Just in case you don’t speak Methodist, the way we work is pretty simple: every four years both lay and clergy delegates cluster in one of five regional gatherings known as Jurisdictional Conferences for the principal purpose of electing new bishops to replace those who are retiring. As is customary, thus, those meetings took place last week and the result was that fifteen new bishops, including seven women, were chosen to serve as presiding officers of our church across America.
One of those elections, however, has unfortunately created quite a controversy, at least insofar as maintaining our unity as a denomination in these challenging times. For against the plain directives of our Book of Discipline, some eighty-eight delegates to the Western Jurisdiction, the smallest of our five regional bodies, elected to the office of bishop a self-avowed practicing lesbian who is married to another woman. And irrespective of one’s views on the question of inclusivity, that act of ecclesial disobedience has stirred up a true crisis within our denomination.
To be sure, at virtually the same moment she was elected late Friday evening the South Central Jurisdictional Conference (of which I was a part) passed a resolution asking for a declaratory decision from our Judicial Council, the highest court of the UMC, as to the legality of the election, and that response will be forthcoming in the months ahead. Likewise our Council of Bishops is meeting this week to discuss how to move forward given this very real challenge to our church’s covenantal connection.
Already, though, the specter of formal division has been raised in many quarters, with some saying that the differences between us are now virtually irreconcilable. And sadly enough, given not only the election in the West, but the actions of several annual conferences to act in “non-compliance” with the provisions in our Discipline, that may be true. But I believe that until our ecclesiastical court has ruled on the issue, and the special commission authorized by the General Conference to recommend a way forward has been formed and allowed to do its work, that the faithful congregations of our twelve million member global church should continue to join together to carry out the valuable kingdom work that God still has for us to do in this world.
Accordingly, even while recognizing that we are not all of one mind with respect to the issues of human sexuality, my hope is that we may find a way to both respect one another and to respect the mutual covenant which binds the spiritual heirs of John Wesley as one. Indeed, it is said that his final words were simply, “Best of all… God is with us.” And because that is yet the case, perhaps it is true that the best days of our church may yet lay ahead of us, as well, whether we eventually separate into two distinct bodies or remain as one.
We’re just all going to need to be very careful indeed with our words and actions as we navigate our way in the days and months ahead, sisters and brothers. For no matter how fluent or not you may be in speaking Methodist there is simply no substitute for knowing how to speak the truth in love.
Turmoil seems to be the order of the day in our country and our denomination. Thanks for your insight and diligence as a leader of our church.
Amen! And thank you for the update. Trying to wade through the information when you don’t speak fluid Methodism is challenging to say the least. It is comforting to know you are involved. Thanks!
As always, your words are wise and kind. By the way, thank you for inquiring about Anita’s health during our conversation at Annual Conference in Houston. With the recent actions of the Western Jurisdiction, it is very clear that regardless of the pleadings of those who desire to abide by the Book of Discipline, our brothers and sister who support the LGBTQ agenda are not going to abide by the current rules and will continue to instead do as they see fit. Those of us who are more conservative and share the understanding of the biblical perspective on sexuality are therefore placed in a position of either closing a blind eye to the current actions or we decide that it is time to form an association that it more in line with our theology. Sadly, it is way over time to act and not simply watch the destruction of the United Methodist Church. My prayers will be with you and other leaders who will make difficult decisions for the future.
Went through this in the Episcopal church. Here’s hoping it’s handled here with more love and class that it was there.
Chappell, as always your thoughtful, kind and sincere words are appreciated. This is such a difficult situation our beloved UMC is in. I will commit to pray for God’s wisdom for the leaders, who will no doubt be making very hard decisions in the weeks and months to come, and that they will make every decision with the same love Jesus showed us on the Cross.
Peace, David <
Chapp you forge a gentle and clear path.Please keep leading! I am sorry for the divisiveness. I don’t think anyone’s sexuality should be on display on the pulpit or on parade and there other ways to accomplish fairness. However it would help if the biological factors that could be behind gender and sexuality dysfunctions are better understood. For all we know we created endocrine disruptors with plastics, or prenatal or childhood medications or it could be a biological response to over-population like in some animals. I know several boy-girl twins that seemed to have their signals switched from birth. Can the Methodist church clearly define the difference between gender sexual dysfunction and perverse, harmful, and brutal sexual practices as immoral and cruel as a small starting point? I would like to see some of my gay friends comfortable in church, they truly were born that way. I don’t want to see them ashamed and avoiding God. Should they lead in church? Not if the congregation won’t follow. If humbleness comes before pride, maybe the humble would choose to sacrifice their position to save the church and the church would still show open and loving arms. For those who choose to accept this….
Read the book, “Messy Grace,” by Caleb Kaltenbach, a current conservative pastor who was raised by gay parents. He describes this very tension and it’s one of the best viewpoints you’ll ever read.
I was raised in the Methodist church and have fond memories of being drawn toward God by the love of the people in that church. However, when Methodist seminaries began to turn very liberal my parents chose to “vote with their feet,” in the early 70’s and we became Southern Baptists. Now we have 3 generations learning God’s word in Baptist churches. I don’t regret it as I see our children and grandchildren loving the Lord, and in such happy families.
I do regret though that the once great Methodist denomination didn’t recognize just why their numbers declined so rapidly over the years.
“To be or not to be…that is the question”