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General Conference: Now what?

General Conference: Now what?
Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

By Jessica Brodie

In less than three months, 864 United Methodists from across the world who are delegates from each annual conference in the denomination will gather in one place with one purpose: helping the global church move beyond its debilitating disagreement over human sexuality.

Set for Feb. 23-26, 2019, at The Dome in St. Louis, the delegates will gather for a called Special Session of General Conference designed to make these sexuality- and unity-focused decisions. The idea is that if the decisions are addressed in 2019, then the next main General Conference, set for 2020 in Minneapolis, will be able to focus on the full mission of the church and not one issue.

The express purpose of this 2019 Special Session of General Conference, as stated in the call, is “limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based upon the recommendations of the Council of Bishops.” The Way Forward commission was created at the will of the last General Conference, in 2016, and charged to examine paragraphs in the United Methodist Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and help the full church explore ways to move beyond its impasse around ministry and human sexuality.

The Way Forward commission developed three plans that will go before General Conference 2019: The One Church Plan, the Traditionalist Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan. Delegates can amend the petitions submitted by the commission and may also consider other petitions deemed by the Committee on Reference to be in harmony with the bishops’ call.

Business at the 2019 Special Session is limited to the purpose stated in the call unless the delegates vote by a two-thirds majority to address other matters.

In October, the Judicial Council, which is the top court for The United Methodist Church, ruled on the constitutionality of two of the three plans. It ruled the One Church Plan is largely constitutional, noting that while there are constitutional issues with three of the 17 petitions in that plan, the plan mainly passes muster. It also ruled on Traditional Plan, noting it finds constitutional issues with nine of the 17 petitions that must be fixed before it can pass muster.

It said it does not have jurisdiction to rule on the Connectional Conference Plan, because that plan contains proposed constitutional changes.


South Carolina aspect

Eight South Carolina clergy and eight South Carolina laity are among the 864 total who will serve as delegates to the 2019 Special Session. The 16 from South Carolina were elected in 2015 by Annual Conference

Over the past year and more, South Carolina’s Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston has consistently called for prayer throughout the way forward process and as the 2019 General Conference approaches, both for God’s hand and for the delegates themselves.

After the October Judicial Council ruling, Holston stated, “Between now and the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference in February, I encourage South Carolina United Methodists to continue to pray for God’s guidance and direction for the Commission on the General Conference, the Council of Bishops, the delegates to the 2019 Special General Conference and for the people called United Methodist.”


What are the plans?

The three official plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward that will go before GC2019 are as follows, though other plans can be brought forward at the session:

The One Church Plan: This plan allows for contextualization of language about sexuality and allows for central conferences, especially in Africa, to retain disciplinary authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and continue to include traditional language and values. It gives United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. It removes the restrictive language of the Discipline but adds assurances to pastors and conferences who, because of their theological convictions, cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

The Traditionalist Plan: This affirms the current language in the Discipline, which states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” (Para. 304.3).

The Connectional Conference Plan: This creates three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three conferences would function throughout the worldwide church; the five existing United States jurisdictions would be abolished.


Council of Bishops: ‘Trust’

Bishops across the UMC have neither vote nor voice at General Conference, though a majority of the Council of Bishops recommends the One Church Plan for adoption.

At their Nov. 4-7 Council of Bishops meeting, held at Epworth by the Sea in Georgia, the bishops committed themselves to “trust this General Conference, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern God’s best way for our future.”

In a Narrative of our Leadership the bishops released from that meeting, they declared they can best serve the delegates by “presiding fairly and creating a holy atmosphere in which they can do their best work; trusting that the General Conference will invoke the Holy Spirit; being a prayerful, hopeful and pastoral presence; giving them confidence that we are acting transparently and not orchestrating or manipulating the process toward a desired end, and acting as midwives as they birth something new.”


S.C. delegation

South Carolina’s delegates to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference (the same delegates elected to serve South Carolina at General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon) are as follows:


  • Barbara Ware
  • James Salley
  • Dr. Joseph Heyward
  • Herman Lightsey
  • Jackie Jenkins
  • Michael Cheatham
  • Martha Thompson
  • Dr. David Braddon
  • Alternates: Lollie Haselden and Emily Rogers Evans


  • Dr. Tim McClendon
  • Rev. Ken Nelson
  • Rev. Tim Rogers
  • Dr. Robin Dease
  • Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
  • Rev. Narcie Jeter
  • Rev. Mel Arant Jr.
  • Rev. Susan Leonard
  • Alternates: Rev. Telley Gadson and Rev. Michael Turner


  • Look at the very first book. Genesis, the very first marriage, it was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.
    Same sex couples were mentioned right before the angels destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
    Wake up Merhodist! Don’t listen to Satan’s voice when he asked? “Did God really say…”
    Yes God did speak clearly on this issue.
    Vote no. And keep the church from crumbing apart.

  • “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” (Para. 304.3).

  • Please leave our church as it is! We are there to worship God and he teaches us that a marriage is a man and woman. If either plan besides our traditional Is approved it will result in people leaving the Methodist Church! I can’t understand why we would even be having to entertain the idea of change.


  • Could we change the discipline to read, Homosexuality, lust, adultery, greed, lying, stealing, gossip, murder, coveting, (and the list could go on and on) is incompatible with Christian teaching? Does the Bible not say that we if we are followers of Jesus, we
    can overcome all sin through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us?

    My problem is with the homosexual issue is wanting to call their union a marriage? After God created Eve, he blessed Adam and Eve and told them to “Be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth .” If the purpose of marriage was to populate the earth, then homosexuality does not meet that criteria, because procreation is not possible without the help of the opposite sex. Why not choose another way to describe the relationship?

