2016 UMC General Conference

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May 19, 2016

United Methodist Sex & Gridlock

The United Methodist Church’s bishops succeeded once again in suppressing prolonged and divisive plenary debate over sex at their denomination’s quadrennial governing General Conference, meeting May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.

Delegates initially rejected narrowly and then narrowly accepted the Council of Bishops’ proposal that all legislation about sex be referred to a commission the bishops will appoint, and which will report to a possible special called General Conference in 2018.

Legislation reaffirming the church’s prohibition on same sex rites had prevailed in legislative committees but, under the current arrangement, will not be discussed in plenary. In 2012, after a relatively brief debate that reaffirmed the church’s stance that homosexual practice is “incompatible” with Christian teaching, the bishops negotiated a tabling of all other sex legislation. Then, as now, legislative committees had reaffirmed and proposed strengthening church teaching affirming sex only between husband and wife.

A plenary legislative majority of USA evangelicals and overseas delegates likely would have approved the traditionalist petitions, having already quickly elected its slate of 5 new members on the church’s top court. Judicial Council often adjudicates the church’s disputes on sex. The new members backed by Evangelicals include a Mozambican woman, a Norwegian, a Filipino, a Vietnamese American, and a woman law school dean. Although a slate backed by liberals swept the 2008 election, only one strong liberal remains on the 9 member council.

Bishops have striven to avoid prolonged General Conference debate over sex in part to avoid further divisiveness and to minimize disruptive demonstrations by LGBTQ protesters. It’s also no secret that most of the 46 active USA bishops are more liberal than the global church and do not personally support traditional Christian teachings on marriage. Most of the 20 non-USA bishops, especially Africans, are more conservative. Reportedly only 9 bishops opposed their council’s proposal to end General Conference debate in favor of a commission.

United Methodism, which has 7 million USA members and over 5 million overseas, has debated homosexuality every General Conference since 1972. It is nearly alone among traditionally liberal Mainline denominations that have formally not surrendered traditional Christian sexual ethics. Like other Mainlines, United Methodism has been losing USA members for 50 years. Unlike other Mainlines, the church has a large overseas membership that will soon become a majority.

Liberal USA clergy have become increasingly defiant of church rules against same sex rites and sex outside male-female marriage, with liberal bishops unwilling to respond forcefully. As part of General Conference tradition, LGBTQ demonstrators repeatedly interrupted this General Conference with well-timed protests prearranged with the bishops. Sometimes the rainbow clad protesters, many of them recognizable from previous General Conferences, appeared with tape over their mouths signifying their supposedly being silenced by the church. In one protest, several writhed on the convention floor hog-tied to illustrate their captivity to church disapproval. Delegates carefully stepped around them.

As apparently there’ll be no more official conversation at this General Conference about sex, it’s unclear if protesters have any major additional interruptions scheduled. Some LGBTQ activists celebrated the bishops intervention against further tightening of church policies while others lamented that intervention ensured current church disapproval of sex outside male-female marriage continues.

Protests against United Methodist policies reflect the growing expansion of sexual identities in American culture. One protester active on social media celebrated his asexual identity. A delegate who’s minister of a small New England congregation told her legislative committee about marrying a transgender who professes to be male although biologically born female. The male head of Methodism’s oldest liberal caucus denied an inaccurate report he was marrying a man, declaring himself too “queerasf-ck” for a “heteronormative” institution like marriage.

About two dozen bishops, most of them retired, signed a letter of solidarity with “LGBTQI United Methodists leaders,” with the “I” standing for intersex. “We call The United Methodist Church to repentance for its lack of love for all God’s children, and for its arrogance in believing that we establish the boundaries of God’s love,” they wrote in their public declaration released during General Conference.

Legislation passed in one legislative committee called upon United Methodism to offer more published resources on the denomination’s official marriage and sexual teachings. But the bishops’ proposal negated this initiative, leaving the church with traditional teachings but no ability to explain them. Instead there is an ongoing cacophony of demands for affirmation of all sexualities, largely met with silence by official United Methodism.

This General Conference, with two days remaining, seems so far not to have produced any major legislative accomplishments, resembling the 2012 General Conference, which approved a major church restructuring, only to have it overturned by the church’s top court on the convention’s final night.

