Called General Conference Information

Part I

Dear Friends,

In February, the governing body of our denomination, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, will meet to consider changes in our Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality. Our Church leadership at Isle of Hope UMC, want to share important information with our members so you can be informed about the upcoming Called General Conference, February 23-26, 2019. Please read over the information below and feel free to contact Bill Daniel or Rev. Ricker if you have questions. Please Save the Date of January 12, 2019. Our Coastal District Superintendent, Rev. David Thompson will be with us to share about the upcoming Called General Conference of the UMC.

Rev. Mike Ricker

Bill Daniel, Conference Delegate

Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church February 23-26, 2019

Questions & Answers About the Called General Conference and the Way Forward

First, What is the General Conference of the UMC?

The General Conference is an international body of nearly 1,000 delegates that generally meets every four years. General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The next regular scheduled General Conference will be in 2020. General Conference delegates are elected by each annual conference (during their annual conference sessions). Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy. Isle of Hope UMC is in the South Georgia Annual Conference. Our South Georgia Annual Conference Delegation to the 2019 Special Called General Conference Session: (Laity): Mr. Bill Hatcher, Mrs. Allison Lindsey, Mr. Larry Price, and Mr. Carl Childs. (Clergy) Rev. Don Adams, Rev. Jay Hanson, Rev. Jim Cowart, Dr. Bob Moon. During General Conference, delegates discuss and vote on petitions and resolutions proposed by individuals, agencies, annual conferences, and other groups within the denomination. These actions result in a revision of the Book of Discipline, the denomination's book of law, and the Book of Resolutions, the policies of the denomination on current social issues.

Why is there a Special Called General Conference of the UMC in 2019?

At the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, the Council of Bishops called for the establishment of a Commission on a Way Forward. The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was authorized by General Conference 2016 and appointed by the Council of Bishops, “to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” The Commission on a Way Forward did their work on behalf of the Council of Bishops and is supposed to report at a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. This special conference, unlike other "regular" General Conferences, will be devoted to one issue only: receiving and acting upon the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) report and proposals. The report and proposals deal with whether or not the church will allow same-sex marriage and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. Additional proposals not from the COWF that relate to the same topic will also be considered.

How did the Commission on a Way Forward do its work?

The Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) met in United Methodists buildings and local churches, for approximately a year (2017 -2018) as a sign of our connection as United Methodists. The COWF then sought alignment with the mission, vision and scope given by the Council of Bishops. The members drafted a covenant that would guide their speech and actions, in the meetings and in between them.

The Commission listened to outside voices, among them Erin Hawkins, Dawn Hare, Russell Richey, David Scott, Bishops Woodie White, and Scott Jones. The COWF worked in a spirit of collaboration with other committees and boards of the church; for example, in partnership with the General Board on Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), one on human sexuality and a second on mission in the United States. Members of the COWF and the Committee on Faith and Order met together to draft the theological framework. Members of the COWF met with personnel from the General Board on Global Ministries (GBGM) to draft the missional framework. One of their meetings was held in Berlin, Germany and the Commission benefited by having discussions outside of the United States as the focus of the Commission’s work was to consider the global context of The United Methodist Church in the midst of its work.

The COWF also gathered data from constituents and stakeholders from across the UMC connection. Commission members and moderators spoke and listened in most of the theological schools in the U.S. and at Africa University. Dialogues were held with renewal and advocacy groups and with clergy and laity of annual conferences. An electronic platform allowed members to see submissions from across the world that expressed the convictions of United Methodists.

The COWF presented an interim report to the Council of Bishops in November, 2017, and based on that feedback presented again in February, 2018. A final report was given to the COB in May, 2018.

What do we know about the Commission on the Way Forward’s Report?

Basically, the report presents three different “plans” for the General Conference of the UMC to consider as it seeks a way forward beyond the impasse related to human sexuality. Here’s a very brief summary of the three rather complex plans.

Plan 1 described as the Traditional Plan, "affirms the current Book of Discipline language on human sexuality and places a high value on accountability." The Traditional Plan clearly states and requires adherence to settled doctrine and teaching. It would require major efforts at accountability and provides for a gracious exit for annual conferences, local churches, bishops and clergy unwilling to abide by the current requirements of the Book of Discipline regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of self -avowed practicing homosexuals.

Plan 2 described as the One Church Plan, "removes restrictive language in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality and places a high value on contextualization.” The One Church Plan while removing restrictive language related to same sex marriage and ordination, attempts to specifically protect the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons. It neither affirms nor prohibits same-sex marriage and the ordination of non-celibate LGBTQ persons. The decision would be left up to individual pastors, churches and annual conferences. A variation of this plan has been presented to the General Conference before but did not pass. 

Plan 3 described as the Connectional Conference Plan, forms three different theological connectional conferences in the U.S. (Progressive, Unity, and Traditional). It acknowledges irreconcilable differences among members of the UMC by creating three distinct conferences that will hold different positions on sexual ethics, the definition of marriage, and ordination standards. Annual conferences, churches and clergy would be given the option to unite with one of the three conferences based on theological identity. This model would dispense with the current five geographical jurisdictions (South Georgia Annual Conference is in the Southeast Jurisdiction) and replace them with three branches, each with a defining theology and moral stance. This option is the most complex and the most difficult to adopt, since it would require major constitutional amendments to the Book of Discipline.

While these three plans will be submitted to the General Conference, amendments to them have also been submitted. In all likelihood each one could vary from the original proposal formulated by the Commission on a Way Forward.

Over the next 6 weeks, the leadership of Isle of Hope UMC will be sharing more information on the Special Called General Conference February 23 – 26.Please mark your calendar for our Servant Leadership Event January 12, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. Our District Superintendent Rev. David Thompson will be present to speak on the Called General Conference and its potential impact on the UMC, the South Georgia Annual Conference, and Isle of Hope UMC. 


