2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan Riverthe landam about to give to them—to the Israelites. … 5No one will be able to stand against youthe days of your life. As I was with, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsakeyou.”
Joshua 1:2,5 (New International Version)
The 2019 special General Conference of the United Methodist Church is over. Although much confusion still exists about the exact language that passed, here’s what we think we know:
The delegates, by a vote of 449 to 374, defeated the One Church Plan that would have allowed pastors to follow their own consciences and let churches decide their own policies on same-sex marriage. In doing so, they rejected the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the recommendation of the Council of Bishops.
By a vote of 438 to 384, the delegates approved the Traditional Plan, which prohibits churches and annual conferences (church regions) from determining their own policies and positions on same-sex marriage and on ordination for ministry.
The Judicial Council (the denomination’s supreme court) had already ruled that parts of the Traditional Plan are unconstitutional under church law. After passing an amended version (which still includes some language that had been ruled unconstitutional), the delegates voted to send it to the Judicial Council for review. The next regular meeting of the Judicial Council is scheduled for April 23-26.
Forty-three percent of the delegates were from other countries, mostly in Africa, and they overwhelmingly supported the Traditional Plan. Most delegates from the United States supported the One Church Plan.
At the end of the conference, leaders of the Western Jurisdiction, of which we are a part, immediately declared that it will continue to operate under the One Church Plan. “We know from experience we are stronger when we live together as progressives, traditionalists, and centrists in our church,” said the Rev. Donna Pritchard on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction leadership team. She invited others around the world “to be in dialogue with us as we move forward together into a future with hope.”
Officials from the Western Jurisdiction, which covers 12 western states and bills itself as “a home for all God’s people,” were not alone in speaking out about the results of the four-day conference. Pastors across the country expressed similar dismay over – and, in many cases, defiance of – the delegates’ actions. Concerns were quickly raised by church leaders from all corners of the country.
So what happens next? We wait for the ruling of the Judicial Council and then, quite possibly, the actions of the next regular General Conference, which is scheduled for May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In the meantime, we move forward in ministry, certain that God is with us just as he was with Joshua. We attend worship services, participate in Bible studies, and reach out to our neighbors in need. In short, we are still called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – by loving all, changing hearts, and transforming lives. And “all” still means all.