But at least one more General Conference has averted the official liberalization on sex that has precipitated schism in other Mainline Protestant denominations. The overseas church can continue to grow while the USA church continues its half century of steady decline without the accelerating implosion suffered by the Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ denominations.

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28 Responses to United Methodist Sex & Gridlock

  1. LeeRaleigh says:

    Same old, same old.

  2. Clay Showalter says:

    I think the African church will leave

    • Ben Horrocks says:

      I do not believe so. The principled side of me sees their commitment and faithfulness. The cynical side of me sees that right now they still need the financial support that is received, although as the denomination apparently continues to decline in the US that support will decline as well as the desire to continue to offer that support.

  3. Once again, the blinded men of Sodom are very persistent. Shame on the Bible-believers in the UMC who didn’t kick these goat-herders out long ago.

    • Mark Brooks says:

      Too much ecumenism and accommodation to the world, not enough Bible. The long term legacy of the Social Gospel in all the mainline has been an ultimate departure from the way of life.

  4. Joan Watson says:

    I have read the Bishop’s statement several times. My gut tells me that during the duration of this commission there will be no attempt to uphold the Discipline as it now stands. I give them credit for a very slick end run. Only time will tell how this will play out; the concept that they are gambling on a mushy middle has credence.

  5. Dan says:

    Anyone want to bet how the commission’s membership will be stacked. I predict that all the theological work will affirm any kind of sex with anyone at any time, and all the personal stories presented to the commission will tell of the pain and hurt caused by bigoted, homophobic Methodists who dare to hold an orthodox view of Christian behavior that is consistent with two millenia of church tradition and teaching. My advice to the orthodox in each annual conference is to set up religious corporations and start sending all your money there to build a war chest that will allow you to start new churches when the commission reports its findings and does everything it can to make LGBTQI doctrine normative and even mandatory for the UMC. And you can bet they will NEVER let any congregations leave with their church property intact.

    • Steve says:

      I don’t think there will by much theological “work” to even pick through. It will likely turn out to be something like the Anglican Church of Canada’s statement on same-sex marriage, which just basically stands on its own (“our doctrine is thus because that’s what we voted to say”) and not any theological debate or biblical foundation. Look at how the PCUSA, ELCA, The Episcopal Church, and most recently the Scottish Episcopal Church got to and defend their decisions on these matters. No foundation.

    • Nutstuyu says:

      I’d like these bishops to answer why they focus only on trendy sexualities, but ignore ones like pansexuals, pedosexuals, polysexuals, omnisexuals, and zoosexuals.

  6. Creed Pogue says:

    You had a few dozen who went back and forth in the space of a couple of hours. If there is continued public disobedience, that will make the passage of a package of legislation at a called General Conference rather difficult. But, we will have two years of speculation in the meantime which won’t help anybody.

  7. Skipper says:

    The evil bishops have done it again. They have suppressed voting on all sexuality issues because they know those following Christ would win. Still, could not a new motion today undo this tragic event?

    I must mention that in the end God will win with or without the support of the Council of Bishops. God’s morality has not changed and does not change. It’s just that simple and these bishops will find out one late day.

    As Christians, we must be in collision with the devil, not in collusion with him.

    It is not enough to confess sin without forsaking it.

    It’s better to speak truth that hurts and then helps then falsehood that comforts and then kills.

    One thing that is encouraging is that “We are responsible for the effort, not the outcome.” I am quoting Adrian Rogers here. Those who stood for Christ at the Conference will be noticed by God, regardless of the ungodly outcome on moving toward the acceptance of sexual perversion, as the majority of bishops seem to prefer.

    Thanks to those who stood for Christ and continue to do so at todays Conference! May you find new power from the Holy Spirit to right these wrongs!

  8. Jerald Walz says:

    This is what “episcopal” leadership looks like? Obfuscation, calumny, delay tactics, and dirty tricks. No thank you. The UMC needs Godly, Christ-like leadership that is NOT of this sort.

    • Mark Brooks says:

      Sounds to me like the Christians of the UMC need to purge their bishops, before the bishops purge the Christians.

