After the special session of a General Conference that saw delegates favor a Traditional Plan, the leader of the Council of Bishops said United Methodists should focus on their similarities rather than their differences.
“Our work now is to help the church refocus on its mission,” Bishop Ken Carter told media Tuesday evening after a contentious four-day session in St. Louis. “And it is to be encouragers. And it is to try to gather up the fragments of what has happened here.”
The Traditional Plan, which keeps language in the Book of Discipline about homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, received more support than the One Church Plan, which would have allowed LBGTQ persons to be ordained and would have same-sex marriages in United Methodist churches.
“At our best, United Methodists can live together,” said Bishop Carter, leader of the Florida Annual Conference. “We’re not a monolithic kind of church. We’re very diverse.”
Bishop Carter also moderated the Commission on a Way Forward, a 32-member panel that developed the One Church and Connectional Conference plans. The Traditional Plan was added late in the process and wasn’t fully developed by the commission.
“We worked very hard to try to create a culture of peace,” he said of the commission. “Not seeing the other person as the enemy or the adversary.”
After the mid-Tuesday afternoon vote in favor of the Traditional Plan, LGBTQ lay members and allies continued vocal objections that spilled into the front lobby of The Dome at America’s Center.
“There’s some pain in the lives of people who’ve experienced this and witnessed this,” he said of discrimination toward the LGBTQ population. Others, he said, have a feeling of “This is my church. I’m not going anywhere.”
Whether delegates favored the Traditional or One Church plans, Bishop Carter said, each side would see the other as adversaries and threaten to split from the denomination.
“We knew coming into this conference, because of our diversity, that there were conversations in conservative congregations and conversations in progressive churches about the outcomes at this conference,” he said.
The commission tried to keep harmony on both sides, Bishop Carter said.
“The Commission on a Way Forward worked on plans that had a vision of holding those churches within our denomination,” he said. “That’s not just to preserve the institution of the democracy.”
The United Methodists will work at being a church for all, Bishop Carter said.
“I would say a lot of work in the coming days and weeks is relations,” he said. “People, persons will feel harmed. They will wonder if they have an opportunity to serve in the church. They will wonder, ‘Is this my church?’”
Bishop Carter said the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward expected to see passionate opinions on both sides.
“One party sees it as a matter of justice. Another party sees it as a matter of holiness and purity,” he said. “In each of those groups, to compromise is to be unfaithful.”
The Rev. Gary Graves, General Conference secretary, said allegations from the floor about bribery of delegates to sway their votes would be investigated by the ethics committee.
The Judicial Council, at its next meeting, will review the amendments to the Book of Discipline, Graves said.
“There will be pieces that already are constitutional, there are pieces that are already unconstitutional and were not repaired,” he said. “We have other pieces that they will be reviewing after the body did some work.”
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