Q & A’s

Over the last few weeks we have tried to provide relevant information to our congregation related to the upcoming Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church, February 23 – 26, 2019 in St. Louis. There are two previous eblasts that share information about the issues and plans that will be before the General Conference. They can help place the issues dealt with in this eblast in context so we encourage you to read them as well. You can access the previous emails at our website. On January 12, 2019 at our annual IOHUMC Servant Leadership Event, we asked our Coastal District Superintendent Rev. David Thompson to share on the upcoming General Conference and the report of the Commission on A Way Forward. Due to time restraints, we asked those in attendance who would like to ask a question to turn in a card with their question on it. Some of the responses written down were relatively straight- forward questions. Some responses were comments. As announced, our intent has been to try and answer questions that were asked. We hope the answers provided here are helpful and clarifying. We understand our response to the question is based on our interpretation of the question, and we sincerely hope it reflects our attempt to answer as best we can.
Thank you for understanding.
Rev. Mike Ricker
Bill Daniel

Clarification on the present Book of Discipline’s qualifications for all ordained United Methodist Ministers with respect to human Sexuality.

Social Principles related to family and marriage in the United Methodist Book of Discipline

Social Principles: The Nurturing Community

The Family
We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity. We affirm the importance of loving parents for all children. We also understand the family as encompassing a wider range of options than that of the two-generational unit of parents and children (the nuclear family). We affirm shared responsibility for parenting where there are two parents and encourage social, economic, and religious efforts to maintain and strengthen relationships within families in order that every member may be assisted toward complete personhood.

Marriage
We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

UMC Book of Discipline: paragraph 304. Qualifications for Ordination of United Methodist Clergy

Par. 304.2

2. For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of the influence of an ordained minister on the lives of other persons both within and outside the Church, the Church expects those who seek ordination to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life. To this end, they agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.

COMMENTARY: At present, there are clear expectations in the United Methodist Book of Discipline about the eligibility of persons seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church. In matters related to human sexuality and the ordained ministry, the UMC Book of Discipline requires ministers who are married to demonstrate fidelity in marriage. This means that the relationship between a minister and spouse should be honored and valued, and fidelity in the relationship is essential with respect to maintaining the rights and privilege of serving in the ordained ministry of the UMC. Sexual integrity within the marriage is expected of UMC ministers. Persons who are single and serve, or seek to serve, as an ordained UMC minister, are required to demonstrate celibacy in singleness. In addition to the requirements that govern the faithful expression of sexuality for ministers who are heterosexual, there are restrictions in the Book of Discipline regarding other expressions of human sexuality.

Par. 304.3

3. 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 ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

COMMENTARY: At present, there are clear restrictions in the United Methodist Book of Discipline about the eligibility of persons seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church who may be self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

UMC Book of Discipline: paragraph 341

Par. 341.6:

6. Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.


Questions and Answers from the Leadership Event

Some questions and answers may be grouped together for easier reference, since some questions relate to the same subject matter.

1. Have they already made up their mind?

We are assuming that the word “they” in the question is referring to the General Conference having already made up its mind. The United Methodist Church is unique in regard to final authority. According to our constitutional structure:

The United Methodist Church does not have a central headquarters or a single executive leader. Duties are divided among bodies that include the General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. Each of these entities is required by our Constitution, our foundational document, to be part of our structure, and plays a significant role in the life of the church. The General Conference, the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church, is the only body that speaks officially for the church.

No bishop, church, pastor, organization, committee, group, etc. can speak or decide on behalf of the United Methodist Church. Therefore, since the Called General Conference has not met and will not meet until February 23-27, 2019 no decision has been made and cannot be made by anyone or group but the General Conference.

2. How will they represent our/individual ideas about this issue?

Since we are a representative church, meaning we have delegates representing us, the delegates elected from the South Georgia Annual Conference, where Isle of Hope UMC resides, will represent us. That is not to say that there are not members of our church or conference who may have differing opinions from those of the delegation. It simply means that those elected to the General Conference delegation at the Annual Conference level are elected from the floor of the annual conference. They therefore seek, as much as possible, to represent the majority opinion of the delegates in attendance at the annual conference.

