Bishops in the United Methodist Church are divided but open to the possibility of “new structures” according to a top bishop addressing the denomination’s top legislative body on Tuesday morning.
Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area shared that the council is committed to increasing unity and is not putting forward any proposals at this time for dividing the 12.1 million-member global church.
Ough spoke after the existence of conversations between Council of Bishops then-President Warner H. Brown, Jr. and various caucus officials about potential schism were made public by Ohio pastor Mike Slaughter to his Annual Conference (regional) delegation and subsequently widely disseminated over social media.
“I stand before you today on behalf of my episcopal colleagues to tell you that I have a broken heart and that collectively, we have a broken heart.”
Ough cited sexuality, interpretation of scripture and “how we include our LGBT brothers and sisters” as areas of persistent disagreement that could divide the church.
The bishop noted that he and his colleagues were charged with oversight of the spiritual and temporal matters of the church and had been engaged in “intense, holy conversations” in considering how to maintain unity.
Ough disclosed that prior to arriving in Portland for the denomination’s quadrennial General Conference, bishops had been in dialogue with various groups and conference officials to understand their perspectives and positions. Citing the challenge of having such a conversation in the “anxious, time constrained” environment of the General Conference, Ough assessed that “anxious, distrustful organizations have difficulty affording space to anything – space necessary to listen and respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading.”
“it appears from social media that our conversations have unintentionally contributed to the anxiety of this General Conference, and for that I offer my sincere apology,” Ough stated. “As shepherds of the entire flock, the Council of Bishops is committed to maintaining the unity of the entire church” which he described as “an authentic unity born of the Holy Spirit.”
Ough announced that even as the council called for unity in the church, “We ourselves as a Council of Bishops are not fully united.”
“We are not advancing or advocating any plan for separation or reorganizing the denomination,” the bishop flatly stated, citing “the constitutional prerogative of this body [General Conference] to propose and act on legislation.”