A Word from Our Pastor June 2016

General Conference 2016

As some of you may have heard in the news or through Facebook, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been meeting for the past two weeks in Portland, OR. The Japanese Caucus sent a delegation, and our own Jessica Kawamura attended. Why is it such a big deal?

The General Conference (GC) meets every 4 years, and is the highest legislative body of the UMC. It is comprised of 850 elected delegates from the US, a number of countries in Africa and Europe and the Philippines, roughly half clergy and half laity. (Elected delegates are the only persons who can vote). No one can overrule the General Conference, not even the Bishops. The GC meets to consider a variety of legislation, much of it is suggestions for changing the Book of Discipline; there are also a number of petitions regarding social justice issues. In that case, if the GC votes positively, in effect the UMC takes an official stand on the issue. For example, the Friends of Wadi Foquin submitted a petition about saving the village – but I haven’t yet heard what happened. (The petition is in this newsletter).

However, the other big news, and the big debates at GC have centered on the issue of sexuality, mostly related to clergy. For years now, the UMC has had restrictive policies in the Book of Discipline regarding “practicing” LGBTQ persons (may not be ordained) and all clergy are not allowed to perform “gay” weddings. People who violate these (and several other) policies regarding sexuality may face church trial and ultimately, lose their ordination. Not too long ago, one of our retired Bishops, Melvin Talbert (who served our area for 8 years) performed a “gay wedding,” and the two active bishops lodged a formal complaint against him. Ultimately, the complaint was resolved, with no negative consequences for Bishop Talbert. The “just resolution” implied that the parties had “agreed to disagree.” This particular case, I believe, was an indication that the Bishops were thinking about how they might act to bring the UMC together on this issue.

And that’s what happened at GC. There was serious talk about schism – organizational separation – because parties on both sides of this issue seem to have reached a point where compromise is impossible. One side might say that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, and therefore our church cannot say otherwise. Another side might say that we have come to understand that the Bible’s prohibitions are heavily influenced by their historical context, and therefore each must be prayerfully examined to determine its relevance for our modern world. (For example, the Bible prohibits divorce and condones slavery). To this side, homosexuality is one of those cases in which the Bible’s view no longer reflects
Cont. on back
our theological, scientific and sociological understandings, and to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation is a violation of the love, compassion and inclusiveness that Jesus taught.

Into this very heated discussion, the Bishops proposed that they would study the matter and in two years or so, call a “special” General Conference to hear their proposals. It is most likely that they will come up with a compromise – that each Annual Conference will be free to determine policies on this matter. Or, perhaps they will come to the conclusion that we cannot compromise, and need to separate (as the Methodist Episcopal Church did in 1844 over the issue of slavery. We reunited in 1939, and became the Methodist Church; the United Methodist Church was formed in 1968, marking the merger with the Evangelical United Brethren). It is a difficult time, to say the least. The vote on the Bishops’ proposal was something like 428 to 400; it was not a slam-dunk, an indication of the depth of division.

My own feeling is that I am not at peace with any compromise that implies it is ok for someone in my church to discriminate or exclude LGBTQ persons from ordination or access to a church marriage ceremony. So, I haven’t been at peace with this for a long time. . . and feel that my church is not expressing the love of God in an adequate way because of its policy on this (and other) matters. But I am willing to wait, for awhile longer. My hopes and prayers go with the leaders of our church as they attempt to make a way out of this mess that will bring unity and love. Even more, my apologies to those who are hurt by the UMC and who are unable to receive the love of God through the church because of our actions.

–Rev. Naomi