3. a. How can the South Georgia Conference claim 80% of the churches have reported back as wanting traditional when our church has not had a discussion or vote as to where our particular church stands? b. What has been communicated is the preference of IOHUMC and on what authority? c. Where is that data (80%) coming from and how can we attest to the accuracy?

3a. At our leadership event our District Superintendent reported on the upcoming Called General Conference. He reported on various aspects of the plans that will be presented. When asked him to respond to this question regarding his percentages, here is his response: “The 80% figure is an educated estimate that was framed as a rather conservative read based on cabinet discussions. We have had numerous district wide meetings with input and feedback from clergy and laity. This has been feedback, not votes or decisions, that seem to indicate that the majority of churches, not individual congregations or specific pastors, prefer a traditional stance. It is not hard data and was not intended to be conveyed as such. Additionally, at the annual conference session meeting in 2018, the conference passed by a significant majority a resolution to the Called General conference of 2019 to take a traditional position.”

3b. Nothing has been communicated as the preference of IOHUMC

3c. As stated above, by our D.S., the figures quoted are estimates only. They are based on cabinet feedback and the vote of the annual conference regarding the traditional plan.

4. Will the delegates for IOHUMC vote for the traditional plan at the special general conference?

Isle of Hope UMC does not have delegates to the Special Called General Conference. We have delegates that serve at the South Georgia Annual Conference level. Our church’s Annual Conference delegates, along with all the other delegates from churches across South Georgia, elected the 8 delegates that will serve at the Called General Conference.

5. Of the three plans, how did the Council of Bishops vote on each – i.e. to approve or disapprove?

According to a press release on May 4, 2018, here is the conclusion of the decision of the Council of Bishops. This is the exact letter released by the Council of Bishops.

 

letter.jpg

6. Why is there not a 4th option for the entirety of the United Methodist Church to become progressive and for all local churches to allow for homosexual ministers and marriages?

A Council of Bishops commissioned the formation The Commission on A Way Forward at the 2016 General Conference. They worked extensively to come up with their proposals and plans for General Conference. They settled on three plans. If you would like to read how they organized their work and formulated the three plans, you can cut and paste the following website and read more about the process they went through to reach their decision. Their entire report can be accessed at : http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/news_and_statements/documents/Way_Forward_Report_-_Final_-_ENGLISH.pdf

7. Why are options being proposed that are not feasible to adopt (connectional)?

The Connectional Plan is one of the three plans proposed by the Commission on A Way Forward. When the Commission on A Way Forward presented their plans, they went through extensive review and it had to be determined whether they were constitutional. The Judicial Council of the UMC ruled that each plan had issues related to their constitutionality and therefore those issues would have to be addressed. Each plan has been undergoing a review process. It has been speculated that the Connectional Plan could require as many as 15 constitutional amendments before it could be approved. The most recent report is close to nine (9) constitutional amendments. Another part of the feasibility of this plan has to do with it taking several years to implement and involves a number of sequential actions and formal votes by certain targeted dates. Taking into consideration the lengthy and cumbersome process for approving constitutional amendments (a 2/3 vote of every annual conference individually, then a 2/3 vote of all annual conferences), and the lengthy timeline for implementation, some feel it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pass. This is what was expressed by our District Superintendent.

8. What are the problems with the traditional plan?

The Traditional Plan, like the other plans, is not perfect. Basically, the plan calls the church to reaffirm its present position on sexual ethics, doctrine, its teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. The argument for the plan is that these ethics, teachings and standards have been included in the UM Church’s Book of Discipline over the past fifty years, and is faithful to the Church’s historical position in human sexuality. There are variations of the Traditional Plan as well as the other plans being presented at the Called General Conference. For example, one modified Traditional Plan allows individuals, congregations, and annual conferences ample time to consider its ramifications and determine whether they want to go forward with the UMC. For clergy, local congregations, and annual conferences that cannot support the Traditional Plan it provides them with fair ways to exit the UM Church with property and assets. For annual conferences opposed to the Traditional Plan and wishing to exit, it grants $200,000 to help with transitional costs. There are in the modified traditional plan stronger accountability requirements regarding matters related to sexual ethics as defined by the Book of Discipline. The stronger accountability requirements in the Modified Traditional Plan have caused some concern among not only Progressives but those who support the Traditional Plan. Those concerned want to make sure that persons who may oppose its adoption would be treated fairly. The plan does include a fair and judicious process for dealing with complaints and judicial process.

