Continuing to Find A Way Forward
As a United Methodist Church, FUMC Austin exists in a tension between our denomination’s official position—prohibiting our clergy from officiating same-sex marriages and prohibiting lesbian and gay candidates from becoming clergy—and our understanding of our invitation and mission.
FUMC believes that every person is a beloved child of God. We exist to build a community where all people are invited to know God’s love and sent to join God in transforming the world.
We know the stories of LGBTQIA persons who are growing in Christ through the accepting and affirming ministry life of FUMC. We also know God’s story, that God created us and loves all of us. Therefore, as a matter of justice, FUMC has lived this out by our Reconciling vote, our Marriage Equality Resolution, and our advocating for change in The UMC’s position.
On Sunday, September 9th we held our second information session regarding the work of the Commission on A Way Forward, the diverse group of 32 people nominated by the Council of Bishops. They were charged by the 2016 General Conference: “to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” 1
On July 7th, the proposed legislation of the Commission was made public by their seeking a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council about the constitutionality of the three plans contemplated by the Commission—the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditionalist Plan. On the 9th, I summarized the legislation, but you can read the complete legislative language here.
The clergy of FUMC Austin believe that the One Church Plan is the best, likely way forward for The UMC. We reiterate that it is not the full measure of justice we desire for LGBTQIA persons, nor for The UMC. However, we believe that the One Church Plan would give FUMC Austin a way forward to follow God’s call for our ministry while allowing other churches to minister in their contexts.
By reading the wording of the One Church Plan legislation, we learn several things:
- The UMC would finally admit “that we are not of one mind regarding human sexuality.”
- The statement that, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” would be deleted.
- The consciences of individual pastors and bishops who do not want to conduct same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed homosexual persons would be protected, while pastors would be free to conduct same-sex weddings where allowed by law and all ministry candidates eligible for ordination will be ordained by a bishop.
- Churches could choose to allow same-sex weddings on their property by a majority vote of a Church Conference.
- The “religious liberty” of individuals would be respected with regard to human sexuality, including protections on clergy appointments where church and pastor disagree.
In reflecting on the legislation, it is not as “clean” as I would like it to be. Instead of removing prohibitions and allowing diversity of practice to live out side by side, the One Church Plan includes explicit protections of positions of conscience that I believe history will judge to be unjust. Additionally, the legislation continues to use the “clinical” language of “homosexuality” instead of the self-defined terms of “gay or lesbian.” This perpetuates the improper focus on sexual acts instead of the identity of persons. I suspect that some on the Commission deemed both parts (protected positions of conscience and the “clinical” language) to be necessary concessions in this compromise.
As a compromise, this is the “bitter” progressives are asked to swallow to get the “sweet” of movement on this issue. For a time we can live with this. However, I worry that long from now when the perspective across The UMC widely favors full inclusion and affirmation, a stalwart few will use these protections to stymie attempts to move the church to a more uniformly inclusive position. For our conservative friends, the “next move” toward inclusion is worrisome politically as an inevitable loss of power and influence, in addition to their theological objections.
The Council of Bishops has amended the call for the February 2019 General Conference, potentially narrowing the scope of business for the session to the Way Forward Report itself and the consideration of only the One Church Plan. Ultimately, the Conference itself will decide how to interpret the call and the scope of the business it wants to consider.
In the meantime, we await an October ruling from the Judicial Council regarding the constitutionality of the various items of legislation enacting each of the three plans.
Once again, we believe that the One Church Plan would give FUMC Austin a way forward to follow God’s call for our ministry while allowing other churches to minister in their contexts. FUMC Austin has a strong sense of God’s calling for our life together, building a community where all people are invited to know God’s love and sent to join God in transforming the world. When we live into our calling, God has already provided for us a way forward.
-Pastor Michael Mumme
NB: This essay concerns the work of the Commission on A Way Forward, of which Pastor Mumme is not a member.