For this entire General Conference, I have felt like we were being forced to climb up a mountain. Just like Abraham once climbed a mountain with every intention of having to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on the top of it, I felt like we were being driven by groups working behind the scenes to reach a point where we would have to sacrifice our denomination by voting for a split or by being forced to vote on legislation that we all know would cause many within our denomination to leave.
I have been on my knees every night praying for a ram. I’ve been praying that God would provide a way for us to talk to one another in a holy, loving way that would allow us to work through our profound differences over issues of human sexuality just as God spared Isaac by providing a ram in the thicket for Abraham to sacrifice instead.The picture at the top of this blog is of the prayer medallion given to every General Conference delegate when the conference began last week. Every time I have looked at the ram on my prayer medallion, I have prayed that a ram would appear for us.
For several days, I had trouble believing a ram would be given to us. This morning the Bishops brought back their report on how to move forward. The Bishops’ statement called for a time of prayer, a special commission to study the issue, the possibility of a special General Conference session prior to 2020 to deal only with how to move forward regarding issues of human sexuality, deferring all legislation on human sexuality at this General Conference, and suspending church trials for those who disobey The Discipline in regards to human sexuality over the next two years until a way forward can be determined. (You can read the full report from the Council of Bishops at http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2016/documents/council-bishops-statement-offering-way-forward-may-18-gc2016.pdf.)
I saw the Bishops’ report as a ram in the thicket. Their recommendations provide a way for us to move forward in a conversation together that would take place over 2 years rather than 2 days about the possibility of splitting our denomination and the possibility of compromise that would allow us to stay together.
If we have reached a point where we cannot remain together as a denomination, then we need to walk very slowly down that road to make sure that this is where God is leading us. We do not need to make this decision in the rash emotionally charged atmosphere of this General Conference. Furthermore, if there is any hope we can reach a peace treaty that would allow us to stay together and focus on our mission rather than our differences then we need to have an agreed upon crease fire that will allow us to stop fighting long enough to talk together.
After the Bishops’ report, Rev. Adam Hamilton made a motion to follow the Bishops advice by forming a special commission to examine a way forward in regards to human sexuality, to call a special General Conference prior to 2020 focused on the question of human sexuality, and recommend that all votes on matters regarding human sexuality be tabled and not debated here at this General Conference in Portland. When Hamilton’s motion was defeated (393-438), I was scared that we had allowed our ram to escape and that this General Conference would devolve into infighting the likes of which we have never seen before.
However, soon thereafter, a delegate made the motion to adopt the Bishops’ entire report. After heated debate, this motion passed 428-405. Now, our ram was back on the altar and Isaac was off the hook for the moment.
I expect this will not be the end of the drama. There will most likely be parliamentary maneuvering to try to cut out parts of Bishops’ recommendation. In fact, a challenge to the Bishops’ report might even be sent to the Judicial Council. For now, though, we’ve still got a hold of that ram.
In other related news, the Judicial Council ruled that attempts to create mandatory penalties for chargeable offenses to be unconstitutional. And Rev. Jeremy Troxler challenged the constitutionality of having human sexuality requirements for ordination imposed upon Annual Conferences since the constitution gives the Annual Conferences not General Conference the right to judge fitness for ordination.
In wonderful non-related news, the General Conference has approved work to bring a new hymnal for approval to General Conference 2020. The new hymnal will be cloud-based with thousands rather than hundreds of songs. Thanks to print-on-demand technology, churches wishing to have printed editions of the hymnal will be able to pick the exact songs they want to be printed their hymnals. There will also be a small core section that will appear in every hymnal. The new cloud-based hymnal will be updated every year by a hymnal committee as new songs become available.
Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement. They mean the world to me and the other delegates.