The 2019 General Conference is over. Mercifully. To say yesterday was a tough day would be the understatement of the decade. I confess my mind and heart are still reeling from the events, debates and decisions of the day. Let me first give a quick recap of what was decided, then talk about a way to face into it.
- The Conference adopted a pair of petitions to ensure the financial viability of pensions for retired clergy, which include fair-share payments from any congregations who may leave the UMC.
- After impassioned debate and prayers, the minority report on the One Church Plan was defeated by a vote of 449-374.
- After hours of openly-admitted stalling tactics, a partially amended Traditional Plan was approved by a vote of 438-384.
- A motion to refer the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council to determine its constitutionality was passed by a vote of 405-395.
- A “Disaffiliation” plan was approved that offers a process for how congregations can gracefully leave the denomination with their property, if they desire to leave “for reasons of conscience.”
As always, the Judicial Council, the United Methodist Church’s version of the Supreme Court, will address any action taken by the General Conference to be sure it aligns with our constitution. Any legislation declared unconstitutional will not be included in the Book of Discipline, our denomination’s policy book. The Judicial Council’s next scheduled meeting is April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois. All constitutionally aligned legislation will take effect January 1, 2020, with one exception. The Disaffiliation plan is scheduled to take effect today, February 27, 2019. However, its constitutionality will have to be vetted at the Judicial Council’s meeting in April.
In light of all that’s happened the last four days, many are wondering, “Where do we go from here?”
Let me suggest we push the pause button, take a breath, and take stock of where we are. It’s been a highly charged, intensely emotional and deeply divisive past few days. For those of us who love the United Methodist Church, the world has changed.
Quite naturally, that makes us sad. Rather than launching into next steps, we need some time to metabolize. After Job lost his family, his wealth and his health all in one day, his friends came to comfort him. They sat with him on the ground for 7 days, “and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13 NRSV). This is the Biblical way to meet people in their grief.
Perhaps the most healing thing we could do is humble ourselves enough to sit with our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers and their allies and feel the hurt they feel, to sit with our traditionalist sisters and brothers and feel the sting of hurtful words spoken to and about them, and to sit with some of the millions of long-time United Methodist Christians around the world to feel their confusion and angst over what the future holds. This doesn’t change what happened. It restores our souls, so we can face the world as it is now.
In a future post, I’ll muse about what may come next. Today it’s enough to sit on the ground and be silent for a while.