A serious split has occurred in recent years within both the regular membership and the clergy of the United Methodist Church -- both in the U.S. and the rest of the world -- over its treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community who are sexually active with members of the same sex. A denominational schism is a major possibility if this conflict is not resolved. The Church's General Conference had asked their Council of Bishops to recommend a path forward to resolve the conflicts.
Some of the main topics that have been under dispute are:
The status of persons in the denomination with homosexual and bisexual sexual orientations;
Whether same-sex marriages (a.k.a. gay marriages) should be opposed, tolerated, accepted, or promoted; and
Whether gay or bisexual candidates for the clergy who are sexually active with and/or married to members of the same sex may be considered for ordination.
The Council organized a 32-member Commission on a Way Forward 1 to develop options for the future. The Commission developed three options:
The Traditionalist Plan, which would maintain the Book of Discipline's current negative assessment of same-sex behavior, opposition to gay marriages, and rejection of same-sex sexually-active relationships. Many feel that this would inevitably cause a future split within the denomination, as attitudes towards the LBGT community gradually become more accepting within the UMC denominations, among Christians generally, and among North American adults generally.
The One-Church Plan, which allows individual UMC conferences, churches, and pastors to reach, implement, and work within different approaches to homosexual topics. "The One-Church Plan would remove the current restrictive language of the UMC Book of Discipline section on homosexuality, and would add assurances to pastors and Conferences who -- due to their theological convictions -- sincerely believe that they cannot perform same-sex marriages or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals."
The Connectional Conference Plan. It would allow individual conferences to choose to affiliate with any one of:
"... three connectional conferences. ... The connectional conferences would align based on theology or perspective on LGBTQ ministry — be it traditionalist, progressive or allowing for a variety of approaches. This plan would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution."
The Council of Bishops held a meeting in Chicago to discuss, debate, and pray about the path forward. The majority of the Council of Bishops voted to recommend the "One-Church Plan" for possible adoption by the General Assembly. 2 One bishop indicated that the majority was "substantial;" another described it as "overwhelming." 3
They released a statement on 2018-MAY-04, announcing that a special session of the UMC General Conference will be held during 2019-FEB-23 to 26 in St. Louis, MI, to determine what changes the denomination will make, if any, to the UMC's official position on LGBT issues.
The outgoing Council of Bishops President, COB Bishop Bruce Ough, explained the Council of Bishops' decision:
Ken Carter, the newly installed President of the Council, said:
"With convicted humility, bishops want to be pastors and shepherds of the whole church in order to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible and with as much contextual differentiation as possible. ..."
"The Council’s prayerful deliberation reflected the diversity of the global denomination on the matter of homosexuality and many other matters. The Council affirms the strength of this diversity and our commitment to maintain the unity of the church." 2
Before being released publicly, the plans recommended by the Commission will undergo their finally editing and translation into all of the official languages of used by the General Conference. This was expected to be completed on or before 2018-JUL-08, which is the deadline for the submission of petitions for submission to the 2019-FEB Conference.
2018-MAY-15: Confusion develops about the 2019 General Conference's agenda:
The main points of confusion are whether:
The Council of Bishops is forwarding to the General Conference all three proposals of their Commission on a Way Forward, or only the One-Church Plan.
Whether other petitions dealing with human sexuality, that are inconsistent with the bishops' report may also be submitted to the special General Conference. 3
A fee of $200 to $300 per attendee at the General Conference is planned. This was controversial.
2018-MAY-15: Revisiting the defeat of two gender-based amendments at the 2016 General Conference:
During 2016, the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women introduced two constitutional amendments regarding equality between women and men, boys and girls in the Denomination. Similar amendments had been proposed for the past 28 years without success. In 2016, both amendments had obtained a majority vote in favor. However, both failed to attain the required 2/3rds majority vote by a small margin, and were thus defeated. 5
Amendment 1 will undergo a repeated vote at the 2020 General Conference because the wrong text version had been voted upon in 2016.
Amendment 2 will be reworded and re-introduced at the same Conference.
These amendments would have barred the denomination from discriminated against members because of their gender, ability, age, or marital status. This was not a problem for many UMC members. However, others noted that the terms "marital status" and "gender" were not specifically defined within the text of the amendments.
In recent years, two main controversies among Christians and between many religious individuals and secularists has involved the redefinition of both "marriage" and "gender:"
Marriage was once restricted in North America to two persons, who were of the same race, and opposite gender. Over time, persons of different races were allowed to marry in some U.S. states. This was made universal across the U.S. by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 in the case Loving v. Virginia. Similarly, the High Court allowed persons who were of the same gender to marry in their 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges. Some UMC members would regard the Amendments as banning Church discrimination against persons who were legally married to a person of the same sex -- the majority of whom have a homosexual orientation. The members might regard the amendment as a sneak attack to change Church rules to allow openly sexually active homosexuals to be ordained.
Immediately after the high court ruling in Obergefell, religious conservatives in the U.S. switched much of their anti-gay effort to attack the rights of transgender persons. These are a small minority of persons who were identified as male or female at birth, but who now personally identify themselves as being of the opposite gender -- or -- less commonly -- of both genders, an intermediate gender, or as neither gender. Many UMC members regard transgender persons as being simply gender confused and in need of therapy; they might regard the amendment as a sneak attack to allow transgender persons to be treated within the denomination as being of a different gender from their birth-identified gender.
"Kevin" read the UMC Insight article 5 and posted a comment:
"The wording of the proposed amendments opened up some serious questions. Marital status could mean same sex marriage, polygamy, incestuous marriage, and child marriage. Did we really mean to lock that into our constitution? And just what does "ability" mean? If a pastor candidate is unable to execute his or her duties do we ordain that person anyway? I do not think the ramifications of these amendments were thought out." 5