A Response to the 2019 General Conference Outcome
Dear Garrett-Evangelical Community,
I greet you in the love, in the grace, and in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The specially called 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church concluded Tuesday evening. Four plans were submitted that sought to find a way forward together regarding long-standing and divisive disputes specifically about homosexuality. Of those, it was the Traditional Plan that emerged with majority support, 53% of the 822 delegates from around the world who voted. This was not the expected outcome for many of us, and we are left stunned, disoriented, and reeling. Many LGBTQIA+ persons are hurt, angry, and afraid for their vocational futures.
Simply put, the primary result of this decision is a renewed and stricter commitment to enforce the letter of the law regarding the United Methodist Book of Discipline’s prohibition against the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” and against United Methodist clergy officiating over same-sex marriages. Church trials will sharply increase with serious consequences for violation, including potential mandatory surrender of one’s ordination credentials. However, the General Conference also referred the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council (the denomination’s top court) for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the plan, which will not happen until the council’s next meeting on April 23-26, 2019. In the meantime, this leaves us with many more questions and unknowns as to what from the Traditional Plan will take place and when.
It is the love of God, the love of neighbor, the call to seek justice, and the call to stand with the least of these that animates our work at the seminary. At the close of General Conference, my colleague, Rev. Dr. Tom Wolfe, president of Iliff School of Theology, offered a quotation from William Sloan Coffin that I, too, feel compelled to share with you: “The integrity of love is stronger than the purity of dogma.” It is not yet clear what the full implications will be for the church, its agencies, and its many, many institutions of higher education around the globe. What I do know is that the heart of Garrett-Evangelical’s mission remains centered on our students - all of our students. It still beckons us to educate, prepare, and equip bold spiritual leaders for the church, for the academy, and for the world. We seek to do this in a way that honors the new thing God is doing amongst us in God’s call upon our students’ lives.
When Eliza Garrett founded Garrett Biblical Institute in 1853, she did so with a vision that ordained Methodists, who had no lack of zeal, should also be well educated clergy. I like to believe she would have been gratified not only by the spiritual zeal demonstrated in our students at General Conference this week, but also by their scripturally informed and bold prophetic voices, and by their witness to God’s inclusive and welcoming love. I like to think that Eliza would have been gratified to see how her mid-19th century gift continues to prepare leaders for the 21st century who are faithfully answering the creative call of God. And, I like to think that Eliza would be gratified by the theologically educated faculty and staff who support our students with servant love informed by the wisdom of their theological educations.
In October, our Board of Trustees affirmed a Community Statement for LGBTQIA+ Inclusivity that proactively affirmed our institutional commitment for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons in the life of the seminary, the Church, and ordained clergy. This commitment has not and will not change. As I said in a message to our students at General Conference Tuesday morning, I say again to all of you today: No matter the decisions of The United Methodist Church, Garrett-Evangelical will remain welcoming and inclusive for the LGBTQIA+ community. Garrett-Evangelical stands with our LGBTQIA+ students, and we will continue to prepare and equip all our students for transformational ministries in the variety of ways that God has placed calls upon their lives. This is Garrett-Evangelical’s mission and this is my promise to you.
Dr. Lallene J. Rector