United Methodists Imagine New Directions for Denomination


Delegates consider legislation during the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #GC0336. April 28, 2008.

Delegates consider legislation during the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

By Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service

Love Your Neighbor Coalition has cast a broad vision for the denomination that addresses the “interdependence of personal faith and social justice,” said the Rev. Steve Clunn, coalition coordinator.

The vision statement from the coalition, which consists of 11 official and unofficial United Methodist caucuses, tackles issues from full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people to working for racial justice and equality.

Clunn said more than 350 people have signed a petition endorsing the statement since its release April 30. Read the complete statement.

The coalition’s “vision for our church is bold in its understanding of the centrality of love, found in the scripture,” Clunn said.

In the years, months and days leading up to the 2016 United Methodist General Conferenceorganizations, general agencies, coalitions and individuals are fine-tuning their vision for the denomination’s future. The top legislative body will meet May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Oregon. The deadline for submitting petitions is Oct. 13.

One of the most contentious debates will revolve around the church’s stand on homosexuality. According to the denomination’s lawbook, The Book of Discipline, all people are of sacred worth. However, since 1972, the Discipline has said the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. That means no self-avowed practicing homosexuals can be certified as candidates for ministry, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

Same-sex marriages cannot be conducted by United Methodist ministers or held in United Methodist churches. The church's stance has been reaffirmed at each General Conference since 1972.

However, since the 2012 General Conference, there has been one church trial of a United Methodist pastor who officiated at his son’s wedding. Several pastors and a bishop have publicly officiated at same-sex unions and although charges were filed against them, those complaints were settled by just resolution and no other trials have resulted.

“We can live together with disagreement, but we cannot continue to live together in a situation where persons determine for themselves what part of our polity and practice they will adhere to,” said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, executive for Good News.

“Good News’ purpose it to help lead United Methodists into a faithful future by encouraging the development of the faithful and vibrant practice of orthodox Wesleyan Christianity,” he said.

Clergy accountability

Lambrecht pointed to “several years of complaint processes” that he feels demonstrates “there is not a will” to hold bishops and clergy accountable.

He said Good News favors a global accountability process for bishops, with mandatory consequences for persons found to have performed a same-sex marriage. Good News also supports adding a definition of a just resolution to the Book of Discipline that would require an apology and a vow not to repeat the offense, as well as requiring the complainant to be involved in any just resolution.

“As an act of grace, we also favor a process granting individual congregations and clergy who cannot in good conscience abide by our denominational standards to exit from the denomination with their property and pensions intact.

“We believe covenant cannot be compelled, but must be freely given, and that those who can no longer abide by our covenant ought to, out of integrity, withdraw. We believe these and similar reforms can rebuild a common foundation for our denominational unity, reducing conflict and mobilizing greater resources for church revitalization, new churches, and missional outreach at home and around the globe.”

The Rev. Bryan D. Collier, pastor of The Orchard in Tupelo, Mississippi, and spokesperson for the Wesleyan Covenant Network, said the coalition believes the denomination must return to “our historic orthodox roots.”

Though not planning to propose any legislation to the 2016 General Conference, Collier said the Wesleyan Covenant Network will be watching and hoping the lawmaking body will focus on “advancing the Kingdom of Christ through the uniquely Wesleyan Voice that God has given us.”

The Love Your Neighbor Coalition includes the denominations five ethnic constituencies: Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos, National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, Native American International Caucus and Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists.

The Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, chair of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, said the work of Love Your Neighbor Coalition is in alignment with his group’s mission “to raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates.”

“I dream of and will continue to work toward a church that embraces all people without limitations or restrictions,” he said. Working within coalitions is the best way to bring everyone to the table, he added.

“I do not see how we get to a new and transformed place without joining together and learning from those with whom we agree and with those who may be at different places. I am clear we may not all begin at the same place, but as long as we are open to move in a positive direction, whether we see that desired end now or not, we will experience wholeness of heart and spirit.”

The Love Your Neighbor Coalition was formed in 2011. In addition to the ethnic caucuses, it  includes the United Methodist Association of Ministries with Disabilities; Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns; Love Prevails; Reconciling Ministries Network; Western Methodist Justice Movement; and Methodist Federation for Social Action.

Clunn said he knows the coalition’s vision “is a tall order.”

“But (the coalition) also recognizes and is committed to working on the ways that all of these concerns and hopes for our church are connected, interdependent and intersectional.”