For the past five days, I have been meeting with the Council of Bishops (COB) at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. I cannot think of a more beautiful and serene setting for our work around a way forward for The United Methodist Church in regard to issues of human sexuality.
I am sending my blog several days early because of the timeliness of the theme.
With an interim report from the Commission on a Way Forward in hand and an overwhelming commitment to the unity and mission of the church, we explored three different models presented to us by the Commission. The Commission’s mandate is to help the Council of Bishops fulfill its charge to bring a recommendation to a special 2019 session of General Conference.
The Council of Bishops is deeply grateful to the Commission on a Way Forward for their sensitivity to the variety of deeply held views of faithful United Methodists around the world. Three models were presented to us, each one emerging from the mission of our church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- The first sketch of a model affirms the current Book of Discipline language and places a high value on accountability.
- The second sketch of a model removes restrictive language and places a high value on contextualization. It also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
- The third sketch of a model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization, and justice.
These sketches of models are intended to provide space for different views, an overarching unity of heart and mind, and an emphasis on the mission of the church. Each sketch represents values that are within the Council of Bishops and across the church and also includes a gracious way of exit for those who feel called to leave the denomination.
The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward, Bishops Ken Carter, Sandra Steiner Ball, and David Yemba, noted that the values highlighted in any one model also live within the fabric of the other models. Values expressed by any one model are not exclusive to one or absent in another. The values that may be associated with the identity of any one model are there because it may be a value lifted to a higher level of preference or differentiation among the models. Bishop Steiner Ball encouraged the bishops, “Operate with a heart of peace and an openness. All three models grew out of mission, vision, and scope. Each one of these models connects to a story and experience that is represented in this body.”
The bishops began a process of prayerful discerning and offered substantial feedback to the Commission, but they did not take a vote on any of the three models presented in the interim report of the Commission on a Way Forward. The Commission will continue its work with guidance from the COB, both groups of which are open to learning, listening, and improvement. At the same time, the bishops have made it a priority to engage intently with clergy and laity in their annual conferences.
The Commission will process the feedback received from the bishops at the Lake
Junaluska meeting and will continue to welcome further input from clergy and laity around the United Methodist Connection through conversations and discussions with their respective bishops on the strengths and limitations of each model. The bishops received a handbook of basic resources, which will be available on the Commission on a Way Forward’s website as a PDF.
The members of the Council of Bishops have great hope for the future of The United Methodist Church and are united in the desire to lead our denomination through this challenging time. In this season of conversation, visioning, and discernment, we covet your prayers, ideas, and willingness to imagine who God is calling us to become as United Methodists in a rapidly changing world.
I have made it a priority to meet with the General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation and various other groups in the Iowa Annual Conference in the coming weeks and months. We will be engaged in teaching and discernment together. I will also be present in each of the eight districts in the spring to have conversation with both laity and clergy. Please watch for the schedule to be published. You are welcome to attend whatever time and location works best for you.
Unity is God’s gift to our world and to The United Methodist Church. God continually calls all disciples of Jesus Christ to pray, seek, and work for unity at all levels. During morning worship today, we read this scripture from John 17: 20-22, “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one.” At the end of worship, we sang this hymn.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
May it be so.