The United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2016 may resemble a rambunctious roller coaster ride to some, lacking only its speed, but with plenty of emotional ups and down, highs and lows, and legislative twists and turns.
The morning worship services–diverse and dynamic in both their music and their messages preached by various enthusiastic bishops–have provided highs in inspiration and prophetic instruction. So have many presentations celebrating and illuminating the denomination’s decades of mission and ministry around the world.
But the endless debates–some fraught with parliamentary missteps and confusion–have had their share of low points, turnarounds and uncertainties. As expected, the most critical and controversial issue has been the Book of Discipline’s laws and policies restricting LGBTQ persons from fully participating in the ministry and marriage rites of the church. While most of the LGBTQ protest actions have been symbolically silent, their visible, colorful and conscientious presence has had an indelible impact on the gathering and its deliberations.
After much debate and maneuvering, the body accepted the Council of Bishops proposal to preempt any debate and decisions on the various submitted petitions related to this concern. They voted instead to authorize the council to form a commission to study and dialogue with all sides on the issue and the Discipline’s policies more deeply and expansively than ever before perhaps. The proposal calls for a possible specially-called General Conference before the next scheduled session in 2020.
New Council of Bishops president Bruce Ough presented the proposal after some delegates pressed the episcopal leaders to truly lead the church out of its “painful condition” of conflict, disunity, mistrust and uncertainty around this dilemma and onto some definitive path toward resolution. But as Ough said in the first of two press conferences where he spoke and answered questions, “Many people want us to lead, but only if we’re leading in their direction.”
Nonetheless, contrary to what many understand or believe, the General Conference is deliberating on many more significant issues and opportunities to expand its ministry and influence around the world. Read the UM News Service wrap-up review of Wednesday’s actions, along with more in-depth articles on particular topics.