Christ Church Family
Most of you are aware that a group of 864 delegates from the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia came together in St. Louis this week to consider how our denomination should respond to the complex issue of human sexuality. The United Methodist Church has been dealing with this issue since 1976. On Tuesday of this week, the delegates voted to continue the denomination’s historical, theological stance. To some within the worldwide Church, the news was received in joy, while in other parts of the church, the news was received with tears. In order to give you a clearer understanding of what happened, why it happened, and how it affects us, your pastors have put together this document. Your pastors remain committed to the radical, irrational hospitality of Jesus Christ and Christ Church welcomes all who wish to know the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus.
What is the General Conference?
The General Conference (GC) is the primary law-making body of the United Methodist Church (UMC). It is the only body that may officially speak on behalf of the church. The GC meets every four years unless it agrees to meet in a special called session. It meets to discuss matters pertaining to the connection of the UMC as well as to determine the stance of the church on theological issues. The GC is made up of a minimum of 600 delegates and no more than 1000 delegates. Every Annual Conference in the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia are apportioned a specific number of delegates (relative to the membership size of the Annual Conference) each may elect to attend. The delegates are equally divided between clergy and laity.
Why was there a special session of the General Conference in 2019?
In 2016, at the last regular session of the General Conference, the issue of human sexuality came to a head and threatened to tear the church apart. The church was at a stalemate. There were those fighting for the full-inclusion of LGBTQ people and those fighting to maintain the historical, theological position of the church. As the Conference was ending, a motion was made to ask the Bishops to convene a committee to study the issue and bring a plan before a called session of the GC that would offer as much unity as possible and ease the tension.
Exactly what was the issue?
The current position of the United Methodist Church regarding human sexuality is as follows:
- Marriage is defined between one male and one female.
- Same-sex marriages or civil unions may not be conducted by UM pastors nor conducted on UM property.
- Our Discipline contains the following statements:
“We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift. Although all persons are sexual beings whether they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”
“We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
- Ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” is forbidden.
“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self- avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as minister or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
General Conference 2019: What happened? 864 delegates from around the world gathered in St Louis, Missouri to discern a way forward for the United Methodist Church regarding the issue of human sexuality. No one from Christ Church was elected as a delegate to the Conference. Four major plans were submitted, but only three had any significant support. They were (1) The One Church Plan, (2) The Traditional Plan, and (3) The Simple Plan.
- By Judicial Council decision: “Self-avowed, practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.”
- The One Church Plan was the plan championed by the majority of bishops and the team they formed as a response to the 2016 GC session. In brief, the One Church Plan removed the “offending” language in the Discipline and allowed each pastor to decide whether to conduct same-sex marriages, and each local church to decide whether these marriages would be allowed on their property. It also allowed each local church to decide if they would accept a homosexual pastor. Further, each annual conference would decide whether it would ordain homosexual persons.
- The Traditional Plan maintained the current stance of the United Methodist Church while more clearly defining the definition of a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual.” It also closed the “loopholes” pastors and Annual Conferences used to circumvent the rules prohibiting marriage or ordination. In this plan, pastors who violate the rules once would receive a one-year suspension without pay. The second offense revokes the pastor’s credentials.
- The Simple Plan removes all “offending” language and removes all prohibitions on marriage and ordination.
These three plans all received considerable attention at the Conference.
It is important to know that the new plan does not go into effect until January 1, 2020. It is also important to know that the plan will be sent to the Judicial Council for review and parts of the plan may be ruled unconstitutional.
- The Simple Plan was defeated 494 to 323.
- The One Church Plan was defeated by a vote of 449 to 374.
- The Traditional Plan was approved by a vote of 438 to 384.
What does that mean for Christ Church?
For us at Christ Church we continue to be a church that reflects the bigger body of Christ. We are very diverse. As I mentioned previously, our church family consists of those all across the theological and political spectrum. In many ways, this is a more beautiful reflection of who the church is called to be. So, for us nothing has changed. We still love and welcome everyone with a hospitality that is both radical and irrational.
We recognize that in a church family as diverse as ours, our denomination’s recent action has brought pain to many of you. Your church family and your pastors love and deeply care for each of you. We are here to listen, pray, and walk the journey of faith with you.
We also recognize that many of you are pleased with our denomination’s decision to uphold the Church’s historical, theological stance. Let us all remember the mission that holds us together at Christ Church is to Love God, love others, and live out the gospel life.
Love from your pastors,
Lead Pastor John Speight
Associate Pastor Tony Arnold
Associate Pastor Ryan LaRock