In a video message to Western Pennsylvania United Methodists, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi said she is filled with gratitude and hope for the future of The United Methodist Church after discussions of an interim report from the Commission on the Way Forward at the recent Council of Bishops (COB) meeting at Lake Junaluska, NC.
“As the result of the dialogue that the members of the Council of Bishops had at our meeting, I am more convinced than ever before in the hope-filled future of the United Methodist Church,” Bishop Moore-Koikoi said. “I completely believe that there is a way forward that preserves the integrity of our differences and our diverse perspectives.”
The COB, which offers leadership for the nearly 13 million United Methodists throughout the world, was asked by the 2016 General Conference to find a way forward through the impasse regarding LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. The Council appointed a 32-member commission to help fulfill the request. Ultimately the Council will determine what recommendations it will present to a special General Conference Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Members of the Commission on the Way Forward outlined three models in their report. Additional models may emerge as discussion and discernment continues. Of the three presented:
One model would affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
A second would remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
The third would create branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice. This model would maintain shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops.
Each sketch represents values that are within the COB and across the church, and each includes a gracious way of exit for those who feel called to leave the denomination.
Neither the Commission, nor the COB, expressed a preference for any model, thus providing the space resident bishops need to teach and engage leaders in their episcopal areas.
In his presidential address before the report was discussed, COB President Bruce Ough challenged fellow bishops to be open to new ways that may be “off the map” as they received and considered the interim report.
Comparing the UMC bishops to the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who were not daunted after finding their expected canoe route to the Pacific Ocean blocked by the Rocky Mountains, Bishop Ough called on the church to find new, innovative ways to navigate the “issues of same-gender marriage, the ordination of LGBTQ persons, and the underlying issues of scriptural authority and biblical obedience.”
He reminded the bishops about the painful action the church took in creating the Central Jurisdiction when three Methodist-related denominations merged in 1939. The move segregated African-Americans.
“Many historians would argue that the formation of jurisdictional conferences in the United States was a similar structural compromise that has perpetuated sectarianism and disconnect within The United Methodist Church,” Ough said.
“And it is clear there is no way forward unless we are willing to rethink and redesign what a global United Methodist Church looks like,” he added.
In her video message, Bishop Moore-Koikoi noted that within the Council of Bishops are voices representing a variety of viewpoints on matters related to LGBQT inclusion in the life of the church. Yet, she said, all are considering the proposals with “hearts of peace, not hearts of war.”
“We’re opening ourselves to the movement of God’s Holy Spirit,” she said. “We’ve chosen to believe in the concept of Holy Conferencing that affirms that God speaks to us through the other. We are committed to listening and trying to understand one another’s perspective, even when the listening is uncomfortable.”
The Commission will process the feedback received from the bishops at the Lake Junaluska meeting and will continue to welcome further input from members of the church through conversations and discussions with their respective bishops on the strengths and limitations of each model. A process for receiving feedback is already underway in Western Pennsylvania, Bishop Moore-Koikoi said, with further details to come as it continues.
The COB and the Commission have a series of meetings scheduled for early 2018 designed to continue the preparations for the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019. This includes Commission meetings in January and March; an additional COB meeting in February before a final report is discussed at the May meeting of the COB.
The COB is committed to prayerfully seeking God’s future for the UMC and continues to invite the entire church to be engaged in praying for a way forward.
In Western Pennsylvania, the week of Feb. 11-18, 2018 will be a dedicated week of prayer for the denomination and for a way forward. Learn more at UMCprays.org and look for further details on the WPAUMC week of prayer.