Q&A: General Conference and the church
I was in the longest line. There was only one checker, so I resigned myself to wait patiently while the people ahead of me were being helped. One person had a full basket. The two men behind her were engaged in a heated discussion. I thought about shopping some more just to avoid having to hear it. They covered the gambit. Politics, religion, controversy, and conflict. They were loud and short with each other.
After they both checked their groceries, they even stood within earshot of the cashier to finish their conversation. It concluded with the words, “good to meet you,” followed by “you need to listen to my point of view.” Then they left.
When I got to the cashier, it was apparent he had had it. I jokingly asked him how he enjoyed the exchange. He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “You meet all kinds here,” he said.
As I walked to the car, I could not help but reflect on the implications for the church. I had just overheard a passionate exchange with voices raised, between two complete strangers who felt the need to correct the other. They were oblivious to the people around them. They were focused only on being right.
Yes, the conversation reminded me of the ongoing debates, fearmongering, rumors, plans and demeaning manner of many of the discussions within the church. The discussions are played out between total strangers. They replace the mission and purpose of the church.
Much of the church is ready to move beyond the endless debates and debasement of others. With that in mind, here are a few basic questions along with my brief response.
What will happen to the United Methodist Church?
Some are quick to proclaim the death of the church. However, there will be a United Methodist Church after General Conference 2020. For most local churches, little to nothing will change. Pastors will be appointed. Churches will receive pastors. We will be blessed with the opportunity to serve God through the local church.
What if we divide as a denomination?
General Conference will offer guidelines for a process. Worries about division are worries for another day.
What will happen to me, a pastor?
Pastors will be appointed to places of ministry. The appointive cabinet continues to work to make the best possible matches of clergy and church. The appointive process is complex, but the complexity ultimately serves the churches and the people in the communities where the churches are located. We strive to make the best available match as possible to create the best opportunity for ministry to happen.
What will happen to my church?
We care about every church in the conference. The objective of the cabinet is not to close or punish churches. It is to create good matches for good ministry.
Will there still be an Oklahoma Annual Conference?
Yes, the conference will continue to function. We will continue to focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Conference program priorities will continue to emphasize leadership development, invigorating local churches, and starting new faith communities. The conference will continue to equip local churches for ministry and to strengthen our witness and common connections.
Why is there still conflict in the church following the 2019 General Conference?
Delegates to the past General Conference were almost evenly divided in their approach to how to structure the church. Many persons favored a church plan that provided for greater freedom of conferences and clergy to determine who to ordain and who to marry. The majority of delegates voted to retain the current stance of the church restricting the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and forbidding clergy to perform same gender weddings. The most significant changes mandate specific penalties for disobedience and placed greater restrictions and guidelines on boards of ministries and bishops.
Why don’t the people who disagree just leave the church?
The United Methodist Church has sought to be welcoming and inclusive of all people, regardless of who they are. We believe that God created and loves every person. Further, we are tasked to make disciples of all people.
Why don’t people decide to cooperate instead of fight?
The divisions in the church are deep and woven into the fabric of the history of Methodism. At the risk of over simplifying things, some people approach theological questions beginning with traditional scriptural interpretation, and others begin with a modern understanding of justice. Sometimes these two starting points bring people together; other times they set people apart. People on all sides of the questions have deep convictions.
Why doesn’t the bishop stop people from making public statements?
Churches and individuals have the right of self-expression. Statements are different from actions. The Book of Discipline does not prohibit freedom of expression; it governs action.
What will happen if someone violates the Book of Discipline?
The church has a detailed process to address allegations. It involves numerous steps and aims at a just resolution. One aspect of the present conflict is that the Discipline prescribes specific penalties for bishops and clergy who violate the prohibitions relating to ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” or conducting same gender marriages.
What will happen if a bishop fails to follow the Disciplinary process?
A bishop is subject to the Book of Discipline, should allegations of disobedience be made. Allegations and charges are processed at the jurisdictional level.
What can I be doing about these things?
Be faithful to Jesus Christ. Pray daily for the whole church, for your church, and for the world. Remember to pray daily for the elected members of the Oklahoma Delegation who will be traveling to Minneapolis to vote on the potential changes that could occur. They have requested that the conference keep them in daily prayer. Our faith is in Jesus, not in the church. Hold fast to your faith, do not be discouraged, be filled with the Holy Spirit. Expect God to reveal the next steps.
As we move into a new year, let us remember that our witness is reflected in our love for one another. May the world see that we love one another through Jesus Christ who makes us all one body of God.
God Bless you.