9. Will the “one church” model change what’s in the UMC Book of Discipline? (regarding sexuality)

Yes. This plan would reverse or make unenforceable current United Methodist positions on marriage and human sexuality. The One Church Plan would leave decisions to allow same-gender weddings up to churches and ordination up to annual conferences. The plan also would remove the statement in the Book of Discipline that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” as well as other language related to human sexuality. The plan does add protections for clergy and bishops who as a matter of conscience feel they couldn’t officiate at such unions or ordinations. The plan also lets central conferences (church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines), maintain their current prohibitions on ordination and same sex marriages.

10. If the General Conference elected to remain traditional, how will IOHUMC look in 1-2 years?

As you know, it is impossible to predict the future. The Traditional Plan being presented at the Called General Conference basically retains the present language and position of the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality, marriage and ordination. If it is adopted as presented, it would change very little of the present theological stance or practice of most local UMCs. How individuals within a local church respond to the decision would be a matter of personal conviction.


Broader Theological and Biblical Questions

11. Are there conditions/issues other than homosexuality that disqualify individuals from being ordained? If so, what are they?

The best way to answer this question regarding ordination in the UMC is to refer you to the exact language in the Book of Discipline with respect to qualifications for ordination in the UMC.

Par. 304 of the UMC Book of Discipline

Qualifications for Ordination.

1. Those whom the Church ordains shall be conscious of God’s call to ordained ministry, and their call shall be acknowledged and authenticated by the Church. God’s call has many manifestations, and the Church cannot structure a single test of authenticity. Nevertheless, the experience of the Church and the needs of its ministry require certain qualities of faith, life, and practice from those who seek ordination as deacons and elders. In order that The United Methodist Church may be assured that those persons who present themselves as candidates for ordained ministry are truly called of God, the Church expects persons seeking ordination to:
a) Have a personal faith in Christ and be committed to Christ as Savior and Lord.
b) Nurture and cultivate spiritual disciplines and patterns of holiness.
c) Teach and model generous Christian giving with a focus on tithing as God’s standard of giving
d) Acknowledge a call by God to give themselves completely to ordained ministry following Jesus’ pattern of love and service.
e) Communicate persuasively the Christian faith in both oral and written form.
f) Make a commitment to lead the whole Church in loving service to humankind.
g) Give evidence of God’s gifts for ordained ministry, evidence of God’s grace in their lives, and promise of future usefulness in the mission of the Church.
h) Be persons in whom the community can place trust and confidence.
i) Accept that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation through faith in God through Jesus Christ; be competent in the disciplines of Scripture, theology, church history, and Church polity; possess the skills essential to the practice of ordained ministry; and lead in making disciples for Jesus Christ.
j) Be accountable to The United Methodist Church, accept its Doctrinal Standards and Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers.
2. For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of the influence of an ordained minister on the lives of other persons both within and outside the Church, the Church expects those who seek ordination to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life. To this end, they agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.
3. 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 ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
4. The United Methodist Church entrusts those persons who are in the ordained ministry with primary responsibility for maintaining standards of education and preparation for ordination. Having been originally recommended by a charge conference or equivalent body (¶ 310.1e) and by authorization of the ordained members in full connection with the annual conference, according to the procedures set out in the Book of Discipline for the examination and approval of candidates for ordination, persons are elected to membership in the annual conference and ordained by the bishop.
5. In all votes regarding license, ordination, or conference membership, the requirements set forth herein are minimum requirements. Each person voting is expected to vote prayerfully based on personal judgment of the applicant’s gifts, evidence of God’s grace, and promise of future usefulness for the mission of the Church.

12. What would be the “Cliff Notes” version of the theological AND scriptural reasons for adjusting the church’s stance on human sexuality and marriage?

Unfortunately there are no cliff notes to this extremely complex and highly charged discussion. The following is an attempt to briefly discuss the two sides.

