Devotionals
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Third & Adams Street, PO Box 9774, Moscow, Idaho USA | (208) 882-3715

Pastor Debbie's E-Spire - Febraury 26, 2019

Friends,

I will do my best to cover the major talking points from General Conference 2019, which just concluded in St Louis. Please feel free to contact me (by phone, email, or in person) if you have questions. I will do my best to answer all questions, though, please know, there are some things that are still very much unknown.

 

The basics:

The Social Principles (which are principles not laws) say two (arguably conflicting) things:

1) We are all individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.

2) Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian scriptures.

There are then laws in the Book of Discipline that pertain to those principles…those laws include

1) clergy cannot be “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”. In essence, someone could be gay and celibate and be ordained, but could not be gay, partnered and ordained.

2) UMC clergy are prohibited from performing same-sex marriages.

This has been the stated stance of the denomination for a long time. But, it has not been the belief or lived ministry of all individual members, pastors, churches, and even annual conferences in that same time frame. Many of those “outliers” or “dissenters” are in the Western Jurisdiction (though there are plenty of folks with these same beliefs across the connection). Together the Annual Conferences in the West have had discussion and debates on LGBT rights within the church and have done various things:

1) Struggled with how to have these conversations in civil and life-giving ways

2) Affirmed LGBT folks as members and leaders within the church.

3) Performed same-sex marriages.

4) Ordained out and partnered clergy.

5) Elected an out and partnered bishop.

6) Lived with the tension that not all members, clergy, or churches believe the same thing—we live under the umbrella of theological diversity that allows for “conservatives” and “progressives” to be the body of Christ together.

In 2016, the General Conference (the legislative body of the UMC) met for their regular meeting and came to a stalemate on petitions that sought to change the language of the Book of Discipline (BOD) to be less restrictive and more affirming. The bishops were asked to help us find a way forward. I’ve outlined those steps in other communications and am happy to resend those if needed but won’t rehash them here.

This week’s events:

This last weekend began the meeting of General Conference 2019—the special GC called for the UMC to vote specifically (and really only) on these (and specifically related) issues. At the outset there were basically 4 plans:

1) One Church Plan (OCP)

2) Connectional Church Plan

3) Traditional Plan (TP)

4) Simple Plan

There were also 5 exit plans. Exit plans were written because, as it stands, the UMC has “the trust clause”. This rule basically says that if a church dissolves or disbands, any and all property become property of the annual conference (not of the people in the church). The trust clause is legally strong and has been upheld in various courts. The exit plans seek to find a way around the trust clause that would allow churches to leave the denomination with their property. Some of the exit plans were more gracious than others.

The legal-ease of how voting happened is fairly complicated and generally only (mostly) interesting to those really invested in the process. It’s a lot of minutia. If you have specific questions or are really interested in how it all played out, I’m happy to share it with you, but don’t expect the majority want to know.

I expect the looming questions are these:

1) What happened?

2) What does it mean?

3) Where do we go from here?

What happened?

In short, the Traditional Plan passed by a simple majority (53%) of the 864 voting delegates. The TP sought to fortify and strengthen the current exclusions and restrictions within the BOD. In essence, the official statement of the UMC remains as one that is exclusive and not affirming of our LGBTQIA siblings. However, various petitions within the whole plan have been deemed unconstitutional by the Judicial Council—our version of the Supreme Court. The plan as a whole, as it was adopted today, has been referred to the Judicial Council for review of constitutionality.

What does it mean?

There are various answers to this, all depending on who you are and how you look at it. One answer is, we don’t know yet. We are still waiting on the declaratory decision from the Judicial Council to know which, if any, parts will stand. Another answer is we’ve done irreparable harm to LGBT folks within the church and beyond. We, as a denomination, have reinforced that they are not (fully) welcome within the United Methodist Church. Another answer is, in the West, it may not mean much. We’ve practiced openness and inclusivity in a variety of ways and our churches aren’t ready to stop. Another answer might be that we will lose members of our churches. People may not be able to stay in the painful place of feeling unloved and unwelcomed. Others may not be able to reconcile the words of the church with the words of Jesus.

Where do we go from here?

I think this is a question we will have to explore together. We are the church—together—and we have to decide who we are, what we stand for, and how we will live Christ’s commission, together. I do know this: we still live in a broken hurting world that needs hope, comfort, care, justice and compassion. In other words, there is ministry to be done. And you all are wonderful, gifted, loving people whom God has placed in this church body to do just that. We don’t have to be of one mind to live with grace and kindness. We don’t have to affirm the work of General Conference (individually or collectively) in order to affirm God’s ability to work in us or through us.

I am more than open to conversation (from all perspectives) and invite you to come to the church on Wednesday 2/27 from 7:00-8:00am, 12:00-1:00pm, or 6:30-8:00pm (or any portion thereof) for conversation and/or prayer. I plan to be in the Parlor for each of those times. We will have a special time of worship and prayer on Sunday 3/3 at 9:30 in the sanctuary for any who are inclined. If those times don't work for you, please let me know and we will find a time that does.

Finally, I share with you a statement from the Western Jurisdiction (Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, Alaska, California-Pacific, Big Sky, Rocky Mountain, Desert Southwest, and California-Nevada annual conferences) that was shared at the end of General Conference today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

At the 2019 Special Called Session of the General Conference,

Rev. Donna Pritchard, chair of the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team made this statement on behalf of Western Jurisdiction Leadership:

"We have long appreciated the richness of the global diversity of our United Methodist Church and have embraced opportunities to join with you all in the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world. "We also understand the purpose of the Church to be in mission and ministry. Consequently, we in the West have been functioning for years as One Church committed to full inclusion, seeking to be a home for all God’s people. "Today we acknowledge the fracture of this body, yet we worship a God who tells us that the body of Christ has many parts, all equally valued. Rooted in Wesleyan tradition, grounded in Scripture and committed to mission and ministry, the Western Jurisdiction intends to continue to be one church, fully inclusive and open to all God’s children, across the theological and social spectrum. "We know from experience we are stronger when we live together as progressives, traditionalists and centrists in our Church. Many times during this Conference we have sung or prayed or blessed each other with the reminder that we need each other. Thank you." In two weeks, the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction will meet. We want to be clear that the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction believes in one church for all. Mission and ministry is too important. This is where we stand, we are not moving, we are not leaving, and we are not changing.

 

In Christ
Pastor Debbie

 

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