Commission on a Way Forward

The Council of Bishops has called a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to be held February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose will be to receive and act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based on the recommendations of the Council of Bishops. The 32-member Commission was authorized by General Conference 2016 and appointed by the Council of Bishops to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and exploring options to strengthen the unity of the church.

Here are some resources to help you and your church engage in conversations about the Special Session.

Timeline  |  Plans & Reports  |  Congregational Resources  |  Videos  |  BWC Events

While you are encouraged to read the entire report and review the many resources available, if you do nothing else, please read these three things and act accordingly:

  1. Bishop Easterling's Letter: "We can remain together—Why I support the One Church Plan"
  2. Plans - At - A - Glance which provides a summary and side-by-side comparison of the One Church Plan and the other two which were not selected by a strong majority of the Council of Bishops.
  3. Finding Our Way Forward resolution passed at our 2018 Annual Conference Session.

Timeline

So, how did we get here? Here's a brief timeline of what The United Methodist Church says about homosexuality, and how the Commission a Way Forward was created and what it did. 

1968-2016
  • General Conference 1968: The United Methodist Church was born by a union of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church. 
  • General Conference 1972: Language was added to the Book of Discipline stating that: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” 
    • Russell Kibler, a delegate to the United Methodist General Conference from South Indiana, began it all with a simple question. The denomination’s top lawmaking body was going over a report from a four-year committee that had studied the Social Principles and recommended changes to the church’s position on homosexuality as well as other issues. Before the body was this statement: “Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self. Further, we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured.”
    • Kibler wanted to know what was meant by “homosexuals would have their human and civil rights ensured.” His question led to the first public debate on homosexuality in the denomination and ended with the addition to The Book of Discipline: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” 
  • General Conference 1976: added three statements banning the use of church funds to promote homosexuality
  • General Conference 1980: the 1972 and 1976 positions were left intact.
  • General Conference 1984: Adopted as the standard for ordained clergy, commitment to “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” and “self‐avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
  • General Conference 1988: Added “… we affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
  • General Conference 1992: Delegates voted to retain the church’s stand.
  • General Conference 1996: Added a definition of “self‐avowed practicing homosexual,” and a declaration that ceremonies to celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by United Methodist clergy or in United Methodist churches.
  • General Conference 2000: Added “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends.”
  • General Conference 2004: Delegates agreed to a statement of unity: “As United Methodists, we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagreement, and affirm our commitment to work together for the common mission of making disciples throughout the world.” Delegates reaffirmed the denominational position on homosexuality.
  • General Conference 2008: Delegates approved a new resolution to oppose homophobia and heterosexism.
  • General Conference 2012: Two items stating Christians have different opinions about homosexuality were not approved, leaving the current language intact.
  • General Conference 2016: Bishops Were Asked to lead the denomination in a way forward towards unity and homosexuality. This won by a narrow margin. 
  • The Council of Bisho’s set up Commission on A Way Forward, a 32-person group from around the world, laity and clergy, diverse in every way;
2016-2018
  • Eight bishops, 11 laity, 11 Elders and 2 Deacons;
  • The Commission’s mission was to “bring together persons deeply committed to the future(s) of The United Methodist Church, with an openness to developing new relationships with each other and exploring the potential future(s) of our denomination in light of General Conference and subsequent annual, jurisdictional, and central conference actions;”
  • The Commission met nine times over 17 months. Its final meeting was in May 2018;
  • The Commission meeting process was rooted in relationship and covenant using a conciliar consensus model — no Roberts Rules and no voting.
  • December 19, 2016: The Council of Bishops announces a second phase of the “Praying Our Way Forward” initiative to be launched New Year’s Day 2017, with 75 weeks of focused prayer for The UMC. The effort began Jan. 1 in the North Carolina Conference, and wrapped up in the West Angola Episcopal area in June 2018. Each annual conference took one week to have intentional prayer for the mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.
    • The BWC’s week was July 23 — 30.
    • Phase three was announced in June 2018.
  • November 2017: The Commission drafted three sketches and presented them to the Council of Bishops. The COB discarded the Traditional sketch and asked the Commission to flesh out the details for the other two plans. 
  • February 2018: the bishops held a special meeting to hear more details on the proposed plans from the Commission and to offer feedback.
    • In a report given to the Council of Bishops, the Commission shared with the bishops two sketches that carry forward many of the values and principles of the three sketches that were presented to the bishops at their meeting in November.
  • February-April 2018: Commission received input from entire denomination; members and delegations were asked to weigh in.
  • May 2018: The Commission refined and adapted the models and presented its final report to the Council of Bishops.
    • The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan were received by the Council of Bishops;
    • More than 80 percent of the bishops voted for the One Church Plan;
    • Bishops decided that other two plans should be footnoted for transparency. A small group of bishops and others then worked to flesh out the Traditional Plan.
    • TheCouncil of Bishops voted by an overwhelming majority to share the work done by the Commission on a Way Forward on the three plans and to recommend the One Church Plan.
    • The One Church Plan will be placed before the 2019 General Conference for legislative action.
  • May 31 and June 1, 2018: Bishop Devadharand the Rev. Tom Berlin present to the BWC Annual Conference Session about the Commission on a Way Forward.
  • July 2018: Council of Bishops amends original call of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
  • October 2018: The church’s Judicial Council ruled on each of the three plans, finding that the One Church Plan was most in compliance with the church’s constitution and the Tradition Plan had significant non-compliance. The Judicial Council did not issue a ruling on the Connectional Conference plan because of the many Constitutional Amendments that were offered as part of the plan.
2019
  • February 23-26, 2019: Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Mo. Laity and clergy delegates will prayerfully consider and act upon a way forward.
    1. Day One: Prayer
    2. Day Two: Act as One Legislative Committee Dealing with Petitions
    3. Day Three: Pick a Plan to Perfect
    4. Day Four: Decide
  • NEW : March 2, 2019: Informational Session -- An informational session will be held at the BWC Conference Mission Center to talk about the outcomes of the 2019 called General Conference Session. This session will also be Live Streamed. Details will be announced soon.
  • NEW :  View a four-page PDF, produced by the BWC Communications Department, with an FAQ of the Commission on a Way Forward. The resource for local churches can be downloaded, printed and shared as you prayerfully consider the Special Session of the General Conference.