Part II

Dear Members and Friends of Isle of Hope UMC,

As part of the leadership of the Church, we want to continue to share relevant  information regarding the upcoming Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. This is the second email regarding the General Conference. Please be sure and read the first one, it will help clarify the issues around the Called General Conference. Much of the information included in this update is taken from Dale McConkey’s book United Methodists Divided: Understanding Our Differences over Homosexuality.

The Dilemma in Brief

Since the years immediately following the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, the church has consistently professed a two pronged stance toward human sexuality: (1) homosexuals are people of sacred worth (2) the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. While other Protestant denominations have changed their official policies toward marriage and ordination with regard to LGBTQ persons, the stance of the UMC has changed very little for five decades. If anything, the UMC has tended to strengthen it’s position of recognizing the worth of all people but prohibiting the redefining of marriage and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

Among United Methodists, three distinct perspectives have emerged. (I will be using the identifying terms traditionalists, progressives and centrists simply because these are the terms used to define the issues and plans put forth by the Commission on a Way Forward). Traditionalists believe the church has achieved the correct balance between Christian love and holiness as stated in the UMC Book of Discipline. Progressives in the UMC believe the language in the Book of Discipline is exclusionary and have been calling the church to overturn its denunciation and prohibition of homosexual practices and become more affirming and inclusive. Between these two poles are centrists who seek to make provisions that would allow both traditionalists and progressives to follow their personal consciences on the matter of human sexuality. Over the years, the tension between traditionalists and progressives within the church has intensified. For the most part, on a local church level, most members of individual UMC congregations have learned to live and serve together even though they may have very different views on the issue of human sexuality. However, at a denominational level, people from different sides of the issue have become more and more vocal and entrenched in their position, which has led to a seeming impasse for the UMC. At the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, delegates took the unprecedented step of asking the Council of Bishops of the UMC to intervene in the impasse. The bishops responded by proposing to suspend further action on all matters related to human sexuality to allow for the formation of a commission that would explore options on a way out of the impasse and “a way forward” for the United Methodist Church. Even though the bishops called for a cessation of any further action while the Commission on the Way Forward did its work, advocates on both sides of the issue have been anything but quiet and have taken initiatives to solidify their position.

The UMC’s clash over human sexuality is not occurring in a social vacuum. There is in the USA what many social scientists and others are calling a “culture war.” At the heart of the conflict is a deep disagreement over the nature of moral authority. The traditionalists believe that moral authority comes from a transcendent, unchanging source that is primarily grounded in the Scriptures. Progressives strongly believe that religious and moral authority must be flexible enough to adapt to the new realities of modern society while also maintaining Scriptural support for their position. It is interesting, as Dr. McConkey points out, “America’s culture war …doesn’t fall along predictable denominational lines. People’s religious affiliation tells us very little about which side of the conflict they stand… Each major Christian tradition- Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopalian- has a sizable portion of its membership on either side of the cultural divide.”

What is the Present Official Position of the UMC regarding human sexuality?

Basically there are six statements regarding human sexuality in our Book of Discipline that are at the center of the controversies. Traditionalists believe they all should be maintained. Progressives and others believe most should be removed from the Book of Discipline.

1. All People Are of Sacred Worth

2. All People Deserve Equal Rights

3. Homosexuality is Not Compatible With Christian Teaching

4. UMC Pastors Cannot Officiate at Same- Sex Weddings

5. The Church Will not Ordain Self-Avowed Practicing Homosexuals

6. Church Agencies Will not Fund Homosexual Causes (pro or anti)

What is the Breakdown of the number of delegates attending General Conference according to their Jurisdiction?

864 votes can be cast at the special Called General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The delegates casting the votes were elected as delegates from the annual conferences across the world wide UMC. There are five Jurisdictions in the UMC in the USA.

*Isle of Hope UMC is in the South Georgia Annual Conference, and the South Georgia Annual Conference is in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Breakdown of Delegates

North Central Jurisdiction                    92

Northeastern Jurisdiction                    86

South Central Jurisdiction                 108

*Southeastern Jurisdiction                  188

Western Jurisdiction                             30

Africa Central                                        42

Congo                                                 138

West Africa                                           80

Europe                                                  40

Philippines                                            50

Concordant                                           10

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A Personal Word from Your Pastor

Once again, as your pastor, let me say I believe there are devoted followers of Christ on both sides of the controversy facing the UMC. On both sides of the issues there are those who feel strongly that their conscience will not allow them to abandon their conviction or stance. Both sides offer Scriptural support for their stance. The challenge, as in most conflicts, is being able to define one’s position and reason for maintaining it, while at the minimum respecting another’s right to disagree, without vilifying them. You will be receiving more information like this over the next six weeks leading up to the General Conference. For now, please know that our church leadership and staff are focused on the mission and ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ. God is at work in the Isle of Hope UMC in a wonderful way, and I believe that 2019 is going to be a year of tremendous blessing and growth. I understand the weight of all that is before our denomination, but this church has always been a beacon of hope for people here and around the world. At the end of the day, it always will be. Please remember that this Saturday, January 12, at 9:00 a.m. our District Superintendent David Thompson will be here to share with us his thoughts about the upcoming General Conference. We will meet in the Ministry Center. If you are not on a Leadership Committee or Team for 2019 please contact the Church office and let us know you will be attending.

Blessings,

Rev. Mike Ricker, Senior Pastor
Bill Daniel, Annual Conference Delegate


If you have any questions regarding The Way Forward, please submit a question and someone get back to you as soon as possible.

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