In 2020, the UMC seemed finally ready to deal with this at our General Conference. A practical solution was proposed which would allow the separation of the denomination into two different churches - one more open and accepting of homosexuals within the church, and one opposed. Because of Covid, and the restrictions for many of our delegates to travel to the United States from places like Africa and the Philippines, the General Conference was suspended, not only for 2020, but also for 2021 and 2022. This means that the next General Conference, where this will be taken up, is now scheduled for 2024. The General Conference, which under normal circumstances, meets every four years, is the only entity that can speak for, and set policy for, the United Methodist Church. So there has been a real lack of direction in these years when it has not met.
In the meantime, in May of this year, a theologically conservative group of pastors and laypeople decided to break from the United Methodist Church and form their own denomination called the Global Methodist Church. There have been a small, but meaningful, number of churches across the country and here in Indiana who have voted to leave and join this new denomination. My understanding is that those churches that have decided to leave the UMC have a dominant majority that clearly favors such an immediate move.
My perception of Southport UMC, on the other hand, as the senior pastor here for the last 3-1/2 years, is that we are a more theologically diverse congregation, with significant numbers of us holding opposing views on many theological and societal and political issues, including issues related to human sexuality. Over many years, this has provided a richness and vibrancy and strength to the growth and development of our Christian faith.
So after many years of not completely addressing it, the question for us ultimately is how do we view homosexuality here at Southport UMC in a way that squares with our Christian faith and Biblical understanding - will we be more inclusive or will we be more exclusive? We will need to decide as a church where we are and where we are going.
But the second question is: What do we do right now? Do we hold meetings and discussions and possibly take a vote to make an immediate decision? Or do we wait for the General Conference to speak and act in 2024? My hope is that this Conference will give us a framework within which we can then discuss and decide what the future holds and which way we will go.
While it is ultimately up to the members of Southport United Methodist Church to decide what to do and whether to do anything right now, my recommendation is that we look to the next General Conference in 2024 to give guidance and direction to us and countless other churches just like us across the country. To rush into a decision now would be a mistake, in my opinion, for such a theologically rich and diverse congregation.
So, this is my best understanding of what is happening right now in the United Methodist Church. I hope it is helpful. I am available to talk with anyone at any time (preferably with a little bit of notice) about this or anything about the church or anything else you might like to talk about.
Grace and Hope to you,