Forward In Unity


To prepare clergy and laity for the upcoming special session of General Conference, scheduled for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has convened the Forward in Unity Process Team. The team's primary function is to educate the people of the Great Plains Conference of key points from the many sides of the debate over human sexuality. 

The materials shared on this page are not an endorsement of any single position. Rather, the materials shared on this page are meant to foster deep contemplation, consideration for the people on all sides in this debate and to help everyone treat each other with respect.

Setting a Foundation

Just as the Commission on Way Forward started with prayer, Bible study and reflection, the people of the Great Plains are encouraged to do the same as they contemplate the topics surrounding human sexuality and the people any decision from the General Conference will impact.

Scripture

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who serves as the presiding United Methodist bishop in Germany, shared a reflection on Galatians 6 with the Commission on a Way Forward at its meeting April 8, 2017, in Washington, D.C. 

The reflection raises the question of how do we "carry one another's burdens"? The bishop includes in her reflection the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book "Life Together" and the apostle Paul's personal touch in telling the Galatians that he wants them to place a high priority on love.

Download a PDF of the Bible study reflection.

 
The Anatomy of Peace

What if conflicts at home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause? What if we systematically misunderstand that cause? And what if, as a result, we systematically perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve? Every day.

From the authors of "Leadership & Self-Deception" comes the expanded second edition of an international bestseller that instills hope and inspires reconciliation.

Through a moving story of parents who are struggling with their own children and with problems that have come to consume their lives, we learn from once-bitter enemies the way to transform personal, professional and global conflicts, even when war is upon us. 

Learn more about and order the book.


Bible Studies

Scripture can be interpreted in numerous ways depending on a person's life experience, their depth of knowledge of ancient people and the circumstances they live in as part of today's society. Here are some Bible studies that people of the Great Plains may find useful as they strive to understand scriptures and better understand the circumstances facing the church and the people known as United Methodists.

Faultlines:
Holy Conversations about Human Sexuality and The United Methodist Church

Compiled by Abingdon Press

This book serves as a catalog of small-group studies, Sunday school curriculum and books for contemplation from Abingdon Press. In all, 10 books are previewed, and outlines of for how they may be used is included with each description.

Authors include Alex Joyner, Adolf Hansen, Brian Milford, Matt Rawle, Juan Huertas and Katie McKay Simpson, Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton, Philip Cramer and William Harbison, Bishop Karen Oliveto, David McAllister-Wilson, Caorlyn Moore and David Field.

 

Living Faithfully:
Human Sexuality and The United Methodist Church

By David Barnhart Jr., Rebekah Jordon, Alex Joyner and Jill Johnson

If you’re at a loss about how to start an objective dialogue with your congregation about what it means to be the Church when it comes to homosexuality, same-gender marriage, and the ordination of LGBTQ persons, you are in good United Methodist company. Living Faithfully, a four-week, small-group study, and part of the Faultlines collection of books, was created especially for United Methodist pastors to use as they guide their congregations through discussions about these emotionally charged and highly divisive issues in a way that encourages openness, humility, a spirit of grace, and above all, love for fellow group members. Although diverse viewpoints provide multiple lenses through which to consider different perspectives, the study is based on Scripture from start to finish and includes a comprehensive Leader Guide with everything needed to implement this important study easily.

 

Making Sense of the Bible

By Adam Hamilton

Denominations from evangelical to mainline continue to experience deep divisions over universal social issues. The underlying debate isn’t about a particular social issue, but instead it is about how we understand the nature of scripture and how we should interpret it. The world’s bestselling, most-read, and most-loved book is also one of the most confusing. In "Making Sense of the Bible," the Rev. Adam Hamilton addresses the hot-button issues that plague the church and cultural debate, and answers many of the questions frequently asked by Christians and non-Christians alike.

