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UMC to gather for 2019 special session of General Conference on human sexuality

UMC to gather for 2019 special session of General Conference on human sexuality
Photo by Matt Brodie. SC delegates to General Conference 2016 gather for prayer during business. With a 428-405 vote, GC2016 authorized the Council of Bishops to defer all 56 petitions on human sexuality and refer the entire subject to the Commission on a Way Forward to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. The COB has called a special session of General Conference for February 2019 to act on that commission’s recommendations.

By Jessica Brodie

United Methodists from around the world will gather for a special called session of General Conference in 2019 to address issues surrounding the church divide over human sexuality.

Sixteen South Carolina delegates will represent this annual conference at the special session, set for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

The session was called by the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church with a purpose “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward,” announced COB President Bishop Bruce R. Ough in the official call.

The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the COB after General Conference 2016. With a 428-405 vote, GC2016 authorized the COB to defer all 56 petitions on human sexuality and refer the entire subject to the Commission on a Way Forward to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the UMC Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.

“The Council of Bishops encourages the entire church to continue in deep, unceasing prayer for Holy Spirit breakthroughs for the Commission on a Way Forward and the special session of General Conference,” Ough said.

Dr. Tim McClendon, chair of South Carolina’s 2016 delegation to General Conference, said the fact that General Conference asked the COB to form a commission to help guide the church forward regarding human sexuality is “really unique.” He knows of only two other occasions when this has happened.

“Typically, we have a separation of powers, so this is a rare instance where the Council of Bishops was asked by a slim majority to create a commission they themselves named that has clergy and lay members from various different sides of issues on human sexuality, and the commission is going to report back in time for the Council of Bishops to change it or do whatever they want to with it, and then the Council of Bishops will present the legislation to this special session in 2019,” McClendon said.

McClendon said he has much hope about what will happen at the special session. He believes the church will not split into two factions over the human sexuality issue as some have predicted.

“I think most people hope there’s some sort of resolution so that we can focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ while at the same time valuing everyone so that there indeed might be a way forward; that’s the great hope,” McClendon said. “I don’t doubt the UMC will continue; I think that it will.”

McClendon said he especially hopes the UMC will remain a unified church under a commonly approved Book of Discipline and really think about the ramifications of some proposed ways forward, such as allowing different bodies in the church to make their own decisions about human sexuality.

“It’s hard to be a connectional church if you have a loose connection or some sort of unity that’s not really unity,” McClendon said, likening it to what happens with electrical connections. “I think any time you lose connection in electricity, there’s a loss of power or a short circuit occurs. We are a connectional polity; we do things together. We do ministry together.

“We need to be The United Methodist Church, not the ‘Untied’ Methodist Church.”


Homosexuality ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’

At the root of the human sexuality debate is a host of issues, from whether homosexuality is a sin to whether practicing homosexuals should or should not be allowed to be clergy or bishops.

Currently, the Discipline says “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” (Para. 304.3).

Some view that language (and other similar paragraphs throughout the Discipline) as discriminatory and want to change it to be more inclusive and more in line with what they believe Scripture suggests: that it is not a sin or that homosexual clergy are no different from divorced clergy and, therefore, one should not be barred while the other is permitted.

Others view the language as acceptable and view any change as diluting scriptural authority in favor of caving to the whims of a sometimes-immoral secular society.


South Carolina views divided

Many in South Carolina are just as split over the issue, with some calling for a revision of the Discipline’s language, some calling for it to remain the same and some undecided.

Dr. Les Howard, a lifelong Methodist and a member of Central UMC, Spartanburg, said he thinks the UMC should seriously reconsider its stance on homosexuality—or consider revising its motto of “open hearts, open minds, open doors.”

“In my old age I find that the more I learn, the less I really know,” Howard said. “Why our Creator chose to create people differently may forever remain a mystery, but I have concluded a few things: He loves us all equally; Jesus expressed His wish for us all to love one another equally; it is very dangerous to interpret our Holy Bible literally; Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.”

The Rev. Brian Arant, pastor of Main Street UMC, Abbeville, said he does believe the language of the current Discipline is a proper articulation of Christian teaching, though he said the issue of human sexuality and the related debate on gender identity is a huge topic, and we run into danger when we try to turn it into an over-simplified “sound bite.”

“I tend to find myself on the conservative/traditional side of the human sexuality debate because the scriptural narrative seems to tie man/woman sexual unity into the fabric of creation (i.e., the creation liturgy of Genesis is a beautiful image of God creating opposites intended for one another),” Arant said. “So it’s less about arguing specific ‘problem scriptures’ (i.e., Romans 1) and more about the entire direction of the scriptural narrative, which names gender and sexual expression in specific terms.”

