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A Word from Pastor Jenny

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

–Galatians 3:28

The postponed 2020 General Conference will meet in Charlotte, NC, April 23-May 3.  This year’s General Conference carries high expectations of significant changes for our denomination and our inclusion of all God’s people.

Many of the 1,100 petitions submitted to General Conference have to do with three priorities that include Global Regionalization, passage of the Revised Social Principles and removal of harmful language and policies toward LGBTQ persons in the Book of Discipline.

In the last couple of weeks, I offered some information about Global Regionalization and the effort to revise the Social Principles that guide us in The United Methodist Church.  Today, I will offer information about the effort to remove the harmful language toward LGBTQ persons that is in our Book of Discipline.

The Book of Discipline (BOD) of The United Methodist Church is our book of laws, polity, constitution, organizational structure and procedures by which The UMC is governed.  The BOD is the result of over 200 years of decisions made by the General Conference of the denominations that now form The UMC.  The first BOD was published in 1784 by the Methodist Episcopal Church and has been changed and published again every four years following the meeting of the General Conference.

The Social Principles are part of the BOD, but are not church law, but rather a set of public statements made by the General Conference regarding social concerns in the world.

The statement in the Social Principles regarding Human Sexuality begins by saying, “We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons.”  The statement goes on to say that the Church affirms that all people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God.  But then the statement says, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The statement on marriage in the Social Principles says, “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.”

The church law in the Book of Discipline states that, “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.”

The church law in the BOD goes on to say, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

Homosexuality was first openly debated at the General Conference in 1972, four years after the formation of The UMC, resulting in the addition of the statements and laws on human sexuality.  Prior to 1972, there were no statements or laws in regard to human sexuality.  At every General Conference since 1972, global delegates have wrestled with differing views as they made decisions about whether or how to include LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church.

If the Revised Social Principles pass at General Conference, that harmful language would simply be removed.  Petitions to remove harmful language as church law in the BOD will also come before the General Conference.  If Global Regionalization passes by a two-thirds vote at General Conference and by the Annual Conferences around the world, each region, such as the United States, could make its own changes to the BOD based on its cultural, missional and ministry context.

Even after approximately 25% of the United Methodist churches disaffiliated from the denomination over issues of human sexuality, there is still a wide and differing interpretation of Scripture and cultural understanding of issues of human sexuality around the world.  So, there is no way to predict exactly how the General Conference will debate and respond to petitions to remove the harmful language in our Book of Discipline.

I am thankful to serve a local church that is a Reconciling congregation and has made an intentional statement of welcome and inclusion of all people.  I am also thankful to be part of our Wisconsin Delegation that has the opportunity to be part of making change within The UMC so that all God’s people are welcome and included.

Thank you for your continued prayers for The UMC and for the upcoming work of the General Conference.