For about four decades now, the United Methodist Church has been grappling with the issue of homosexuality, in particular whether the church should ordain practicing homosexuals and allow clergy to officiate at homosexual marriages. Our UMC Discipline continues to forbid any of this, despite proposals coming up at General Conference every four years.
In recent years, UM clergy and even whole conferences have knowingly violated the Discipline, performing marriages and ordaining openly gay or lesbian people. In 2016, the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC elected and installed a married lesbian, Karen Oliveto, as bishop over the UMC’s Mountain Sky episcopal area, which covers all of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and a small portion of Idaho. Oliveto formerly led a large church in San Francisco.
In all of this, one truth has become clear: There is no way for the larger UMC to enforce the Discipline where entire conferences defy it. For all practical purposes, we are currently experiencing a schism.
At the 2016 General Conference, delegates decided on a plan to end this schism one way or another. Bishops were authorized to create a planning commission, and based on its recommendations, call a special General Conference in 2019 focused solely on settling the UMC stance on homosexuality.
The commission, known as The Way Forward Commission, for several months now has considered three options. The first would leave our Discipline the way it is, except stronger accountability to its rules would somehow be put in place. The other two options would, in different ways, allow homosexual marriages and ordinations to happen within the UMC, either on a conference-by-conference and church-by-church basis, or under a system where the UMC would essentially be an umbrella with two or more denominations under it.
As of this writing (April 10, 2018), the commission has signaled it will not recommend Option 1. Ultimately, the Council of Bishops will decide what goes before the called General Conference, set for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis. The Council of Bishops is scheduled to meet soon, from April 29 to May 4, and is expected to issue its General Conference proposal by July 8. All possible options currently have built into them exit provisions for local churches and clergy unhappy with what transpires at the 2019 General Conference.
Below are some links to the United Methodist Church and to advocacy groups attempting to influence the church. These are provided so people trying to develop a better understanding of the situation can explore the matter further on their own.
— Pastor Chuck Griffin
Reconciling Ministries Network Home Page (Advocating the “progressive” or “liberal” position)
Wesleyan Covenant Association Home Page (Advocating the “orthodox” or “conservative” position)