conflict with those of their churches. Bishops could not prevent or require a pastor or church to perform a same-sex wedding under the plan, and they would not be required to ordain LGBTQ clergy, who could be ordained instead by the larger jurisdictional conference’s College of Bishops. This is the plan supported by the majority of the Council of Bishops.
  • Traditional Plan. This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations of church law. A church or annual conference that differs in its beliefs about sexuality would be allowed to leave the denomination to form its own “self-governing Methodist church,” and clergy would be allowed to transfer to those churches. When the Judicial Council reviewed the three plans (Decision 1366), about 40% of the Traditional plan was ruled out of order.
  • Connectional-Conference Plan. This plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values. Adaptations to the Book of Discipline would be allowed by each connectional conference. Annual conferences would determine their affiliation with a connectional conference. Local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference could vote to join another conference. There would be a Traditional Conference which would keep the current language; a Unity Connectional Conference that would acknowledge that members “are not of one mind regarding biblical interpretations related to human sexuality” Clergy would be allowed, but not required, to perform same-sex weddings. Similarly, annual conferences could decide to ordain LGBTQ clergy, and local churches could decide to receive them. In the Progressive Connectional Conference, all clergy would perform same-sex weddings, all annual conferences would ordain qualified LGBTQ clergy and all churches would welcome LGBTQ pastors. This plan would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution which requires a 2/3 vote by the General Conference and then subsequently by all annual conferences; therefore, this will be the hardest plan to pass.
  • The Simple Plan This plan proposes to “simply” remove the language from the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation in the church. It is the shortest legislation of the four plans.
  • Modified Traditional Plan. This is the Traditional Plan modified to comply with the Judicial Council rulings and with two additional petitions.

I’m concerned about this and I want to know more!

  • Speak to Pastor Joan.
  • Check out the additional resources below.

Additional Resources

Groups

Let us trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in and through this time and let us not be a people who are held captive by fear. Please pray for our denomination and that there will be a united way forward through this Special Session of the General Conference.