The United Methodist Church(UMC) ended its first day of a special General Conference (GC2019) to determine that church’s response to a host of issues concerning its LGBT+ members. Similar to the experience in the Episcopal Church, feelings are strong and the possibility of a church split hangs over the proceedings. Unlike the Episcopal Church, the UMC is a truly global church, with nearly a third of its membership in the global south where traditional views on the issues holds sway.
This special conference was convened to consider four potential paths for the UMC to follow. The ability to fully enact the Traditional/Modified Traditional Plan may have been hampered by two decisions of the denominations top constitutional court that ruled associated petitions as unconstitutional.
Petition 90052(A Traditional Way Forward with Enhanced Enforcement) is unconstitutional, the court said in Decision 1375 “because it infringes upon the right of the annual conference to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members,” as provided under Paragraph 33 of the Constitution.
A second petition, Petition 90078(Modified Traditional Plan – Dunnam – Global Episcopacy Committee), is unconstitutional because it would create a global episcopacy committee, the decision said.
The conference itself started with several hours of prayer, but several hours into the proceedings, many participants grew concerned that those whose lives were at the center of this conference hadn’t been prayed for or with.
By midday, there had been no reference to LGBTQ people and that concern was voiced by those who support changing church policies concerning homosexuality. The second half of the prayer day began with an emotional call to pray for “our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” issued by Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of North Alabama.
Dorothee Benz, a lay delegate from the New York Conference, said LGBTQ people brought concerns to the bishops that there had been “no substantial time to pray for and with us.” And, the presence of LGBTQ persons on the floor as delegates and in the bleachers holding signs and flags were not acknowledged, she said.
After reconvening, that deficit was addressed. Bishop Wallace-Padgett, addressing the assembly said;
“We see you, we are together as part of the Christian body, and when one suffers we all suffer. We need to care for one another, stretch the hand of sacred love to one another, knowing we are children of God. With the heart of Jesus, we move into prayer time specifically for LGBTQ siblings that are here and around the world.”
Communion closed the day.
image: The Rev. Will Green (center) leads the singing of “Jesus Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom” at the “Queer Prayer Station” during the Feb. 23 morning of prayer at the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.