At its recent meeting, the Council of Bishops discussed several proposals offered by the Commission on the Way Forward. As the denomination struggles with diverse perspectives on human sexuality, it also prepares for the 2019 called Special General Conference session.
Bishop Laurie Haller, resident Bishop in Iowa, said that the meeting was challenging for all involved.
“We come to these meetings and we talk with one another out of a sense of humility that none of us has all the right answers, but we are seeking God’s guidance as together the Council of Bishops searches for a way forward in which we can preserve the unity of the church,” she said.
To listen to the full interview with Bishop Laurie Haller on the Iowa Conference Conversations Podcast, click here.
The language around human sexuality first entered the Book of Discipline
in 1972, governing laws of the worldwide United Methodist Church, barring same-sex weddings and LGBT clergy ordination. Since then, proposals have been raised at each General Conference to make changes.
“I think We reached a head at the 2016 general conference,” said Bishop Laurie. “We needed to find a new way to move forward, which is when the Commission on the Way Forward was formed. Thirty-two people from many countries and many backgrounds worked to help us find a way forward as a church.”
The Commission brought forward three different “sketches” of a way in which we can move forward as United Methodists. A “Traditional Plan,” a centrist plan (the “One Church Plan”), and a model where three connectional conferences would resource Traditionalists, Centrists, and Progressives.
“As the Council of Bishops wrestled with these plans and prayed together, we eventually decided that best plan for moving forward was the ‘One Church plan’,” said Bishop Laurie. “That would leave us united as the Methodist Church and would be a place for everyone in the sense that local churches could choose whether or not they would be willing to host same-sex weddings, and clergy as well would be able to choose whether they would perform same-sex weddings or not. At the same time, the prohibitive language around human sexuality in our Book of Discipline
would be removed.”
Part of the reason for selecting the “One Church” plan is so that the United Methodist Church can be a witness to a world filled with division, something that Bishop Laurie says really drew her to the denomination as a young adult.
“For myself as a young adult observing United Methodists who were able to agree to disagree on significant issues and still be welcomed into the church,” she said. “That’s not the case in every denomination. I as a woman clergy-member was welcomed into the United Methodist Church and I will never forget that. As part of our heritage, we as United Methodists have much to teach the world – that it’s okay to disagree and it’s what makes us stronger.”
As the denomination moves toward the Special General Conference in 2019, Bishop Laurie has these hopes for our own churches in Iowa.
“My hope is that we will find ways to be in conversation with and in community with those who are not like us,” she said. “We need to hear the voices of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We need to hear the voices of those who in good conscience cannot condone the practice of homosexuality. We need to sit down at the table together without any preconceived notions and see one another as brothers and sisters who are committed to Jesus Christ and committed to making a difference in the world.”
Part of that is meetings held around the districts this spring in relation to the Way Forward. Bishop Laurie will hold more meetings this fall, in which she hopes that spirit of unity in Christ continues.
“I’ve been very impressed with the meetings we’ve had this spring around the districts, and as we do it again in the fall we’ll have a different format, but my hope is that we’ll continue to come with open hearts, and a real desire for unity – a unity in the midst of diversity, in that way we United Methodists can really change the world,” she said.