WICHITA FALLS, Texas (Nexstar) – The legislative body overseeing the United Methodist Church will meet for a special gathering in St. Louis to act on what the denomination will do when it comes to issues regarding same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQA clergy.
Delegates will act on the proposals from the Commission on a Way Forward, comprised of 32 people: Eight bishops, 13 other clergy members and 11 lay members.
“The question has been a part of our conversations for decades, really, as the church has wrestled with how to be inclusive and how to be in ministry to people in all places and all ways, while at the same time wrestling with issues of marriage and ordination,” First United Methodist Church of Wichita Falls Senior Pastor John McLarty said. “Those are complicated issues.”
The One Church Plan would allow United Methodist Clergy to perform same-gender weddings where it is legal and it would also allow annual conferences to ordain LGBTQ pastors. These actions wouldn’t be required.
The Connectional Conference Plan would craft what is described as “three values-based connectional conferences.”
“This plan creates three values-based connectional conferences that have distinctive definitions of accountability, contextualization and justice,” the plan states.
The third proposal is the Traditionalist Plan, which would keep the current United Methodist teaching on human sexuality.
“Clergy would surrender their credentials if found guilty of breaking provisions on the Book of Discipline related to same-gender marriage,” the plan states. “The expectation is that clergy who cannot conform to the provisions of the Book of Discipline related to their identity as self-avowed, practicing homosexuals or the performance of same-sex weddings would be expected to leave.”
McLarty, who has been serving for the last two decades, says the mission is to “welcome all people no matter what their background is or where they come from.” But that can be challenging with the current teaching.
“It’s certainly a question I’ve wrestled with personally,” McLarty said. “There are conversations I’ve had with parishioners who are homosexual, who want to be affirmed and want to be included in the life of the church and conversations I’ve had with people who are in various places in their own journey.”
He isn’t a delegate at the conference but says the One Church Plan would help the church address its own individual needs.
“We are not of one mind on this issue or lots of other issues and I believe that the local church is really well equipped to deal with potentially divisive and controversial issues,” he said. “We can be in ministry together and determine in our own context what we feel is most appropriate for us.”
Rev. Teresa G. Welborn, who serves as district superintendent for the Capital District UMC, also says although United Methodists don’t agree on every theological conviction, “we are unified in mission.”
“The witness of people coming together in purpose and mission even though they do not hold all the same beliefs is a powerful response to our increasingly polarized society,” she said in an emailed statement. “I experience this when volunteers come together in flood recovery efforts, when those advocating for immigration reform work together through our Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors – in a host of ways, we are better together.”
University United Methodist Church Rev. John Elford was at the Texas State Capitol earlier this week, joining other faith leaders in speaking out against bills in the state legislature that would discriminate against LGBTQA Texans based on religious reasons.
“We’re hoping for more equality and acceptance for everybody in the church and not just simply tolerating people, so we’re hoping that one of the plans that’s more open and welcoming and inclusive will be voted on at this conference,” Elford said.
However, he thinks four days isn’t enough time for the special session of the General Conference to decide.
“I think that’s a ridiculous time limit,” he said. “So it’s likely nothing may happen, but I think there will be some actions that will happen after the conference.”
Whatever happens, McLarty says unity will be key.
“There’s no doubt we live in a divided culture and we don’t all agree on just about everything,” he said. “But I believe that if the church can show what respectful disagreement looks like, what healthy conversation and disciplined conversation looks like and how we can love each other despite our differences, then I think we can shine a light in the world and be a place of hope.”
The special session of the General Conference wraps up Tuesday.