In less than 2 months, the most consequential meeting since the founding of the United Methodist Church in 1968 will begin. A specially called General Conference will take place in St. Louis February 23-26 to discuss and decide the church's stance on matters regarding human sexuality. This General Conference has been called by the Council of Bishops at the request of the General Conference in 2016.
In 2016, our denomination came seriously close to collapsing over deeply held disagreements over the place of LGBTQ people in the church. The Council of Bishops then decided to host a "Commission on the Way Forward," a panel representing the various factions within the denomination. The Commission presented 3 proposals that would alter our Book of Discipline to address the impasse. These three proposals are very different. All three have been reviewed by our Judicial Council (our church's supreme court) and evaluated for whether they are compatible with our Book of Discipline. General Conference 2019 will look at these proposals and try to reach a solution.
I'm asking each of us in the Orchards congregation to set aside time for prayer on Wednesdays beginning now until February 27, the day after the General Conference's conclusion. I don't really know what to tell you to pray for. I have great fear that our denomination will implode. At the same time, I know the wise and beloved community at Orchards will endure. And I know even better that our calling from God to love our neighbors as ourselves--with mercy, kindness and respect--will emerge from the chaos of General Conference.
I do think that as societies change--and we have changed considerably on these issues--people are ultimately compelled to choose how or if they want to change along with it. As for welcoming and including LGBTQ people I have changed from prohibition to inclusion. Experiences I have had with gay and lesbian Christians have led me to see how the church's teachings are incompatible with the truths of their lives. I have watched fruitful and admirable ministers leave for friendlier denominations. I see how including and welcoming LGBTQ impacts how we include and welcome all people unlike us. To illustrate this, I want to tell you about my seminary classmate Hyoik.
Before coming to seminary in NJ, Hyoik got a degree in Sacred Music in Texas. He is a masterful pianist and singer. He moved to Texas with his wife and kids and began looking for church musician jobs to support his family. He heard that there was a church that welcomed gay people. He was very intrigued because his traditional Korean church was not like that. He reasoned with his wife 'If they can welcome and accept gay people, they will probably welcome and accept us foreigners.' His family took a chance and went. Their wisdom paid off. Soon Hyoik became one of their musicians and found a place that loved and cared for his family as they were negoiating a scary new homeland. Ironically, for all the LGBTQ Christians I have seen go to other churches, Hyoik's story still sticks in my ribs. The LGBTQ issue is really about how we love people.
These issues facing the church have deep and far-reaching implications. So General Conference must be flooded with prayers for wisdom! I hope you'll join me. Finally, on Wednesdays I will send via email and Facebook information on the General Conference to inform your prayers. It is a complex issue. But it cannot be ignored.
If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. I'm here to help.