In 2016 the General Conference, the United Methodist Church’s legislative body, in a regular scheduled meeting, met in Portland, Oregon to do the required work of the church. This meeting is attended by a delegation from every conference (12 from Missouri 6 Clergy 6 Lay) of the world-wide United Methodist Church. That year the work reached a stalemate on the topic of human sexuality and it appeared it would be unable to reach other important agenda items. To allow for the work to move forward, a Commission on the Way Forward was gathered to provide the church with plans for how the church might address these issues, then these plans would be addressed in 2019 at a Special Called Session of the General Conference which will take place at the end of this month in Saint Louis.
There are three plans that have been put forth by the Commission and countless others by various groups from across the spectrum. To summarize these plans is not my purpose today and I do not know that I could properly do that justice. There is a link below to a page that will provide you with that information. Today I would like to address what we know right now and what this means for Pleasant Grove. I will attempt to refrain from the hypothetical or hypotheses as much as possible.
What we know (a Few Things Among the Many)...
First, we know that statistically every member of this congregation and the world wide Methodist church likely knows someone who either is homosexual or loves someone who is. This makes emotions and tension very high in these conversations as this is a deeply personal issue for many. Therefore, my first request is that you be mindful of HOW we have these conversations. It is important that Christ live not only in our hearts but in our conversations and on our social media accounts regardless of which side you are on. The life of Jesus shows us that you can have a conversation and disagree with people while refraining from name calling or inflammatory speech. In fact as I read scripture I find that Jesus often frustrates those who he disagrees with by asking good questions and truly listening to the answers. This is a model for the church.
Second, we know that there are faithful, Christ loving people on both side of this issue. I have friends on both sides of this debate, and I can tell you that neither side loves Jesus more than the other. In fact as we discuss these topics we discuss two sides, but the truth is that most people fall somewhere in the middle. Therefore, I refuse to question the faith or the salvation of someone who disagrees with me and I request that you do the same. All sides cite scripture and tradition for support and all sides make effective arguments. We must refuse to demonize the other just because we disagree (regardless of the issue).
Lastly, what comes out of General Conference will likely look different than anything going in. The United Methodist Church (then the Methodist Episcopal) took shape during the early days of the formation of the US government. Therefore, we look much like that structure, making General Conference the United Methodist version of congress (its ok to sigh at that). That means that there will be impassioned and inflammatory speeches, and that any proposal will have to be altered in order for everyone to vote and it to pass. That, however, will not be the end of it. The issue will then have to be voted on in every Annual Conference around the world. This will not be immediate and likely will take a couple of years due to scheduling the votes. So just because it is decided in Saint Louis doesn’t mean that it is decided. On that note, I am going to break one of my own rules and tell you that as I read blog posts and articles I am not convinced that anything will be completely decided at the Saint Louis meeting. I hope it is, but I am not sure it will be. Regardless, until that process is complete the Book of Discipline will remain unchanged.
What does this mean for Pleasant Grove…
In short, nothing. There may come a day when we have to make a decision but right now we do not even know what that decision would be, and to take any action at this point would be premature and unnecessary. Let me just say this again, there is nothing going to be 100% locked in at this meeting. I say that because you will read all kinds of things, and any message that says the “Methodists have decided…” is inaccurate. This is just a step in the process (see above).
At Pleasant Grove we will continue to “know Jesus Christ and to make him know,” and we will continue to do the work of Christ in the world. In the short term, it will be business as usual except we might occasionally get a question about this being in the news. I encourage you to use the resources below to help you answer those questions effectively and never be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” or more importantly, “I might be wrong but….” EVERYONE who walks in the door will continue to be met with the love of Jesus every time. That is our call.
I will close this with some words from the Bishop found in a letter that is linked below. However, before I do that I want to encourage that if you have any questions or comments please share them with me. I do not promise to have the answers, but I promise to listen, be present, and help when I can. I do not know what 10 years from now looks like, but I know that Christ is calling us to rise above petty arguments (especially that found on Social Media) and to have a conversation about how best to advance the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Rev Paul Klepees, RN BSN CEN,
Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church
3639 State Road E
Hatton, MO 65231
“As I have previously stated, I am committed to leading the Missouri Conference through this season of complexity with my eyes fixed on the mission of Jesus Christ and the vision of the Missouri Annual Conference where we will relentlessly lead our churches to be outwardly focused and spiritually centered Christ followers. Whatever the decision, the Sundays following General Conference will come and there will be songs to be sung, prayers to be said and scripture to be read. Throughout the week, our buildings will be filled with after-school programs, knitting circles and potluck dinners. Our people will move throughout their communities bringing Holy Communion to the homebound and making sure people on the street have food in their stomachs and warm clothes.”
~Bishop Robert Farr