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Presidential Perspective: General Conference 2019 and LGBTQ+ Inclusion

November 13, 2018

(Reprinted from the October 2018 issue of Aware Magazine)

This past May, as our Board of Trustees meeting was concluding, a member asked if any of our three United Methodist bishops present might offer reflections on the upcoming 2019 General Conference. There was a moment of silence, but one by one, each bishop spoke boldly to the question at hand. They noted the strong episcopal support (not unanimous, but a majority) for “The One Church Plan” and described briefly how it allows for contextual determination on same-sex weddings and ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

Each bishop also addressed the critical importance of inclusivity without discrimination and how our Christian unity is not based on the matter of human sexuality, but, rather, on the deeper foundations of our faith.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, NRSV)

Bishop Sally Dyck asked: “What will we be doing on February 27, the day after the 2019 General Conference concludes? . . . We’ll be making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!” And, so right she is.

I have not done justice to their eloquence nor to the full scope of the bishops’ comments but their powerful witness to a deeper, biblical sense of what holds, or should be holding us together in one body, was clear. It inspired a spontaneous motion from the floor, quickly seconded, that the Board of Trustees would go on record in support of “The One Church Plan.” The motion passed easily with enthusiasm.

Since then, many petitions and a number of other plans have been submitted for consideration at the 2019 General Conference. We do not know what the results of the 2019 General Conference will be on human sexuality nor how it will shape the future of The United Methodist Church. No matter what decisions are made by the General Conference, what we do know is that there is a strong prophetic strand in our Garrett-Evangelical institutional DNA that persists in our functional identity and shapes the way we try to live together. That prophetic strand has become increasingly embodied and explicit over our long 165-year history. To be sure, Garrett-Evangelical, much like the church, does not have an unblemished history in matters of inclusivity and welcoming hospitality. At times, we have been much too slow to stand on the side of God’s love and justice, but our prophetic strand continues to call us to repentance and pushes us forward.

For the last three years, our seminary community has engaged in intentional processes of information gathering, hosting guest lectures, and engaging in careful discussion and consideration on human sexuality. We have not sought full unanimity within the seminary and may never be able to claim such, just as the bishops could not do so with regard to “The One Church Plan,” but Garrett-Evangelical must now explicitly claim who we have been for some time.

It is our institutional commitment to 1) welcome, celebrate, and prepare all of our students for the variety of ministries to which they have been called by God, and 2) proactively affirm the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the seminary, the Church, and ordained clergy.

We will bring a new institutional statement reflecting this commitment to the Board of Trustees for approval this month. The seminary will always engage a variety of perspectives as is necessary for a robust educational process, protecting space for respectful theological and intellectual disagreement. But in the midst of these pursuits, let us never forget that our Christian unity is finally based on one hope, one Lord, and one God “who is above all and through all and in all.” This is the foundation of what will sustain us as we continue to navigate our differences.

Our prayers continue for all of you and for The United Methodist Church during these months leading up to the 2019 General Conference. May the love, justice, and peace of God guide us all through this season