Great Plains delegates help take lead on debate
Mark Holland on Bishops leadership from Great Plains UMC on Vimeo.
Members of the Great Plains Conference delegation played a major role in encouraging bishops to take on a larger leadership role in the debate on LGBTQ issues that have so far stymied the 2016 General Conference.
A motion made by the Rev. Mark Holland, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church and a clergy delegate from Kansas City, Kansas, urged the Council of Bishops on Tuesday to make an unbinding recommendation to the General Conference on how to remain unified despite differences within the denomination.
“It’s important that the bishops provide some leadership right now,” said Holland, who also is mayor of Kansas City. “The conference is clearly stuck – we’ve been stuck for 20 years – and the bishops have been talking about a lot of different options, and they’ve been talking about unity, which is great.”
Holland’s motion came after a Tuesday-morning speech by Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, which took no stand on the human sexuality issues but said the denomination should remain united.
“When they offered their statement of a call for unity without offering a path for unity, I felt that two things happened: One, it’s important that the bishops know they are not overstepping their role. But to have the General Conference as a body say ‘We value your opinion,’ that validates them in terms of bringing back a response.
“It also tells them that we really need their leadership and it … supports and pushes the bishops to make a statement on their own,” he added.
Holland says the General Conference wants to have the input of the Council of Bishops.
“I hope it affirms from the General Conference that we value the bishops’ opinion and leadership and that statement is powerful to give them additional authority,” he said. “The body should ask for it and the body should receive it.”
Adam Hamilton on Bishops' leadership from Great Plains UMC on Vimeo.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, lead pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, spoke in favor of Holland’s motion on the General Conference floor. After the motion passed by a strong majority, Hamilton said he also was hoping for definitive direction from the bishops.
“The General Conference is stuck. We’re stuck between the conservatives and the progressives, and we’re just stalemated,” said Hamilton, founder of the largest church in the denomination. “Something’s got to break loose.”
Hamilton said he was hoping language regarding LGBTQ issues would soften during the General Conference, but instead became harsher.
“That just made it clear – we aren’t going to accomplish anything,” Hamilton said. “We’re in gridlock.”
Holland’s motion came after a call for unity from Ough earlier in the day.
“It’s not enough to call for unity,” Hamilton said,” later adding, “He called for unity, but he basically put it back on the General Conference floor.”
Prior to Holland’s motion, the delegates from the Great Plains Conference were both understanding and disappointed with the speech delivered by Bishop Ough on behalf of the Council of Bishops.
“It surprised me in its lack of specifics,” said the Rev. Amy Lippoldt, a clergy delegate. “I appreciated the call to unity, but what was foretelling for me was the statement that they themselves are not unified.”
Bishop Ough called for unity in the denomination during the morning plenary session but said during his morning speech that the council would not make any recommendations during the General Conference.
“I’m not sure that he made a leadership statement for the General Conference,” said Lippoldt, pastor of Basehor United Methodist Church in Kansas. “There was a lot lacking.”
Lippoldt said she fully realizes bishops cannot introduce legislation at the General Conference, but they do have the power to change opinions.
“The bishops are in a tough spot. I don’t begrudge them that,” she said. “But they didn’t do much to add clarity or calm to the room.”
The Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell, associate pastor at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, said she was glad a statement was being made on behalf of the bishops.
“But it leaves us with the thought of, ‘OK, now what?’” said Bell, a clergy delegate. “I don’t know If they’re thinking we’re going to work it out amongst ourselves. I’m just holding onto hope that God’s spirit will work in us and among us and through us so we can get to a place where we can get together without trying to change one another.”
Bishop Jones reaction to issue of homoxesuality from Great Plains UMC on Vimeo.
Great Plains Bishop Scott J. Jones said that discussions among the Council of Bishops began weeks ago, with a proposal presented at midday Monday and two hours of discussion that night.
“The bishops of the United Methodist Church are committed to the unity of our denomination,” Jones said Tuesday afternoon. “That’s our calling – to protect the unity and to guard the unity of our church.”
A group of 100-plus delegates filtered into the lobby of the Oregon Convention Center during the afternoon plenary session, singing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” while many of them tied their own hands together with rainbow-colored fabric. That followed an on-floor protest Monday afternoon, when another 100-plus protestors marched through the floor to magnify the Black Lives Matter movement, along with LGBTQ rights.
“The rising disobedience across our church, especially from leaders of the church who are called to guard that discipline, also means that the question of unity is quite complex,” Jones said.
“Unity does not come cheap,” Jones said.
Bishop Ough’s statement, Jones said, is not the last word on this topic.
“We’re still groping and trying to figure out what the answer is,” he added.
After his speech Tuesday morning, Bishop Ough conducted a press conference
, during which time he said cultural shifts such as these in The United Methodist Church should happen from the bottom up. Bishop Ough said he valued conversation on the issues that divide the church.
“We’re open to maintaining dialogue, we’re not saying what that dialogue might be,” Bishop Ough said. “There is so much evidence of anxiety and division.”
Contrary to rumors that had spread for 12 hours before the Tuesday morning session, Bishop Ough said he and his colleagues did not advocate any kind of split of the denomination nor a special General Conference specifically to discuss LGBTQ issues in 2018.
“There’s a full range of ideas that were on the table,” Ough acknowledged.
He dismissed the idea that the Council of Bishops were indecisive through his statement. Social media posts repeatedly complained about bishops making a strong statement or providing a plan to avoid schism.
“Everybody wants us to lead,” Bishop Ough said, “providing we’re leading in their direction.”
Ough repeatedly called for solidarity among the denomination.
“We are broken,” he said. “In the midst of our brokenness, the shepherds of the flock are called upon to keep unity.”
While saying “we are a church, of the most part, of the middle,” Ough urged churches, pastors and parishioners to work together despite differences.
“Our debates … over certain issues do not keep us from being the body of Christ,” he said.
There needs to be a time and a place to discuss these issues, Ough said.
“We need to take ownership of the narrative of this church,” he said. “We need to be fundamentally committed to a different conversation going forward.”
Comparing a possible split among Methodists to a marital divorce, Ough said that “we are more than our division on any one issue.”
“When we end (the General Conference) on Friday night, what’s going to happen on Sunday morning?” he asked.
Individual churches, he said, still would be preaching the Gospel, opening food pantries and thrift stores despite what happens in Portland this week.
“The work of maintaining the unity of the church,” Ough said at the plenary session, “begins at home.”
Courtney Fowler, Great Plains Conference lay leader and a laity delegate, said she was a fan of Ough, who “brings a lot of wisdom and thoughtfulness to the discussion.”
“On the other hand, we are witnessing a lot of pain and a lot of desire for some leadership – for some direction, for some compelling vision,” Fowler said. “While I appreciate his words of compassion and care, this is a critical moment for our church, and I really feel like we have been called for a time such as this.”
Fowler said she was appreciative of Holland’s motion and her fellow delegates.
“We saw a constant parade of the leadership and the visionary leaders of our conference get up and take a stand for making our church to move forward. I am so excited, and it is such a blessing,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the Great Plains at this moment.”
Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at email@example.com.