Pastoral Letter from Pastor Tara
Concerning the Special Session of General Conference of The United Methodist Church in 2019
The last 4 days, the United Methodist Church gathered in St. Louis for a Special Called General Conference to discuss a way forward. The question at hand was how do we, as a denomination, move forward together when we are so deeply divided over how to welcome, love, and include our LGBTQIA friends, neighbors, and family. What was revealed is that we are divided and we will most likely not move forward together.
I have been reflecting on my tine at GC and you will find that below, as well as the legislative pieces that matter most.
The Feely Part
I was born a part of the United Methodist Church. My father baptized me in Exeland United Methodist Church where he served. I spent my life in the UMC. In truth, it was chosen for me. It wasn’t until I went to seminary where I learned the history and the theology of Methodism that I chose it. I fell in love with our deep theology and our passion for social justice and social transformation. For 45 years, I have been Methodist.
For the past 47 years, the Methodist Church has said that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching, that the church will not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals and that clergy cannot preform weddings of same sex couples or allow them to take place in any Methodist church. This was the policy Saturday morning when I arrived at the airport at 6am to catch my flight, and this was the policy when I arrived home last night at 10pm. So, in one sense, nothing has changed. That is what the newspapers, social media, and the news report. But what they can’t report is the feeling that was in the arena.
Despite the Traditional Plan passing, we are closer than we have been in 47 years to full-inclusion. Yes, there was weeping the hall; yes, there were screams of anger; yes, there was disappointment and fear. But there was hope. Real hope. Hope that this is the turning point; hope that things are on the verge of changing.
The WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association—a large conservative group within the UMC which has been working on this for over a decade) said that if hey didn’t get their way, they would be leaving. In reality they didn’t get their way. The bulk of their Plan, which called for the language to stay the same, but added stricter punishments (like no trials for clergy), was deemed unconstitutional. Their attempt to take their pensions and property was also deemed unconstitutional. If they leave (they meet March 6th) as they have promised, hear this: we (the UMC) will be smaller, we will be poorer, but we will stronger and more united. And we will be able to change this stance. So, I have hope. The progressive delegates have hope. And those who want full-inclusion should also have hope.
The Legislative Part
On Sunday, the delegates were asked to set the priority of the petitions that would be voted upon on Tuesday at the plenary session. Monday was a legislative session and here petitions were amended. The list of priorities that were dealt with on Monday and Tuesday are as follows:
1) Wespath Recommendations on Pension Liabilities and CRSP amendment
2) Traditional Plan
3) Disaffiliation Pan (Taylor)
4) Disaffiliation Plan (Boyette)
5) The One Church Plan (this plan deleted all language regarding homosexuality and allowed churches and clergy to decide for themselves where they stand. It was endorsed by the Commission on the Way Forward and the Council of Bishops).
The Pension petitions require that any local church that withdraws or is closed must pay, at a minimum, its fair share of unfunded pension liability for their annual conference. Another petition spells out that any clergy members who end their relationship with a conference will be treated as “terminated vested” participants, meaning their accrued benefits would be safe and converted to an individual account balance. These passed.
Delegates approved Traditional Plan (except petitions 90041 and 90048) as amended by vote of 438 to 384. However, of the seventeen petitions within this Plan, nine were ruled unconstitutional—taking away the teeth intended. The Judiciary Committee will meet again in late April to review the plan as a whole (where most of the plan will deemed unconstitutional still).
The two disaffiliation plans were ruled unconstitutional. These plans allowed clergy that wanted to disaffiliate with the UMC to keep their (unfunded) pensions and take all church property.
The One Church Plan failed to pass (449-374).
How WE move forward
When I turned my phone back on as the plane made its way across the tarmac in Atlanta, it was lit up with texts and emails asking if I was going to leave the ministry or the UMC. My answer to all of them was, “No, I will stay and fight”. I told the Board of Ordained Ministry at my commissioning interviews that I disagree with the church’s stance on human sexuality and that has not changed. My desire to change our policies has not changed. So, what do we do next?
— We come together and we worship God this Sunday. We worship the God who loves us and doesn’t label us. We worship the God that makes a way when it feels like there is no way
— We continue to fight
— We don’t give in to fear
— We remain hopeful
— We continue to pray
— We continue to welcome ALL
— We continue to be the people that God called and created us to be.
Don’t get me wrong—I am disappointed and my heart breaks, but we are a people of hope. We walk in the darkness the same way that we walk in the light. So, let us not give up on God or the church—it’s not over.
May God’s grace prove us ALL stronger,
Rev. Dr. Tara Paul