May 27, 2016

PERSONAL THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS ON GENERAL CONFERENCE 2016


Rev. Wendy Ann Witt, May 26, 2016


Now that General Conference is officially over, it is time to reflect on and share what did and did not happen in Portland. Over the course of the 10 days that General Conference was in session, May 10 – 20, it became glaringly obvious to all that were there that we are a divided church. Despite numerous calls to pray and sing for unity, despite powerful sermons that challenged us to confront differences in a loving, merciful, and compassionate way, the fissure in our connection appeared to get only wider. While the “issue” of LGBTQI full inclusion in the life and ministry of our church was the most visible sign of our division, it is only a symptom of a much wider divide.

We are divided over core issues of identity, mission and purpose; of how we will order our lives together in our own denomination and in the world; how we will read, understand, interpret and act on Scripture; even on what it means to be Methodist.

Because we are proudly a reconciling congregation and because of our brave, bold, and faithful decision in September 2014 to practice marriage equality, many have asked what happened with the over 100 petitions.

On Monday, May 16, a rumor circulated widely through Conference that the Bishops had been meeting and were going to present the Conference with a call to consider schism. On Tuesday morning what was received instead was a call for unity in the body even if there wasn’t unanimity. At that point, all human sexuality petitions were slated to come to the floor for debate and vote that day. Before that could happen, a delegate rose to challenge the Council of Bishops to rise up and lead us, to help us find a way to move forward on this issue that has for way too long divided us and limited our ability to be a truly connectional church. The Bishops heeded that call, met together, and wrote a statement that was presented later that day to the Conference, where it was turned into a motion, amended, debated, and finally voted on. In the end, here is basically what was decided: A special commission will be named and convened by the Council of Bishops. The sole purpose of this commission is to review, revise, and rewrite all paragraphs in the Book of Discipline having to do with human sexuality. They tabled ALL legislation on human sexuality until the work of the Commission is done and the Conference has received and voted on their report. While there was a strong push to get the Bishops to declare a moratorium on all charges and trials and to allow Annual Conferences to ordain openly LGBTQI candidates for ministry, this did not happen. Instead, what the Bishops promised is to work to find creative ways to avoid charges and trials and to do no more harm while at the same time upholding the Book of Discipline. You can read the full statement here. While this is not the outcome we hoping and working for, I want everyone to know that it could have been a lot worse. Given the tone of the Conference, had the legislation come to the floor we would have ended up with even harsher language and more prohibitive and punitive positions.

So we wait. We wait for the Commission to be named and convened. We wait for the report to be issues and a special session of General Conference to be called. But while we wait, we at the Chicago Temple will continue to do the work that God has called and is calling us to do of welcoming, embracing, accepting, including all who come and inviting all to participate in the full life and ministry of our church. This is who we are. This is who God has shaped us and called us to be. In faithful response to God’s claim on our lives and our ministry, we can do no other.