One opinion expressed a few weeks ago about the 2016 General Conference of the UMC was that it would either contain well-controlled political maneuvering or, alternately, be at risk of becoming a chaotic riot. There seemed to be hopefulness Tuesday night and Wednesday morning that decisions would be made, as delegates were elected to do, and the UMC would finally be able move on beyond 44 years of conflict over sexuality issues. There were simultaneously, also growing rumors, it was reported, of discussions underway among some about consideration of a split in the church. As the time for debate drew near, the tension reportedly reached a level that suggested that chaos might be brewing. That’s when attempts to defuse the tension began and well-controlled maneuvering, or as others preferred to see it, truly anointed Holy Spirit wisdom brought the curtain down on decisions over sexual issues in yet another quadrennial General Conference. As one delegate said, the Council of Bishops has now been given a “blank-check” by the General Conference to craft “a way forward” that will come once again before a called General Conference in 2018 or 2019, perhaps removing much of the opportunity for broader input through the legislative process and open debate in the grassroots of the various conferences. With what some have called a lack of the will to face the conflict, the General Conference pleaded with the Council of Bishops to resolve the issues through some other plan. They have taken up the challenge. This is breaking new ground in ways that many did not expect, it seems. Some feel defeated. Others feel hopeful. But that has been the outcome of General Conference on these issues for over four decades. Nothing new there. But going forward will certainly be under new and, as yet, unspecified rules that are under the close guidance of the Council of Bishops. We know that God is ultimately in control and directs the path of those who earnestly seek God’s will. It will be interesting to see how God works this out. While all, I expect, desire to trust God, this will be a significant challenge to trust those whom we in the UMC have put in charge, trusting that their call to ministry leadership and prayerful deliberations will led them to earnestly seek and obediently implement the will of God.
From a Tennessee delegate’s blog at General Conference:
“When I step back, I am able to acknowledge that emotions were high today, and I am able to say that I do not think the intent on anyone’s part was to harm. The less we know one another, the quicker we are to jump to conclusions that may be erroneous. One of the significant challenges that faces us as a global church is to carve out space where we can assume the best in one another without fully knowing one another.” Rev. Harriet Bryan