I am writing to you to introduce, or reintroduce, you to the Commission on a Way Forward and the important work they are doing on behalf of our United Methodist Church. They met again last month, July 19-21, to continue their work. That was the fourth meeting of the 32-member Commission, which was appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in discerning a way forward.
According to their official statement, “the Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”
The Discipline, as many of you know, is the official book of church law of our denomination and is amended every four years when the United Methodist General Conference convenes. The General Conference is a global, legislative body of just over 800 persons, half clergy and half laity. Our bishops are the presiders at this quadrennial meeting. Delegates are elected by the Annual Conferences, such as our Desert Southwest Annual Conference. Our Annual Conference sends two delegates to the meeting.
Since the 1970s, the United Methodist Church has upheld the statement regarding human sexuality that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” At the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, lay and clergy delegates on both sides of this matter reached an impasse as they sought to discern the future of our United Methodist Church. To address that impasse, the delegates approved the Council of Bishops’ suggestion to create a Commission to address this divisive issue.
As stated above, the General Conference created the Commission on a Way Forward. Second, the Council of Bishops has called for a special session of the General Conference to meet in February 2019, whose purpose will be “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.” The commission’s ultimate assignment is to present its report to the Council of Bishops for action at the Special Session of General Conference set for February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri.
After the last meeting in April in Washington, D.C., members indicated that they were leaning toward a simpler structure with clearer processes for decision-making and accountability for the UMC in its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Conversations at that meeting showed a commitment to finding a way forward that honors the complexity of the global denomination and the unity of a shared faith in Christ.
You can learn much more about the Commission on a Way Forward at www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward, and you can contact the Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. During our just finished Annual Conference sessions we were shown a video capturing the commission at work. I hope that you will take advantage of these resources to aid in your understanding of this important, evolving process.