It is widely agreed upon by United Methodists that the Holy Scriptures are the primary source of theological reflection for Methodists. Although widely read and thoroughly trained in classical theology, etc., John Wesley considered himself to be a man of “One Book”, meaning the Bible. While the Bible was his primary source for all decision- making, he did use three other things that helped form what later became known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience). While he never elevated the later three to the level of Scripture, he did acknowledge the importance of those three in what later became a theological construct for decision making. As United Methodists, our Book of Discipline makes clear that understanding the Bible is reinforced by the other three segments of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Both Traditionalists and Progressives agree on the value of Scripture and the sacred worth of all people.

Traditionalists and Progressives profoundly differ on their view and interpretations of Scripture related to human sexuality and marriage. Both use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to support their positions. Traditionalists emphasize personal holiness when discussing human sexuality and a belief that sexuality is a gift from God and must be used in the way in which God intended. They believe Scripture provides a clear, straightforward mandate for how humans should or should not act on their sexual desires, namely within the God ordained covenant of heterosexual marriage. They believe that sexual behavior is to be limited to the relationship shared between a husband and wife within the covenant of marriage. They believe that the present statements and statutes of the Book of Discipline accurately affirm the worth of all people, while at the same time reflecting the consistent Scriptural expectations of those who are seeking to live in covenant as members of the Christian church.

The Traditional Plan’s understanding of unity in the church is directly related to its assumption that matters of human sexuality are doctrinal in nature and therefore cannot be compromised. The Traditional Plan believes unity is best achieved by clarifying The United Methodist Church’s stance prohibiting the ordination and marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, and implementing significant enforcement measures to ensure that bishops, clergy and Annual Conferences uphold it. In this view, unity exists for those who share the same convictions and are willing to live by them. In the Traditionalist’s view, the seven passages of Scripture (Genesis 19:4-11, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Jude 7, Romans 1:26-27) that specifically make reference to same sex relations all provide a clear, consistent biblical condemnation and prohibition of homosexual behavior.

In regard to marriage, Traditionalists believe that Jesus made it clear (Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:5-9) that marriage is to be viewed as the union of a man and woman, male and female. Traditionalists contend that Jesus is affirming the sacred and unique character of heterosexual marriage. Although, they contend, Jesus did not explicitly prohibit same sex marriage in these passages his original Scriptural reference to marriage being between a man and woman leaves no room for other forms of marriage in their minds.

Progressives disagree that the joining of two people into “one flesh” should be limited to unions between a man and a woman. They argue that the sacred bonding and lifelong commitment between two people is the focus of Jesus teaching and not the biological sex of the individuals. Progressives have a different understanding of Scriptural obedience. Rather than emphasizing personal holiness like traditionalists, or obedience to doctrinal standards, they link biblical obedience to the concepts of prophetic justice (Micah 6:8) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”) and unconditional love (Mark 12:28-31) Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In this view, Progressives believe that to remain loyal to the higher priority of God’s love requires them to disregard and work for the change of unjust statutes in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. The One Church Plan’s understanding of unity stems from its assumption that matters of human sexuality are not doctrinal in nature and therefore people can live together in unity even if they don’t agree doctrinally.

This is a very brief and obvious simplistic review of an extremely complex issue. There is no way in a brief explanation to cover the complexities of both sides.

13. What are the scriptures that support same sex marriage and homosexual inclusion in ordination, as progressives say?

The theological and biblical differences between Traditionalists and Progressives regarding Scriptural support for their positions has been discussed in the above question.

14. Where in the Bible does it approve of same sex marriage?

Please see question 12 above that seeks to give the way that both sides support their position biblically.

15. Is the issue at hand specifically about homosexuality or does it also include bisexuality and/or transgender?

 The issues surround the broader discussion on human sexuality and how it relates to ordination, marriage and conduct within the UMC. This includes issues related to LGBTQ persons.

16. Transgender

Since there was only one word on the card, it is impossible for us to know if this is a question. If this is a question regarding where a transgender person might fit into the discussion, it is assumed that transgender would be a part of the larger conversation around human sexuality.

17. Even if a traditional version is adopted, will each church be required to vote to accept and stay affiliated, or will it be left for those who disagree to leave?

It would be up to the Annual Conference to create a pathway for a local church to leave.

18. Will the “one church” model change the process of appointing ministers? Or other clergy staff?

In all likelihood it would change the appointment process.