Reflections on Council of Bishops’ Plans for the Way Forward

Reflections on Council of Bishops’ Plans for the Way Forward

As you may already be aware, our worldwide denomination, the United Methodist Church, has been engaged in earnest dialogue for some time about human sexuality and full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer and others) communities in the life of the Church. We have supported the work of Mountain View’s own “Inclusivity Committee,” which has been conducting listening sessions and a teach-in on the topic of LGBTQ+ in recent months. Now we have received word from the Council of Bishops representing the UMC from around the world, and the recommendation they intend to pursue with the special Session of the General Conference in February of 2019.

Your Pastors have purposely waited to help frame these issues for the congregation until the Council of Bishops could speak to us from the work of the “Way Forward,” a representative body commissioned by the General Church in 2016. We are both keenly aware of our special responsibility to care for the least and lost in our midst and also avoid adding to the alienation some may already be feeling in matters of such a consequential nature.

In short, we now know that the Council of Bishops will be recommending the “One Church Plan” to the special session of the General Conference in 2019. The One Church Plan gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. It provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality, without changing the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church. The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so. Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — could maintain current restrictions. This plan places a high value on contextualization (doing and being the Church in one’s context).

The Council of Bishops will submit two other plans as a part of their report to the special General Conference but will only recommend The One Church Plan. Those other plans are:

The Traditionalist Plan would affirm the current language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, and seek to strengthen enforcement. This model places a high value on accountability.

The Connectional-Conference Plan would allow conferences to choose among three connectional conferences for affiliation. The connectional conferences would align based on theology or perspective on LGBTQ ministry — be it traditionalist, progressive or allowing for a variety of approaches. This plan would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution. This model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services while creating different branches.

As these are merely RECOMMENDATIONS from our Council of Bishops, one simply cannot say how the One Church Plan will look once the General Conference meets in special session in February 2019. Still, it is revealing to see the direction mapped out by our leaders, and what values that have been identified. Specifically, the Council of Bishops have stated that they are valuing:

  • Prayer and discernment
  • “Strong affirmation, not consensus”
  • “A Generous unity”
  • Mission (doing and being the church) holistically in one’s context
    Healthy dialogue
  • “Strength in diversity”

As a sacred community gathered around the witness of Jesus Christ, we too have our own dynamic set of values at MV– ideals to which we are committed to and by which, we are known in this community:

  • God, faithfulness and worship
  • Care and compassion for each other through community and family
  • Outreach in missions, hospitality and service
  • Inclusion and openness
  • Honesty, integrity, kindness, and courage

As your Pastoral Team, we will continue to listen, learn, and journey in the messiness of life with you. We are committed to staying open to the Holy Spirit, ground ourselves in Holy Scripture, learn from diversity, see one another and circumstances through the eyes of God, and claim authentic relationship with one another. We do not expect agreement or even consensus on these matters, but we do hope for a functional understanding of the persons involved in this consequential conversation. We may not know every detail of how we will arrive as ONE Church when all is said and done. Christian life involves faith and flexibility in large quantities, and we look to keep our hearts and ears and eyes open as we journey together in faith.

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