The “listening post” was scheduled by the delegation for three hours on Saturday afternoon at Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville. Among the attendees, 14 signed up to speak publicly to the 14 delegates sitting on the stage.
Almost all who came to the microphone spoke against the One Church Plan and in favor of the Traditional Plan.
“I encourage you to take this book and do what it says and live by principle, not by circumstance,” said one speaker from Chattanooga, while holding up a Bible.
“I can’t believe this is on the table,” said another speaker from Kingsport, referring to the One Church Plan. She also held up a Bible. “You will tear this church apart if you do this. Take it off the table.”
The One Church Plan and Traditional Plan are main proposals for a "way forward" for The United Methodist Church, amidst disagreements over human sexuality. The two plans (as well as others) will be considered by 864 total delegates at a special session of General Conference, to be held Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline currently states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be clergy. The Discipline also bans ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions in United Methodist churches.
The One Church Plan would shift to churches and conferences decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates throughout the worldwide church. The One Church Plan would also remove some of the language in the Discipline that limit LGBTQ people’s involvement as United Methodists. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.)
The Traditional Plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the Discipline and strengthen enforcement for violations.
PRAYING FOR GOD'S WILL
During the Jan. 12 forum, a speaker from Kingsport identified himself as a representative of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Holston Conference chapter and read a statement supporting the “Modified Traditional Plan.”
“A church that abandons scripture as its basis for understanding God and God’s will for humanity becomes rootless and will wither,” he stated.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is an unofficial group of United Methodists who support “Biblical orthodoxy” and the denomination’s ban on same-sex unions and gay clergy.
The Modified Traditional Plan would add to the Traditional Plan a committee with authority to hold bishops accountable to the sexuality standards in the Book of Discipline. The modified plan also offers a $200,000 grant to annual conferences that want to leave the denomination because of disagreement over LGBTQ issues.
A pastor from Chattanooga said that during his morning prayer time, he heard God calling him to publicly speak of his admiration and appreciation for the delegates. “I know you didn’t create this,” he said. “My love for you ... will not change, no matter what happens in St. Louis.”
Many of the other speakers also expressed appreciation for the delegates, who were elected by the Holston Annual Conference in 2015 and have listened, studied, prayed, and attended meetings together for more than three years since. Holston Conference will send 16 total delegates to General Conference in St. Louis, including four alternates. Holston delegates will cast 12 votes among the total 864 in the General Conference body from all over the world.
A tearful speaker from Knoxville said she “didn’t know the answer” but she had been praying for the delegates. “I’m really sad that we’re in such a mess right now,” she said. “I see both sides, but I’ll keep praying for God’s will.”
Some speakers said the forum was not adequately publicized to church members. Since Dec. 21, the Holston Conference communications department sent three direct emails to pastors and other church leaders, informing them of the Jan. 12 gathering. The "listening post" date was also shared through district communications and The Call weekly e-newsletters and social media. The Jan. 12 forum followed several informational sessions that were hosted by the delegates and offered throughout Holston in fall 2018.
NO HASTY DECISIONS
The Rev. Kim Goddard, leader of the delegation, concluded the Jan. 12 gathering at Concord United Methodist with a request for prayers. She asked attendees to refrain from making “hasty decisions” at the conclusion of General Conference on Feb. 26.
“Give us time to figure out what the meaning really is,” Goddard said. She promised to share information about the outcome soon after Feb. 26, the final day of General Conference.
“Even if the worse thing that you can imagine has come to pass, the next day is Wednesday, and that’s church day,” Goddard said. “Whatever you are doing that day, don’t miss choir practice or don’t miss Bible study.”
Goddard also pleaded with her listeners to return to worship on the Sunday after General Conference. “You go there and you be with those people who have become for you the church.”
The Jan. 12 forum concluded two hours early, after all 14 members who wanted to speak had shared for five minutes each. Several church members and delegates stayed later to talk in smaller groups. Goddard stayed the allotted three hours to hear any Holston members who may have arrived later.
Church members are invited to continue sharing their views with the Holston delegation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Panel clarifies options for special General Conference (UMNS, 1.13.19)
Opinions still vary on Way Forward (UMNS, 12.10.18)
Court docket details proposed plans for UMC (UMNS, 7.18.18)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.