Preaching and Talking about General Conference 2019: Points for Pastors
This Sunday and in the weeks to come United Methodist pastors everywhere will be addressing their congregations about the decisions of General Conference 2019. Church members will have different reactions to the decisions and may have questions about how this will affect them or their congregation. Here are some talking points pastors may find helpful as they prepare to preach and lead discussions.
Summarize what happened
The General Conference met in St. Louis, Missouri, Feb. 23-26 and voted on various proposals to change the language of parts of The Book of Discipline that prohibit the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and the performance of same-gender marriages by United Methodist clergy. The delegates passed the Traditional Plan, which maintains the current prohibitions and adds provisions for enforcing them. The Judicial Council — The United Methodist Church's top court – will rule on the constitutionality of the plan in April. The General Conference also adopted legislation allowing a "gracious exit" for congregations wishing to leave the denomination. The legislation passed by the special session of General Conference and ruled constitutional by the Judicial Council will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020.
Acknowledge and celebrate the church's diversity
The United Methodist Church stretches across four continents with a membership of nearly 13 million. We include people of all nations, races, ages and sexual orientation and identity. Our diversity is a source of strength — and a source of sharp differences. We are not of one mind on all things. Questions about human sexuality continue to divide Christians everywhere. The United Methodist Church in its Social Principles states that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are persons of sacred worth and urge their inclusion in the church's ministry. What we don't agree on is what that inclusion looks like. For some, their understanding of scripture calls them to affirm all of God's people and include them in all of the church's ministry regardless of their sexual identity or orientation. Others believe, based on their interpretation of scripture and its authority, that all are welcome to be part of the church but would limit the participation of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
Despite these differences, we have for decades remained in ministry together, making new disciples, bringing good news to the poor and advocating justice for all humanity. We are committed to sharing God's love with the world.
Address pain and division
Some may be sad or anxious over the decisions of the General Conference. Others may be pleased with the results. Just like the denomination, congregations run the gamut of public opinion. No matter what you're feeling at the moment, you are loved. You are welcome in the church.
For many LGBTQI persons and their allies this past week has been very traumatic. Encourage them to hear you as you say, "We know you're in pain and we are truly sorry. We love you. You are a beloved child of God and should never feel unwelcome at church."
Be aware of those in your congregation who may need extra support. Depending on your circumstances, you may want to include information about the following:
Suicide Prevention Hotline
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline (U.S.) 1-800-273-8255 (English and Spanish)
- Crisis Text Line, text "SAFE" to 741-741
- The Trevor Project, 866-488-7386 (suicide prevention for LGBTQIA+ youth)
How to respond
The congregation likely includes people with a myriad of deeply held convictions. There won't be any major changes right away. We will keep everyone posted and plan for the future together. We will continue to be a church for all people and welcome everyone who comes through the doors. We will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
In the meantime, don't let anything get in the way of loving your neighbor. Pray for our church and our denomination. Pray for all those who are in pain or feeling anger or grief at the moment. Be kind and loving toward those with whom you may disagree. Follow Wesley's General Rules:
- Do no harm: Avoid speaking ill of anyone and treat everyone with compassion and empathy.
- Do good: See who is hurting or troubled in your midst and offer them comfort. Actively look for opportunities to help others.
- Stay in love with God: No matter our differences, the one thing that holds us together as a church is Christ. When we come together to worship and serve God we are brought closer together. Come to worship, take Communion, pray and study the Bible together. Let God reconcile us!
- Colossians 3:11-17
- 1 Peter 4:8-10
- Philippians 2:1-4
- Ephesians 4:1-5