We are a few weeks out from the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church, a gathering many of us were anticipating since 2016. In truth, we were anticipating it since 1972, when Paragraph 161.F (The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching) was inserted into the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline, summarily followed by restrictions on clergy. By now everyone knows the outcome of the recent session; everyone knows that nothing changed.
In truth, however, everything changed. Now we know that The United Methodist Church will stand firm in its misguided interpretation of a few vague scriptural references about human sexuality. This means many of the clergy must find a new place to live out our call to word, sacrament, and order. Many of the laity must find a new place to live into Jesus’ summons to follow him. We can no longer do these things authentically as United Methodists.
Taking the long view, it’s important to remember that The United Methodist Church came into being only in 1968, a union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren. Before that the Methodist Church was formed in 1939, a union of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. I could go on citing divisions and unions, returning to those earliest days in Bristol, England, when Methodism was a renewal movement of the Church of England. We have always been a movement, always refining, always “going on to perfection,” to borrow a phrase from our founder, John Wesley.
We will continue to go on to perfection, but it won’t be as the United Methodist Church.
Much in the world of property, finances, and contracts will need to be worked out before the rulings of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference go into effect in 2020. There’s still a chance that some or all of the session’s decisions will be ruled out of order. No matter, the result will be the same. We still will have the punitive language of our current Book of Discipline.
I believe that a majority of United Methodists in the United States would strike that language. We are the next iteration of Methodism. I eagerly await the formation of this new Methodist movement. I will be among the first to request that it recognize my ordination.