At the bottom line, the human sexuality issue is not about sex but about about theology and scriptural authority, McClendon said.

“We’re at an impasse,” McClendon said. “There are those who see the restrictive language as immoral and not loving and not grace-filled, and others think it is grace-filled and upholds what 95 percent of Christians support.”

McClendon said most of Christendom has prohibitions against the practice of homosexuality, and the issue is practice, not orientation—same as with the practices of self-avowed heterosexuals outside of a monogamous marriage.

“But we believe all persons have civil rights and sacred worth,” McClendon said. “I would urge caution and patience and prayer for the Commission on a Way Forward and prayer for the Council of Bishops and the delegations that we do the right thing and that we love each other and work together so we can move forward.”

South Carolina’s 16 delegates to General Conference 2016, led by McClendon, are expected to represent this annual conference at the special session per the UMC Constitution, unless the South Carolina Conference decides to have a new election of delegates. If the conference has a new election, it would need to be done on a one-by-one basis and not as a full slate.


  • Would you tell me that I could no longer welcome a college student into our doors who identifies as gay? …That I should follow what we knew of God’s creation in 1964 compared to what we know now? …That I should ignore “The Greatest Commandment” and the “second greatest” commandment to follow the mindset of my mother’s generation who were in no wise equipped to make everlasting law? If so, you have slammed the “open door” of what was my church in my face.

  • I believe we do have Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors. Sinners are not excluded from our midst as you might be suggesting because we do Love the Sinner (thank God we do) but can still not tolerate the Sin (..go and Sin no more). I strongly believe that this country is headed over a morality cliff where anything and everything is acceptable and Godless is OK. Find me a society in history who survived after going down the roads of immorality. I choose and I hope our SC representatives choose to not Go Down That Road.

  • You can’t read my Bible and say that Homosexuality is not a sin. Read it from Genesis to Revelations. Clearly it is an abomination before God.
    Adultery is a sin. Does anyone get up in the Pulpit and say I’m a practicing adulteress. No it is done in darkness and you don’t want people to know.
    The worst part of this is you’re false preaching it is not a sin. It is and to flaunt this in our face mentality you are endangering people with Hell Fire. To try to change the Bible for your own whims subjects you to spending eternity apart from God.
    Last I heard was that we believe in the Trinity. The God I worship is Jesus and the Holy Spirit and I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And as it says in Revelations Anyone who adds to or takes away is in Danger of Hell Fire.
    There is no compromise when it comes to this.
    If you feel that strongly about it write your own Bible and start your own Church.
    If we truly Love someone you would not want them to drown in Sin. Everyone is welcome in the church because we are all sinners in search of our savior so that we can be forgiven of our sins. You can’t proclaim otherwise. I continue to Pray for my Church

  • The last time I looked I didn’t notice that the BIBLE had changed, the LORD must have changed it when I wasn’t looking. If the BIBLE hasn’t changed why should the UMC Book of Discipline. I guess some of the leaders we have, with their higher education and infinite wisdom, know better than the CREATOR. We had a lot of the leaders with the same thinking in Washington, that’s why we are in the mess we are in now. You can change all you want but it still won’t make it right and a lot of people will probably go to hell because of it. The LORD said that if my people who are called by my name. will humble themselves. and pray, and seek my face, and TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land. As for the church, the church is there for all people, the door should always be open, but if the church is going to change to suit the sinner or society instead of doing Gods work, then the church doesn’t really have a purpose. it’s not about civil rights or political correctness it’s about what is right and wrong and the church is there to help show the way not change Gods laws.

  • I agree with Philip Huggins. The Bible has not changed. The new testament says many times that homosexuality is an abomination. Marriage is one man one woman. Yes we are to love everyone but it also says go and sin no more if you or want to be out as a homosexual that is between you and God. But if you want to be a minister ir bishop and are born again you will go and sin no more. Catholic priests cannot marry and Methodists lbgyn members can do the same. If you are truly a Christians you will not want to sin.

  • Read your Bible from Genesis to Revalations. Clearly homosexuality is an abomination to God. It is a Sin people. Adultery is a sin. People who are committing adultery do so in darkness . They are not in your face with it. That’s the problem with homosexuality. They are claiming it is not a sin and false preaching that from the pulpit and endangering people to hell. If you truly Love people you do not want them drowning in sin. I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God just as it says. Last time I looked we still believe in the Trinity. You say that Jesus didn’t say it was a sin Jesus is God and it clearly states it. In Revelations it says if anyone who takes away or adds to this book is in danger of Hell Fire. Everyone is welcome to church because we are all sinners seeking forgiveness for our sins.

  • […] June 2017: UMC to Gather for 2019 Special Session of General Conference on Human Sexuality […]

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