The General Conference, the highest legislative body in the United Methodist Church and the only group who can decide church law and speak officially for the global denomination, adjourned its special session yesterday. Its focus was to consider the church’s official stance on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the place of LGBTQIA+ persons in ordained ministry.
The conference narrowly defeated plans that would have removed restrictive language and allowed annual (regional) conferences, local churches, and pastors more discretion in ministry to and with LGBTQIA+ persons, including allowing ordination and marriage for LGBTQIA+ persons. After two days of debate and discussion, a narrow majority voted in favor of the so-called "Traditional Plan" (438 to 384), which maintains current restrictions in church law and strengthens enforcement against pastors and churches who violate church law.
Delegates also voted to adopt legislation that would allow churches and clergy, who in good conscience cannot abide by church law in these matters, to “disaffiliate” with the United Methodist Church. The legislation mapped out a process for this to happen and specified the financial and legal provisions that would have to be satisfied.
Despite these actions, there is still much we don’t know. A portion of the passed legislation is known to be in conflict with the church’s constitution and will be overturned by the Judicial Council (the top church court). All passed legislation was referred to the Judicial Council for review. The Judicial Council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25. The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference, said any piece of legislation that the Judicial Council declares unconstitutional will not be included in church law.
What About JCUMC?
In the coming weeks, we will be meeting with our bishop and other clergy leaders in the North Georgia Conference to understand the specifics of the legislation that was passed and what, if any, practical implications there are for our local church. However, it appears on the surface that the actions of General Conference mean that there is no change to who we are or what we are called to do.
Johns Creek United Methodist Church will gather for worship this Sunday, and the next, and the next, and every Sunday after that. We will hold small groups. We will send people into the community in mission. We will nurture and shepherd people who are hurting. We will open our doors to and include in our ministry people who are straight and gay; who are old and young; who are black, white, brown, and any color of the rainbow; who are housed and unhoused; who are foreigners and neighbors; and who span the spectrum of gender identities. We will embrace every person and journey with them along the pathway of discipleship. We will welcome people who question their faith and those who are assured of their salvation. We will baptize people without discrimination into the body of Christ. We will proclaim the Gospel of salvation to all people and not allow that ministry to be derailed or otherwise compromised by the actions of General Conference.
The narrow margins of the General Conference votes probably reflect the divisions within our congregation. Thus, the decisions of General Conference will be hurtful to many and a relief to many. However, they do not change our core mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They do not—must not—change our conviction that the Gospel is for all people. And, they must not change our determination to be in ministry for the sake of this gospel to and with all persons in Johns Creek.
We are grateful for your part in this ministry and we invite your continued prayers for the mission of our church and for all who are harmed by the actions of our Church in this or any matter. We are honored to be your pastors.
Charley, Brandon, Lori, and Brittany