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UMC to consider greater inclusion

Queer delegates to General Conference

General Conference delegates prepare to discuss legislative proposals that would remove language from the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation in the church.

Michigan Conference Communications

A group of more than 270 U.S. delegates to the upcoming General Conference, which begins on April 23, 2024, in Charlotte, NC, has endorsed three major legislative proposals that they believe will both strengthen The United Methodist Church’s worldwide fellowship and foster greater unity. Several members of the Michigan Conference’s delegation have endorsed a public statement supporting these pieces of legislation, which are being called “the three R’s” — regionalization, the Revised Social Principles, and the removal of exclusionary language against LGBTQ people.

Legislation regarding regionalization that is coming before delegates from the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters would create a new denominational structure, allowing for regional conferences, one of them being the United States. Once approved, each region would then have the autonomy to customize particular portions of The Book of Discipline to align with its distinct culture and context. This would allow sections of the Book of Discipline related to criteria for ordination, licensed ministry, and marriage rites to be uniquely appropriated for each region’s specific context.

The Revised Social Principles were discussed in a previous MIconnect article by John E. Harnish. He explained how the proposed revision would remove statements related to sexual identity and marriage considered to be harmful to LGBTQ people.

Thus, legislation related to both regionalization and the Revised Social Principles will aid efforts to reach a consensus on the third “R” proposed by LGBTQ delegates and their allies: the removal or rewording of language in the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation in the church. Some say as many as 10 different paragraphs need attention, and various legislative committees will handle these changes during the first week of General Conference. If any of these Discipline changes are voted on and pass during General Conference, our delegates will be tasked with helping to share and interpret that information when they return home.

Efforts to help explain “the three R’s” for Michigan United Methodists were made at last month’s listening session (watch now) in Cadillac, MI. In a thoughtful address, Rev. Paul Perez, a clergy delegate from Detroit: Central UMC, detailed what is being proposed and its reasoning. He is co-chair of the Michigan Conference delegation elected to serve at General Conference. Perez has signed the statement supporting “the three R’s,” joining several Michiganders and a broad coalition of leaders in The United Methodist Church that will lift these three priorities for discussion during the denominational gathering.

As it relates to the removal of harmful language, this group seeks agreement to ratify:

    • putting a decisive end to bringing charges against clergy who perform same-sex weddings;
    • supporting the election of episcopal leaders committed to upholding what has been approved if the proposal succeeds;
    • committing as a church to protecting, affirming, and empowering LGBTQ leadership throughout The United Methodist Church (and welcoming participation within and beyond the local church and its agencies); and
    • upholding the legislation, once approved, until such changes can be published in a newly revised and updated Book of Discipline.

Perez also gave details about the effort to revise the denomination’s Social Principles, which have been consistently stated in various forms over the last five decades. The Revised Social Principles would remove this “harmful statement”: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Perez went on to describe the original team of four writers responsible for wording the above statement in 1972. Conversely, over 4,000 people participated in the listening sessions and conversations, which resulted in the proposed Revised Social Principles. Legislation calling for the removal of harmful and restrictive language toward LGBTQ persons in the Discipline and proposed revisions of the Social Principles go hand in hand. However, the Michigan Conference has been moving in this direction for years, as have other annual conferences throughout the nation. To get a sense of the movement toward inclusion within the Michigan Conference, read testimonials from two recent ordinands: Rev. Jess Davenport and Rev. Jenaba Waggy.

In addition, the proposed regionalization legislation, which originated in the central conferences, will help create a pathway for restructuring the church into regional bodies. Proponents say that the constitution of The United Methodist Church would diminish, if not displace altogether, what could be considered denominational dominance of the United States over churches across the globe. Rev. Molly Vetter, a General Conference delegate and ordained elder from the California-Pacific Conference, believes that given a denominational restructuring, the “U.S. region of the church would almost certainly choose to remove church rules that have been an obstacle to full inclusion. From my perspective, if we are only able to move toward LGBTQ+ inclusion a region at a time, then it is critical that we be freed to do so. It is beyond time to make these organizational changes, which offer a more practical and faithful way to order ourselves.”

Michigan lay delegate Jen Peters of Flint: Court Street UMC said, “Though there are parts of the Discipline that can be adapted to the cultures and needs of the central conferences, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been discussion about the relationship between those parts and the harmful language we would like to remove. I do believe, though, that removal of this language is in the spirit of regionalization as it takes out unnecessary parts of the Discipline and allows us to live into the core of our Methodist beliefs within our own regional contexts.”

Most importantly, the Michigan Conference delegation expressed a compassionate awareness that this ongoing debate related to sexuality and LGBTQ persons, in itself, can be painful and do harm. Peters noted, “Every time we return to these passages in the Discipline, wounds are ripped open . . . as people debate the gifts, graces, and even the existence of our siblings in Christ.” She then urged those listening, “Please take time to care for one another over the next few weeks!”

Last Updated on April 17, 2024

The Michigan Conference