Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Word from the Council of Bishops

Yesterday, delegate Mark Holland (Great Plains) made a call for the Council of Bishops - those three not needed to actually preside over the General Conference at the time - to meet separately during the proceedings of General Conference to come up with a plan for our church, including a plan to not wait four more years to convene again as a General Conference, if this seems necessary. He urged our episcopal leaders to give us leadership at this critical time for our church.

Below is their response this morning. It was acknowledged by Bishop Ough, President of the Council of Bishops, that the bishops are not unanimous in this statement. It was also acknowledged that, "unanimity is not the same as unity."
Galatians 3:25-29 (NRSV) - But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Your bishops were honored to receive the request of General Conference to help lead our United Methodist Church forward during this time of both great crises and great opportunity.
As far as we can discover, this is the first time that a General Conference has ever made such a request of the Council of Bishops, and we accept this request with humility. 
We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord. Yesterday, our president shared the deep pain we feel. We have all prayed for months and continue to do so. We seek, in this kairos moment, a way forward for profound unity on human sexuality and other matters. This deep unity allows for a variety of expressions to co-exist in one church. Within the Church, we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23.
UNITY. We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God. We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviors, a new way of being and new forms and structures which allow a unity of our mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" while allowing for differing expressions as a global church. Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we your bishops commit ourselves to lead this effort. We ask you, as a General Conference, to affirm your own commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church. We will coordinate this work with the various efforts already underway to develop global structures and a new General Book of Discipline for our church. Strengthening the unity of the church is a responsibility for all of us. 
PRAYER. We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead the UMC in a "pause for prayer" - to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and intentionally seek God's will for the future. As a Council of Bishops 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 ask you, as a General Conference, to join us in this effort, beginning this week. We were moved by the sight of delegates praying around the table, and we hope these efforts will continue. As your bishops we are ready to join you and to lead you in these times of prayer. 
NEXT STEPS. 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 secuality 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 the Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, they 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.) 
CONTINUING DISCUSSIONS. 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.
Let us imagine...Abundant Health. 6 million children die every year from preventable illness. Fulfill our calling as a global church by reaching 1 million children with life-saving and health-promoting measures by 2020. Working to protect children from preventable illnesses.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 102 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession and 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. 
Following this statement, after a break and time for table talk, Adam Hamilton (Great Plains) made a motion that we move forward with the recommendation from Council of Bishops to form a group to discuss human sexuality issues, look at all paragraphs in our Discipline on this issue, and call a special session of General Conference; and for now, table all human sexuality petitions (DCA p. 1709. These are the ones that were originally meant to be handled by Rule 44. You can look them up by number here). Chap Temple (Texas) then offered a substitute motion that we NOT table all human sexuality petitions. The body began a debate as to which motion they would work on after Gene Mims (Virginia) called for prayer, to "rise, hold hands with each other, and ask for the will of Jesus Christ to be done in this body before we start debating."

After much debate (and confusion related to the clearing of the speakers' queue), the body voted to work on the Hamilton motion.

There are no shortage of opinions about this topic on Twitter. Many are calling for the delegates to "do their job" - vote on the petitions that have been submitted. This is what we have always done. This is "the work of General Conference." Some are calling for the bishops to butt out. But no rules have been broken, here. The body of GC asked the bishops for a way forward, and the bishops are only speaking with the consent of the body. This is highly unusual. But this conference cannot be "business as usual," because that is simply not working.

There are many who feel the time has come for a change in our denomination - that the time is, in fact, long overdue. There are many who are determined that, on the issue of human sexuality, our church will remain steadfast in our historical position. However we choose to state it in our Discipline, it cannot be denied that faithful Christians disagree on this issue.

Personally, having experienced the debacle of General Conference 2012, I am convinced that voting on the human sexuality petitions will bring great pain, not just to those present at GC, but to our denomination. Demonstrations will hinder the work of the body to move forward on any petitions, and our church will move, perhaps irrevocably, toward schism, not unity. I have no reason to think that the proceedings of General Conference will seem "reasonable," once these petitions are on the floor.

Is it cowardice to table these petitions with the understanding that we have a plan in place to work in a creative, new way to seek a solution that will allow for unity? I think it is the opposite. I disagree with those who say the delegates have been elected to do "business as usual." Clearly, our polity is no longer effective with a global body of this size. If the delegates take unusual measures and vote to approve an attempt to try something new, then I think they are absolutely doing their job.

The delegates are on lunch break for now. I hope you will join me in prayer for them and for our church.
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer (West Ohio) has been presiding over
the session this morning with great patience and grace. His calm
presence is a blessing during difficult conversations.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the updates. It's great having a person on the inside.


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