At the United Methodist Church’s specially called session of General Conference 2019, a vote was taken to adopt large portions of what is called the “Traditional Plan.” This plan primarily reaffirms and clarifies the church’s existing stance on human sexuality. According to the Book of Discipline, marriage is reserved for one man and one woman, and people who are in same-sex relationships are not to be licensed or ordained as pastors. This was the stance before General Conference and this has not changed. Additional statements and practices were added to enforce conformity with the Discipline across the denomination. And, legislation was passed to offer a path for a congregation and/or pastors to exit the denomination at their own choosing.
Other plans submitted, the Simple Plan, the One Church Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan, would have allowed pastors and churches who feel so led to offer same-sex weddings. Additionally, these plans would have given space for individuals to serve in ministry while openly participating in same-sex relationships. These plans did not pass. Some lay or clergy persons are happy about the decision to affirm the Traditional Plan. Some are grievously disappointed one of the other plans did not pass. Some are still conflicted as to what is the most faithful course of action for our denomination.
What does this mean for Arkansas Methodism? It is our hope that United Methodist Churches will always warmly welcome anyone who chooses to visit worship or to share in congregational life. This is an ideal to which United Methodists have always aspired, in our best and most Christ-like moments. Our teachings and our messages stay the same. All are indeed still welcome at the table of our Lord. And we collaborate in ministry together knowing we still have diversity of perspectives within our Annual Conference on issues surrounding human sexuality.
To those who feel a victory has been won: you are called to be gracious to those who are mourning the decision. Allow space for comments you may consider offensive and choose to “turn the other cheek.” Your friends with whom you disagree are still your friends, and the General Conference decision should not change that. We trust all Arkansas-area United Methodists to share our desire to warmly welcome all persons in worship and community, and we are thankful for that.
If you are one who feels an injustice has been done, take time for self-care and reflection. Remember again that this decision, in large part, reflects the existing practice of our Annual Conference. Do not make hasty decisions about your participation in your local congregation. The people you worship with are still your church family and Arkansas is still your Annual Conference. There is a lot of good we can do together to serve our community and the world.
To our members and participants who are LGBTQIA, your church family loves you as they did before. You are loved and your grief is felt. We believe that you love Jesus. And, we are certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus loves you.
All should choose to discuss their convictions and their concerns with a desire to disarm rather than coerce, to connect rather than to judge. We may not feel we are on the same page, yet we are all on a journey to seek both the grace and the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Allow space for someone with whom you disagree to experience God’s presence in you each and every day. May the Peace of Christ be with You,
– Rev. Aubrietta Jones and Rev. Andrew Suite
This letter was originally written for the congregation of FUMC Maumelle and has been adapted for a broader audience.