    In case you’ve judged me as being prejudiced, you should that know i have a homosexual friend who is a member of our church.

    I am praying that the decision made will be made will be one that pleases God. It can be if our delegates earnestly seek His will and aren’t distracted by the world..I am praying for all of the delegates and praying that doors of the place where will be guarded by angels to keep Satan and his demons outside. .

  • AMEN to all of the above comments. I hope S.C. delegates support the Traditional Plan. My Bible has not changed. Why would UMC stray from it’s teaching?

  • Matthew 13:
    “13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”

    John Shore puts things into perspective for those who might see and understand,,,

    “The heartless idiocy of “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”

    Once upon a time the right-wing Christian’s typical response to homosexuality was that gay people are just messed up straight people who need to become better Christians so that God can stop them from being gay.

    The final and complete failure of the “pray away the gay” movement, however, in conjunction with endless evidence that people are simply born gay, has succeeded in finally tossing that hoary argument onto the ash heap of history. But has that stopped right-wing Christians from arguing against homosexuality? Of course not. To them, it only meant they needed a better–or at least a new–argument.

    And it didn’t take them long to find one. Today the Christian argument against gay people is typically … well, this, taken from an email recently sent me:

    Would you support a serial adulterer who leaves his wife, but is just attracted to other women, because that’s who he is and how he was born? How about an alcoholic who just can’t help himself? Would you support him as he leaves his wife for alcohol? Would you support a glutton? A man of extreme pride? Why does homosexuality get a pass, and not any other sin?

    A person with homosexual desires who resists temptation is exactly the same as a married man who resists temptation to carry on affairs with other women—which is to say, a human being battling the temptation to sin. The most compassionate thing that we could tell someone struggling with homosexuality (or any other sin for that matter) is to keep resisting temptation. Keep battling. Don’t give in. This is your badge as a Christian, that you fight temptation.

    Now, you see, the argument is that a gay person struggling against the temptation to be who they really are is no different from anyone else struggling to resist a “sinful” temptation.

    Now, in other words, the refrain isn’t that gay people should stop being gay. Now it’s that they should stop acting gay.

    Right-wing evangelicals are positively enamored of this new argument. You whisper “gay” into the ear of a sleeping evangelical, and there’s an excellent chance that he or she will start murmuring in their sleep, “Just like any other sinful temptation. We’re all sinners. Must resist temptation.”

    And putting your brain to sleep before you say that is the very best way to say it, too. Because it’s an argument that could only make sense to a brain-dead person. It’s just too lame for words.

    But lemme try to find some words anyway.

    Virtually all sins share a crucial, defining, common quality. Because that quality, which is present in every other imaginable sin, is utterly absent from being or acting gay, insisting upon putting homosexuality into the same category as every other sin—or in the category of sin at all—is like gluing wings on a pig, and insisting that the result belongs in the category of “bird.” It doesn’t. It can’t. It won’t. Ever.

    Here is that Big Difference between homosexuality and all those other activities generally understood to be “sinful”: There is no sin I can commit that, by virtue of my having committed it, renders me incapable of loving or being loved. I can commit murder. I can steal. I can rob. I can rape. I can molest children. I can do any terrible thing at all, and no one would ever claim that intrinsic to the condition that gave rise to my doing that terrible thing is that I am, by nature, unqualified for giving or receiving love.

    No one tells the chronic drinker, glutton, adulterer, gambler, or any other kind of sinner that having committed their sin—that being the way they are—means they must stop experiencing love.

    Yet living without love is exactly what anti-gay Christians insist upon for gay people.

    When you tell a gay person to “resist” being gay, what you are really telling them—what you really mean—is for them to be celibate. It’s okay for them to be gay, you’re saying–they just can’t live out their gayness.

    What you mean is that you want them to condemn themselves to a life absolutely devoid of the kind of the romantic, long-term, emotionally and physically intimate love that all people, Christians included, understand not only as their birthright, but as just about the greatest part of being human.

    Be alone, you’re demanding. Live alone. Don’t hold anyone’s hand. Don’t snuggle on your couch with anyone. Don’t cuddle up with anyone at night before you fall asleep. Don’t have anyone at your table to chat with over coffee in the morning.

    Don’t have or raise children.

    Don’t get married. Live your whole life without knowing that joy, that sharing, that fulfillment.

    Be alone.

    Live alone.

    Die alone.

    The “sinful temptation” that Christians are forever urging LGBT people to resist is love.

    You know. That thing Jesus lived and died for.

    (And, I do want to say this: I don’t think that every Christian who believes that being gay is a sin is an evil or malignant person. I think they’ve been taught an aberrant version of Christianity, is all. Not that that’s not, God knows, a lot. But, you know: Who among us didn’t grow up learning all kinds of destructively wrong things about other people, and even–and even perhaps most especially–about ourselves?)”

  • I’m afraid we are falling right into the trap Satan has set for us. It has taken more than 40 years, but instead of sticking to our beliefs as stated in our Discipline, we have gradually let it come to this point, that no matter what the decision, our church will be divided. I am not condemning anyone, but if you don’t agree with a Church’s beliefs, then shouldn’t you find a Church that believes as you do, and not demand that they change to accommodate you? Yes, Christ teaches us to love one another. This unfortunately has nothing to do with love. In my opinion it is exactly the opposite. Love unites, hate tears apart. Think about it.

  • […] December 2018: General Conference: Now What? […]

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