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The future is still unwritten

We are now three months removed from the fateful and frightening results of the Special Session of the General Conference. And it has now been almost one month since the Judicial Council ruling on the constitutionality (according to the UMC Book of Disciple) of the terrible "Traditionalist" Plan. 

What's happened since? Quite a bit, it turns out. Following are some samples and some links to fuller stories from our Northern Illinois Conference and from around the country.

Here's the letter from our Bishop Sally Dyck responding to Judicial Council (which we read aloud in worship a few weeks ago):

Dear Friends and Members of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference:
As most of you may know, yesterday the Judicial Council, the nine-member top court of The United Methodist Church, released their rulings from February’s Special General Conference related to the Traditional Plan and disaffiliation legislation. You can find the complete ruling for the Traditional Plan found here and the ruling for the disaffiliation plan found here.
The Judicial Council did not find the Traditional Plan (made up of 17 petitions) to be “one bundle” of petitions and so ruled on the constitutionality of each individual one. Seven petitions continued to be unconstitutional, seven stand as approved and one was edited.
The Judicial Council ruled constitutional
  • an expanded definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” to include anyone in a same-sex marriage or who publicly states that he or she is a practicing homosexual,” 
  • that District and Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry cannot recommend LGBTQ persons for ministry and that the bishop cannot commission or ordained them, 
  • that bishops cannot consecrate duly elected persons to the episcopacy if they are “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,”
  • mandatory penalties (one year suspension for the first offense and termination for the second offense) for clergy who are convicted by a jury of peers for performing a same-sex marriage,
  • the complaint process to include a “statement of harms” and “every effort to be made” to include the complainant in the resolution, and
  • the church’s ability to appeal the verdict of a trial court to the committee on appeals and then the Judicial Council in cases of “egregious errors of Church law or administration.”
The Judicial Council ruled unconstitutional
  • that the annual conference certify that the bishop had only nominated persons to the Board of Ordained Ministry who would “uphold, enforce, and maintain the Discipline in its entirety,” and
  • that the Board of Ordained Ministry is required to conduct a thorough examination specifically to determine whether someone is LGBTQ, including through the use of social media.
The disaffiliation petition was ruled constitutional with the reminder that the requirements include the annual conference vote, which is stated elsewhere in the Book of Discipline. 
The disaffiliation petition… 
  • focuses on “the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality,” 
  • and provides “a local right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate” with the church property. The petition delineates the requirements to disaffiliate, including a 2/3rds vote of professing members present and voting at a charge conference, 24 months of apportionment payments, “other liabilities” (which may include past health and property insurance and unpaid pension payments), and timelines for decision making.).
You can find other descriptions and interpretations through United Methodist News Service found here as well as a thorough synopsis from the Greater New Jersey Conference found here. But I encourage you to read the actual rulings.
Most importantly, I want to say again (as I did after the Special Session of the General Conference concluded) that I am deeply disappointed that The United Methodist Church has less inclusive of all people. The harsh penalization and limitations set within the Traditional Plan give little space for those of us who have deeply held convictions based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience that includes all God’s people. 
I fully recognize that many in our annual conference are relieved that traditional marriage has been affirmed and that there are restrictions on who can be in ministry. And while we may disagree, I am still in ministry with you! Our agreement on human sexuality is not the basis of our faith, ministry, or mission; the basis of our faith, ministry, and mission is in Jesus Christ.
This is a challenging time for us as a denomination and as an annual conference. When the legislation for our annual conference comes out later this coming week, you will see a handful of petitions that we will be discussing at Annual Conference in June that will give direction to our future. There are some in our conference who are working on determining “what’s next” for the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition on both sides of the Traditional Plan. We will have robust conversations about where we are as a denomination and an annual conference at both the clergy session on May 21 and the Annual Conference sessions June 2-4.
I agree with those who say it has become clear we need to find a different way to be together so that we no longer harm each other. Therefore, I urge that we do not do anything that will jeopardize the ministry of others as we move toward a more gracious place and future with one another. The verse that comes to mind for me is: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be…” (1 John 3:2).
Let us pray for one another and for our church at this critical time in our history, drawing upon our long tradition and deepest resources of faith.
In ministry together,
~Bishop Sally Dyck
Two different summits or meetings recently, both trying to find an actual way forward that makes generous room for all people who love God. 
From the "Communicator's Corner" of the Northern IL Conference Newsletter:
Here's a piece from that summit:
"Throughout the summit, speakers talked about how a church that follows Jesus practices 'radical solidarity.' The Rev. Traci C. West, one of the summit’s co-conveners, explained that phrase: Practicing radical solidarity, she said, requires both humility to listen and bold risk-taking to stand by those on the margins."
"We dream of a just and loving church — one that is relevant, growing, and ignited by the life-giving and world-changing power of the Holy Spirit,” the preamble says. “Our passion for justice is only surpassed by our hope in Christ Jesus. And as people of faith, we proclaim that the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all.”
Meanwhile (from the Communicator's Corner again), "in Kansas, more than 600 United Methodists gathered this week behind closed doors at the UMCNext meeting. Participants reached a consensus on four commitments for "a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement."
Those four commitments:
"We believe these commitments are essential to a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world:
1. To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity.
2. To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
3. To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
4. To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals."
Admittedly, that's a lot to read and digest. But it is important and interesting  and, I think, hope-filled. 
What questions does all this raise for you?
Because I only ever seem to make decades-old pop culture references, astute readers might be surprised that the title for this post comes from a song that is only 15 years old: "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield. It's a catchy song, but more importantly, I believe it is good and right and true.

Together let's write a better future for the United Methodist Church -- one that gladly welcomes everyone

Posted by Pastor Dave Buerstetta with