Varied response to General Conference 2019 continues in Virginia Conference

By Madeline Pillow

April 2, 2019 -- A little over a month ago, delegates from around the world met in St. Louis for the Special Session of General Conference (GC) to discuss the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and human sexuality.

At the conference, delegates passed the Traditional Plan, a plan that reinforces church bans on same-sex unions and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy, by a 438-384 vote.

Following this decision, reactions from laity, clergy and congregations were mixed. While still at General Conference, the Western Jurisdiction declared that it would continue to work for inclusion together. 

The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), proponents of the Traditional Plan, shared a statement following the conference and said they were thankful that the church “reaffirmed its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage and its ordination standards for clergy.” The association shared that they are committed to working with other United Methodists to address “factors that have contributed to dysfunction and ineffectiveness” including a gracious exit provision or the possibility of launching a new Methodist movement.

Response to GC in Virginia

Virginia, much like other conferences around the nation and world, has shared varied reactions to the results of the conference in February.

Last week a grassroots movement created and shared a letter response in opposition to the actions of General Conference 2019, namely the passing of the Traditional Plan. The letter called for the end of LGBTQIA discrimination in The United Methodist Church. In a week, the letter has garnered over 2,000 signatures from laity and active and retired clergy in the conference. The letter shared, “We hear God calling all disciples to greater faithfulness in the midst of this time of pain and lament.  At Christ’s invitation, we continue gathering around the wide-open Communion table as one family.”

The Evangelical Fellowship in the Virginia Conference, supporters of the action taken at General Conference 2019, drafted a letter in mid-March and sent it to Bishop Kenneth Carter, president of the Council of Bishops. The letter stated that “the whole church must reach out in healing mercy to LGBTQIA+ persons and others who feel aggrieved or alienated by the conference’ decisions” but that after the over two years of preparation for the special session that the General Conference had decided a way forward.

“Grievous harm comes to the church’s faith and witness to Christ from flirtation with the ideologies and ethics of a post-Christian culture. We greatly need mature, spiritual leadership that will help the whole church reclaim the radical and counter-cultural way of discipleship,” the letter said.

The group also asks Bishop Carter to implement the mandate set forth from the General Conference as its executive officer to “rebuild the well-documented trust deficit of our church leadership.”

Bishop Pete Weaver, interim bishop of the Virginia Conference, shared he is open to receiving responses from all perspectives related to the 2019 General Conference.  He clarified that documents he has received are responses from persons who have chosen to sign the supporting document and is not a statement indicating an official response of the Virginia Annual Conference to the action of the 2019 General Conference.

Response from around the nation

In a recent United Methodist News Service article, it was shared that meetings are happening all over the United Methodist connection in the wake of General Conference.

A group of centrists and progressives are meeting to consider options for a “broad center.” So far there has been a meeting in Dallas and a meeting scheduled for Apr. 4 in Atlanta. In attendance were some U.S. bishops, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the Leawood, Kansas-based United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, and the Rev. Tom Berlin, member of the Commission on a Way Forward and pastor of Floris UMC in Herndon, Va. These discussions are defined as preliminary as a third, much larger meeting has been scheduled for May 20-22 at the Church of the Resurrection. It is believed this meeting would involve representatives from every United States annual conference.

Both Berlin and Hamilton, shared that the meetings are interested parties talking about the future and united by their response to the outcome of the February General Conference.

“We’re a group of people that find the punitive measures of the Traditional Plan unacceptable,” Berlin said.

Berlin and Hamilton are also among a number of people who said they feel conversation, especially in disagreement is important for the denomination right now.

“I think it’s always wise for people of good will to have conversation with each other, especially in times of disagreement and conflict,” Berlin said.

The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the WCA, stated that he has been part of “difficult dialogue” with leaders from the other side to talk about the conflict in the denomination and avoiding the “kind of rancor” that characterized the recent Special Session of General Conference in St. Louis.

“That’s certainly the goal of this dialogue. Whether that would be achievable, it’s too early to know,” Boyette said.

Boyette shared that he has been in discussion with One Church Plan supporters and the conversations have led him to talk with regional WCA leaders and to survey them about their discussions.

"That survey will be discussed at our council when it meets on Wednesday (April 3) and will inform our participation in the ongoing conversations,” he said.

In the article, Boyette noted that resistance has been widespread to the General Conference’s vote to pass the Traditional Plan.

“It’s unsettling to see segments of the church reject the discernment of General Conference,” he said. “It does illustrate the deep divisions that we’ve been pointing out for quite a while.”

What’s next: Judicial Council meeting

As conversations continue following General Conference 2019, follow-up to the conference will be picked up during the April 23-25 meeting of the Judicial Council. One of the items on their docket will include determining the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan. You can find the entire docket for this meeting at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council-april-2019-docket.

The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference has shared that any legislation that is found unconstitutional by the Judicial Council would not be included in the Book of Discipline.

Share news stories and information you think would be of importance to the
larger conference by emailing Communications Director Madeline Pillow
at MadelinePillow@vaumc.org.  We can’t share the stories of the Virginia Conference without you!


 -Madeline Pillow is the Advocate editor and the conference Director of Communications.




 

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