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Plans & Reports

read the 90 page report

The final report from The Commission on a Way Forward is now available in five languages. Please take the time to read the context, history and background.

English French | Portuguese Swahili Spanish 

Plans-At-A-Glance

The Great Plains Conference has created a 2-page summary of all three plans that you can download, print, and/or share. It shows how each of the plans would impact local churches, clergy, Annual Conferences, etc.

Judicial Council Report

The Judicial Council ruled on two of the three plans. Read the Judicial Council Ruling on the Plans to understand what will need to be changed prior to General Conference.

Wespath report on Pension Implications

The Commission on a Way Forward sought additional expertise from Wespath regarding the potential pension impacts of the Commission’s three proposals to the 2019 Special General Conference. Wespath provided information and analysis about how various scenarios under consideration might impact clergy pensions (U.S. plans), as well as related effects on local churches and annual conferences. Learn more.

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Congregational Resources

The BWC recommended at its 2018 Annual Conference Session that a covenant be used by local churches as they explore the way forward and how churches address homosexuality and other critical conversations. View "Finding our Way Forward." Here are some resources that may help.

A word from our bishop

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, in her October 2018 "Word from the Bishop," writes about why she supports the One Church Plan.

small group discussion

Churches are encouraged to have conversations about The Way Forward.  Discipleship Ministries has this resource, including outlines, question starters, and more.

Cokesbury, the publishing arm of The United Methodist Church, has issued several books to engage conversation about human sexuality and the church. The books cover a wide variety of the theological spectrum. Learn more about "Faultlines."

At the urging of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, the BWC delegation studied the Book, The Anatomy of Peace, which the Commission has also read. Here's the Anatomy of Peace Discussion and Study Guide.

The Virginia Annual Conference has developed a resource on Dialoguing with Dignity

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Videos

The above is a playlist by UM News, it contains interviews with: Rev. Tom Lambrecht, Bishop Kenneth Carter, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Bishop Bruce Ough, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, and Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey. The entire series, with even more interviews, can be found here.

On Sept. 15, 2018, the Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC in Herndon, Va., and a member of the Commission on a Way Forward, spoke for several hours about the 2019 Special Session of General Conference and the three plans being presented there. Pastors, especially, are invited and encouraged to share the information about the Special Session with their congregations, and to begin conversations (see below) about what is happening in their church. The PowerPoint slide presentation that Berlin used may be downloaded here.

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BWC Events

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