 

Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White

By Adam Hamilton

Many people agree that America is polarized, with ever-hardening positions held by people less and less willing to listen to one another. The topic hardly seems to matter, as people dig into the trench that fits their view of the world. Few people agree on what to do about it. One solution that hasn’t yet been tried, says the Rev. Adam Hamilton, is for thinking persons of faith to model for the rest of the country a richer, more thoughtful conversation on the political, moral and religious issues that divide us. Hamilton rejects the easy assumptions and sloppy analysis of black-and-white thinking, seeking instead the truth that resides on all sides of the issues, and offering a faithful and compassionate way forward.

 


Books

While many books address the subject of human sexuality, here are a few books read by some of the members of the Forward in Unity team. They address many aspects in this discussion. Some lean progressive, and some lean conservative. Inclusion of a book in this listing is not an endorsement but rather the sharing of a potential source the people of the Great Plains Conference may find useful.

 
The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves

Arbinger Press

The Arbinger Institute reports that “the biggest lever for change is not a change in self-belief but a fundamental change in the way one sees and regards one’s connections with and obligations to others.” As people and organizations, we get stuck when they have an inward mindset because when we are focused on ourselves and our needs, our reality becomes distorted. An inward mindset limits our possibilities and negatively affects our behavior and thus our relationships. Inward-mindset people and organizations do things. Outward-mindset people and organizations help others to be able to do things.

 

Spiral Dynamics: mastering Values, Leadership, and Change

By Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan

This book provides a data-based, psychological approach to understanding worldviews or systems of thinking held by individuals, organizations and societies. It is concerned with how people respond to the world around them in given circumstances and with their particular coping abilities. For example, do people think in binary and absolutist terms, that is, "if it’s not black, then it must be white."  Or do they acknowledge and seem comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty? That is, "It’s not either black and white, it’s gray."

 

Bid our Jarring Conflicts Cease

By David Field

This book examines and interprets John Wesley's key sermons "Catholic Spirit," "A Caution against Bigotry," and "On Schism" in relation to his other writings and the integrating theme of holiness. It also understands that Wesley's interpretation of holiness is shaped by 18th-century understandings of the human beings. Finally, the book relates this constructive stance of holiness and diversity to the discussion about human sexuality and presents it as an opportunity to go forward with a greater love.

 

Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality

By Debra Hirsch

Relationships, identities, orientations and even seemingly straightforward concepts such as gender have cut battle lines between the church and the world. In the fog of war and the cloud of conflict, it's increasingly hard to see our way clearly. Author Debra Hirsch says she has seen hope in meaningful lifelong relationships with LGBT friends and neighbors, in Christian fellowships and in movements that have held a concern for people created in God's image and a high view of the Bible's teaching on sexuality in constructive tension. This book challenges the reader to discover a holistic, biblical vision of sex and gender that honors God and offers good news to the world.

 

Staying at the Table

By Scott Jones

Unity is a gift of God that involves us staying at the table to find common ground in "the extreme center." Talk of a United Methodist denominational split is not going away, only intensifying. Unless we can go beneath the issues that divide us to find our common ground, we will splinter or worse, just argue ourselves into irrelevance and oblivion. Here, Bishop Scott Jones reminds us that "the strength of Wesleyan doctrine is its ability to articulate holistic, balanced, and practical interpretation of Scripture. It is conservative in some ways and liberal in other ways; it occupies the extreme center and is totally opposed to the dead center. Tackling divisive issues such as homosexuality, race and gender and authority of Scripture,  Jones shows the logical contours of the conversation by locating them in larger questions of doctrine and ecclesiology.

 

Collaborating with the Enemy:
How to Work with People You Don't Agree with or Like or Trust

By Adam Kahane

Kahane advocates for a radically different three-step approach in this book, which he calls “stretch collaboration.” This method, he writes, “offers a way to move forward without being in control.” The first step in stretch collaboration is to “embrace conflict and connection.” Kahane argues that true collaboration involves both engaging with others (“love”) and advocating for one’s own interests (“power”). Kahane’s second step is to “experiment a way forward.” To do this, participants must “stretch away from insisting on clear agreements about the problem, the solution, and the plan, and move toward experimenting systematically with different perspectives and possibilities.” The last step concerns how individuals participate in the larger group. Kahane urges us to “step into the game,” by which he means “we must stretch away from trying to change what other people are doing, and move toward entering fully into the action, willing to change ourselves.” 

