By Council of Adventist Pastors
On May 18, delegates to the United Methodist Church (UMC) 2016 General Conference Session meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA, voted to create a special commission which could call a Special GC session and make epochal changes to Methodist faith and practice.
The UMC has experienced heated conflict over LGBT questions. Protests have occurred at several GC sessions. The present session has seen several protest spectacles, including LGBT persons covering their own mouths shut with rainbow tape, and even tying themselves up and positioning themselves to lay bound on the session floor.
Even before the session, Methodists had been calling for an amicable separation, and influential Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton revealed at a 7:00 a.m. meeting on May 17 that the leaders of the denomination had been quietly meeting for several days to consider possible changes. According to Hamilton,
So, the conversation began to be, what if a special commission was appointed by this general conference, that the bishops recommended this, and the general conference appointed a special commission, whose job would be to take the next two years and develop a plan for (and this will be my language and not everybody else’s language), a plan for reordering the life of people called Methodists and the United Methodist Church? That plan for reordering would create, out of one United Methodist Church, potentially three new United Methodist Churches. And one would be the conservative United Methodist Church; one would be a church for those who are progressive who only want to be in a church with people who are progressive and will allow nothing less than full inclusion on everything, for everybody, in other words, that every pastor needs to be doing same-gender weddings, every pastor, every church needs to host same-gender weddings, so, if that’s where you are and you say, that’s a justice issue and we really can’t be with other people who are not like us on this; and then a church for what I perceive to be the vast majority of United Methodists which are somewhere in the middle. . . (Time stamp 22:24-23:39).
According to Hamilton,
In two years we would have a special called general conference for probably three days, in which the plan or plans would be laid out and the general conference would vote and its entirely possible that they could vote to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it and the next day reopen under new management, or maybe not new management, but something new, three different something-news (Time Stamp 25:43-26:07).
The presentation in which Hamilton’s made these statements can be viewed here:
The plan described by Hamilton was nearly identical to the recommendation made by UMC bishops the next day, first defeated then in almost identical form approved, but only by 23 votes. That proposal passed by the GC reads as follows:
We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.
We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and that will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two to three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)
We will continue to explore options to help the church to live in grace with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1–2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and then exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.
The “creative way forward,” seems to refer to what Hamilton presented in the video above linked. In fact, it was the same pastor, Hamilton, who the previous day called for the bishops to introduce some kind of plan! The denomination could be reorganized into as many as three distinct bodies.
It is important to understand that the GC session had been going well for conservative Methodists. A strong push to adopt “Rule 44” which potentially would have been used to process plenary agenda item votes and given place for the expression of stories and feelings in small groups, was defeated only after long hours of debate on different days. In smaller committees, items were being passed to keep the LGBT agenda from advancing. One ingenious plan (CUP) was also advancing through committees which would have suspended ministers who officiated at same-sex “weddings” for a year but which would also permit pro-LGBT churches to leave the denomination with their property. May 18 was scheduled to be the day when the most contentious issues involving homosexuality were to be voted on. All of that was preempted by the recommendation of church leadership of the special commission proposal.
Pastor Rob Renfroe describes the CUP plan in the video below:
The combination of the delegate’s steadfast rejection of attempts by LGBT activists to push their agenda, combined with the many initiatives which would have strengthened Methodist resolve, created an even deeper feeling of crisis. Notice what pro-LGBT Methodists say about the course of the session and the sudden introduction of the bishop’s plan:
From Love Prevails UMC:
Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment (https://loveprevailsumc.com/2016/05/19/getting-played-for-the-okey-doke/, accessed 2016-05-20).
And from Reconciling Ministries network:
Wow. What just happened? We’re sure some of you are asking that regarding yesterday’s decisions. . . . This is a win because it prohibits any legislative action that would further harm LGBTQ people and threaten the cause of justice. . . . As the commission is doing its work, the Bishops have promised to look for ways to avoid church trials and because this comes from the FULL council of bishops, that is an unprecedented commitment. In the past, only a few bishops committed to avoiding church trials. Some people feel like this is nothing, that nothing was accomplished yesterday, that this is nothing but a delay tactic. We realize that many of our constituents are upset and angry. But the alternatives that were quickly shaping up on the floor of GC would have led to a disastrous ending. . . . It’s important to recognize that the work of LGBTQ people and their allies created this opportunity and this moment (http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/no-matter-what-lies-ahead-we-remain-committed/, accessed 2016-05-20).
Pastor Rob Renfroe, a leader of the Methodists who oppose LGBT, offered this fascinating insight in a video that was released Friday morning (2016-05-20):
Many of the people who came to Portland convinced that they would change our position regarding marriage and sexuality, were the very people who promoted that we should create the commission and not vote on any issues related to sexuality. Now why would they do that? Because very early on, in this year’s General Conference, they learned that they did not have the votes to change the discipline. They learned in the committees that they were outvoted over and over again, and were certain that if these issues were brought to the plenary sessions they would loose, and embarrassingly so (https://youtu.be/rkoUnibdcC4, Time Stamp 1:11-1:47).
The point being, that after decades of strife and division over LGBT issues, conservative Methodists are finding voice to resist.
The 2016 Methodist General Conference session closes Friday, May 20. The key developments for the session have taken place. Seventh-day Adventists and Methodists share a great deal of history and organization in common and developments in the Methodist Church, can “preview” for us possible futures, good or bad, in our own church.
The Methodist Church voted to ordain women pastors 60 years ago. Today the denomination is in deep crisis over LGBT issues, and it remains to be seen whether the denomination can remain together until it holds a special GC session in 2018.
CAP has spent a few weeks sharing items that can help us understand developments in other denominations. Now we will return to address dangerous developments in our own Seventh-day Adventist Church. We will be publishing a series of items addressing our own Commissioned Minister Crisis. May God be with all as we ponder needful action to keep Seventh-day Adventist churches faithful to Scripture and focused on mission.