Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.It was an honor to participate in the discernment process undertaken by the Council of Bishops to present a way forward for The United Methodist Church concerning human sexuality. I speak for myself and the Council of Bishops in expressing a sincere and deep gratitude for the challenging work the 32 diverse members of the Commission on a Way Forward faithfully engaged in over the past 18 months. The commission fulfilled the council’s vision to conceive and design a way for being the church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. This unity is grounded in our affirmation of the Triune God who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people in the Wesleyan tradition.
The Council of Bishops received, reviewed, and continually honed the three plans – Traditionalist, One Church, and Connectional – brought forth by the commission. After much prayer, discernment, and dialogue, and desire for transparency, we agreed to make available the three plans developed by the commission to the church and delegates of the 2019 General Conference. There is support for all three plans within the Council of Bishops. The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans. The majority of the council discerned and recommended the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church. A summary of the plans will be forthcoming later in the day. Full details of the plans and accompanying legislative proposals will be released as soon as final editing of the entire report is completed and translated into the official languages of the General Conference. It is estimated this will be no later than July 8.
In closing, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning with scenes and quotes from the 1971 musical, “Fiddler on the Roof” on my mind. The movie opens with the statement by Reb Tevya, a humble Jewish dairyman living in Czarist Russia in 1905. He says:
“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!”
The fiddler is a metaphor for balancing faith and life at a time swirling with uncertainty and change. The play has universal appeal in its themes of generational conflict, the triumph of love and the dynamic struggle between tradition and change.
Forward in Unity Resources Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has formed a conference Forward in Unity Process Team to compile resources and to help lead discussions on human sexuality across the conference. Some resources such as books and Bible studies already are available, with more on the way. See what is available now.
Read more about the Council of Bishops' recommendation.
We can relate to the experience of a “Fiddler on the Roof” as we try to balance and scratch out a tune of faith as United Methodists without breaking our necks amid swirling uncertainties and change. It isn’t easy. So why, we ask, do we continue to stay with The United Methodist Church even if it is not easy? Well, we stay because The United Methodist Church is our home.
We stay with The United Methodist Church because we believe in our mission to help people know and love God. We believe and proclaim that Christ, by faith, offers newness of life. We believe that serving others – especially the poor – reflects God’s love for us and through us to our neighbor. And, we believe that God’s justice seeks the fulness of dignity and life for all people. We stay because we are stronger together than we are by ourselves for the sake of God’s healing mission in our broken world. We stay together because the world is in need of the saving love of Jesus Christ. We stay because The United Methodist Church has always been a faithful witness to Christ’s outreaching love to the world. We stay because we believe in the final triumph of God’s word and the gospel in the world. We stay together because we believe that love’s redeeming work is not yet finished. We stay together because the risen Christ walks with us and leads us forward in mission and ministry until love’s redeeming work is consummated and we feast at Christ’s heavenly banquet.
Friends, we are a people with an eternal grace, peace, and hope who believe in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us covenant to hold each other in prayer in the months to come. I invite you to set a reminder and join me in praying The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 each day from 2:23 to 2:26 a.m. or p.m. – a daily reminder of the 2/23-2/26, 2019, General Conference dates in St. Louis. Pray for the mission and witness of The United Methodist Church. Pray for the General Conference delegates gathering in St. Louis. With the Spirit’s help, and with faith in the risen Christ and each other, we will find a way forward into God’s future as the Church.
We come from a variety of perspectives concerning human sexuality, which means you may experience either hope or pain in light of the council’s action. Please forward any comments or questions you have about the three plans to the Great Plains 2019 General Conference delegates at GCdelegates@greatplainsumc.org.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.