 

Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change

By Adam Kahane

Two methods most frequently employed to solve our toughest problems — either relying on violence and aggression, or submitting to endless negotiation and compromise — are fundamentally flawed. This is because the seemingly contradictory drives behind these approaches — power, the desire to achieve one’s purpose, and love, the urge to unite with others — are actually complementary. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” This book shows us how to manage and solve tough problems by combining power and love so that we can walk forward without stumbling and falling.

 

Solving Tough Problems:
An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities

By Adam Kahane

The author draws on his amazingly rich experience working with corporate, government and civil society leaders all over the world. He explains why our ordinary way of solving problems — expert-driven, piecemeal, and best practice— cannot work for solving the complex problems we face increasingly in all our communities and organizations. There is another way to solve tough problems. The people involved can talk with and listen to each other and thereby work through a solution peacefully. But this way is often too difficult and too slow to produce results, and so force becomes the easier, default option. 

 

Transformative Scenario Planning:
Working Together to Change the Future

By Adam Kahane

Transformative scenario planning can be useful to people who find themselves in situations that have the following three characteristics. First, people see themselves in a situation that is unacceptable, unstable, or unsustainable. Secondly, people cannot transform the situation on their own by only working with their friends and colleagues. And third, people cannot transform their situation directly. Transformative scenario planning is, then, a way for people to work with complex problematic situations that they want to transform but cannot transform unilaterally or directly.

 

A New Church and a New Seminary

By David McAllister-Wilson

Many churches are “mule churches” – strong for a generation but unable to reproduce themselves. As a mule comes from a horse and a donkey, they were the product of demographics and cultural conditions conducive for a generation of strength but did not produce many offspring in new church starts or strong candidates for ministry.  Mule churches create a generation or more of pastors, superintendents, and bishops who think they knew what made for a strong church, who think their approach to ministry is the key reason for their success.  And it produces churches with a nostalgia for the way things used to be.  This makes it hard for churches to adapt to change.

 

Holy Contradictions

Edited by Brian Milford

How might United Methodists bear witness to graceful and mutually respectful ways of living in the Wesleyan tradition amid enduring disagreements about same-gender relationships and related church practices? The contributors engage the question by asking themselves:

  • How do I approach this question in light of my particular social location?
  • What do I believe is most at stake, most at risk, and most needed at this time in the life of The UMC?
  • How does my understanding of scripture and our theological task shape how I envision how we might best live into the future?

 

Our Hearts Strangely Warmed

By Karen Oliveto

In The United Methodist Church (and other Christian denominations), it is difficult or impossible for lesbian, gay, transsexual, and bisexual clergy or laity to become a visible and outward channel for God’s saving grace. This book traces the history of the church’s struggle with homosexuality, highlighting critical incidents in the culture and church polity which shape the church’s response. The controversy is deeply rooted in how God’s people are searching the scriptures, which are interpreted as a means of grace for some and as a rulebook for others. This book includes first-person narratives of LGBTQ persons faithfully serving in a denomination that denies their calls and — in some cases — their presence. 

 

Are We Really Better Together

By Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton

The authors set out to address the division within The United Methodist Church and contend that remaining united is hurting the church and the proclamation of the gospel.  Recognizing that conservative and progressive Methodists are sincere in their beliefs, the authors doubt that one side will convince the other to change their minds.  They therefore suggest that a fair and amicable separation is the best course of action. 

 


Presentations, Essays and Sermons

Pastors and lay people inside and outside the denomination are talking about human sexuality and the decisions that must be made in The United Methodist Church. Just as with the books, none of these postings are endorsements of one way of thinking or another. Instead, they are meant to provide the people of the Great Plains with some information and to provoke deeper thought.