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What Can We Expect from General Conference? A Word from a Southern Pastor

Therefore Go-color logoAs we approach General Conference next week, it will be helpful for us to understand what is at stake and what the critical issues are for the United Methodist Church. Below is a helpful statement from Rev. Dr. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, Senior Minister at Saint Mark UMC, and a delegate to General Conference from the North Georgia Annual Conference:

“As many of you know, I will be attending General Conference in Portland, Oregon May 10 through May 20. General Conference, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is the meeting every four years at which United Methodists have a window of opportunity to change things in our organizational rule book known as the Book of Discipline. This year we will try to generate enough votes to remove the so called ‘incompatibility’ language that is found in our social principles (which state – We believe that homosexual persons are persons of sacred worth, but the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching). We will also be trying to remove the prohibitions on gay marriage and ordination of LGBTQ persons.

So do we have a chance? It would be very unlikely for us to get all these things done at once. However, there are some interesting options before us. Aside from the thousands of petitions asking for us to simply strike all the exclusionary language (which is very unlikely), one proposal, if passed, would allow each individual minister to decide whether or not they would marry a gay couple, just as we currently do for straight couples. Another would allow annual conferences to decide whether or not they will ordain LGBT persons. Another proposal, if passed, would allow all churches that want full inclusion for LGBTQ people to form their own “conference” such that pastors who favor full inclusion would only itinerate to churches that are in favor of full inclusion.

Each of these proposals is a long shot, but any one of them could pass if the majority of the delegates gravitate toward them. Another proposal would create what is called the Global Book of Discipline which would be a reduced version consisting of only those things on which we all agree, leaving all contentious issues to be voted on separately in the US, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines (the four global areas of the church). If this passes, in 2020 the US could vote on full inclusion separately from our African brothers and sisters who are not ready to accept full inclusion and who currently heavily stack the vote against it because they outnumber us.

All of these proposals will be discussed and voted upon. I do not know which, if any of these, will be accepted, but our last delegation meeting has given me reason for hope. Some of our friends on the far right and left believe schism is the only future before us. But what I heard in our last discussion as a delegation were the many voices in the middle – voices I had never heard before – from lay people and clergy, testifying to the love they have for their gay friends and family and voicing our need for full inclusion. If the rest of the general conference body is at least as open as our delegation from North Georgia, we may well be surprised at the end of the conference with what the Holy Spirit makes possible. Please pray for us. Pray that we will speak only in love and that the Spirit will be allowed to do her work.

Yours as always,

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