      But perhaps it is already too late.

  9. David Goudie says:

    As a question; the statement of the Bishops said … the bishops will seek to avoid further “complaints” and “trials” for those who break the Book of Discipline (while upholding the discipline). The progressives seem to read this as a victory being able to now do what they want. So my question is does the Bishops statement call for a discontinuation of all trails during this period(which is the way the progressives read it)? And if so isn’t that actually a constitutional violation of what the BOD states? (Which the new more conservative Judicial council could overrule that viewpoint)

    Or is it just basically a continuation of what is occurring? (Bishops looking the other way, just resolutions and the like)… and not an actual policy that we we no longer can do any trials? .

  10. David F. Miller says:

    Have we not had commission after commission discuss sexuality? When will the Church take a stand? I believe that the General Conference has punted the problem to another year. In the mean time Bishops will fail to enforce the Book of Discipline and radical clergy will continue to violate Biblical teachings. I am disgusted.

    • Mark Brooks says:

      The delegates did the right thing and rejected the proposal the first time — which I would have assumed settled the matter. Some people changed their votes. Why?

  11. James Nevel says:

    Yes, another GC with nothing done to bring everyone together, imagine that! The split of the ELCA and the formed LCMC is a great example of what the Methodist face in the VERY near future in Ohio and all over the USA.

  12. Matthew L. says:

    Since the BoD will no longer be enforced, there is no reason to pay apportionments.

  13. Skipper says:

    So this motion from the Council of Bishops has suppressed all voting on sexuality in favor of their “council.” Could not another motion today undo this tragic event? This reminds me of Judas the betrayer.

    As Christians we must be in collision with the devil, not in collusion with him.

  14. Liz says:

    Thank God for African Bishops.

  15. halehawk says:

    A better solution would have been to have The United Methodist Church suspend ALL church marriages until we have a better understanding of what a Wesleyan/Christian marriage should be. We should NOT suspend trials, of clergy who break their ordination vows. Couples who want to get married can still get married by civil authorities. I think we need to have a study on Christian marriage (rather than human sexuality). There are many issues we could examine such as the obscene expense and luxury many couples use for their wedding celebration. Perhaps we should develop a required marriage preparation course and mandate if for all engaged couples. (Like the pre- Cana course in Roman Catholic Churches). Do we need a requirement that couples married in our churches should be church members? By suspending weddings in the church for a season we might ruffle some feathers, but it would also serve as a time of reflection on the nature of marriage in our tradition. Should we be in the wedding business–especially since marriage is not considered to be one of our sacraments?

    • MarcoPolo says:

      Moratoriums of any kind usually stall growth, but if the ‘Marriage’ issue becomes the stumbling block to accommodating couples seeking to ‘tie the knot’, they will probably just find a different church for those services.

      And Methodism will find itself becoming a smaller, and smaller image in the rear-view mirror of History’s progression forward.

  16. Namyriah says:

    The guy on the floor appears to be imitating Prince’s famous “mate with the stage” move.

  17. PA says:

    Can you please direct me to your source? I would like to read more about the “head of Methodism’s oldest liberal caucus who declared himself too “queerasf-ck” for a “heteronormative” institution like marriage.

  18. bostic says:

    If we go lgbt- we die- plain and simple. All these liberals with no one in the pews are the ones who don’t care about souls. No one in heaven will be straight or gay! My opinion- gay people in the name of Jesus can and will be saved. We miss the big picture with this issue. It’s the Great Commission- not the great sexual debate which has become our gospel!

  19. John S. says:

    Not only are the Bishops more liberal they want to maintain influence. A split or liberalization of policies will have the UMC looking like the Episcopalians or PCUSA. Instead of being a Bishop of the largest mainline denom in the USA, a church of 13 mill worldwide, they will suddenly be part of another minor sect in the USA rapidly decreasing, marginalized, unheard and irrelevant. They want it all, the conservatives staying in to give numbers and money, while following like sheep down the garden path of “cultural engagement and relevance.”

  20. Puddleglumm says:

    I know that the church I serve will leave the UMC if the Bishops give into the heretical/immoral “gay agenda”.

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