by Chris Ritter
United Methodists with defined ideological positions are being selected in significant numbers for our denomination’s quadrennial legislative gathering. That seems to be the emerging story as clergy and laity are being elected from each annual conference to go the Portland in May 2016. This trend adds heat to the already volcanic expectations for General Conference 2016 and signals that the various ideological camps are perhaps sending soldiers instead of diplomats.
Bryan Bucher of “The Centrist Movement” reports that the slate suggested by their group swept the elections in West Ohio with the help of progressives. Conservatives did very well in the Indiana, Texas, and other annual conferences. Results are still rolling in, but there are positive feelings about the elections among many traditionalists. Some sense that last month’s announcement by the Connectional Table of their proposal to liberalize our clergy standards and chargeable offenses only served to motivate the conservative vote. “You have to be careful who you make mad right before an election,” commented one observer. At least one group lobbying for retention of our clergy standards feels that the votes necessary to change our rules (as in the CT and Hamilton plans) will not exist in 2016.
The bar for success, however, is a bit higher for traditionalists than for progressives. Not only do they seek to retain our current language about human sexuality, but they also would close loopholes that are allowing our standards to be unevenly enforced. This means enacting new measures to hold bishops and clergy accountable in ways that will also pass constitutional muster. The process of restoring adherence to our denominational policies over the months following General Conference would be neither pretty nor painless.
More delegates with defined ideological positions at General Conference also means less moderates and undecided’s will be at the gathering. There will perhaps be less energy expended on finding a solution as on “bringing home a win.” If General Conference speaks decisively on the issue of homosexuality, it may also find it necessary to develop a plan for those who cannot live with the results (recalling the infamous GC1844).
Full disclosure: I am an elected delegate with a defined position. I favor the retention of our language on human sexuality but have also proposed solutions that might keep us together as a denomination. While this may not be a favorable environment for those of us working on a comprehensive solution toward amicable unity, I believe the effort is a worthy one. One tool at our disposal is a peculiar and otherwise superfluous upper judicatory layer in our denomination called the “jurisdiction”. It was invented to keep us United Methodists from being too united and live with a modicum of connectedness even amidst our diversity. You can read more about my proposals at www.jurisdictionalsolution.org or www.peopleneedjesus.net.
Delegations from the various conferences will begin meeting together soon to pray, study, and team-build. We can all be in prayer that this process will yield fresh perspectives and solutions. I love the United Methodist Church and pray we find a faithful, fruitful future… together if at all possible.