After hours of deliberation, two failed motions and an accusation from the floor of a bishop directing people which way to vote, the General Conference voted to accept and enact a plan for unity presented by the Council of Bishops.
The motion to accept the bishops’ proposal eventually passed 425-408. It proclaims the intent of the bishops to appoint a commission to examine all paragraphs in the Book of Discipline associated with human sexuality, defer all votes related to human sexuality to the new commission and to address the issues in a possible special General Conference prior to 2020.
Business of the day started with a speech by Bishop Bruce Ough, which laid out the proposal by the Council of Bishops. His statement to the conference came 24 hours after a declaration Tuesday that the bishops proposed unity in the denomination without expressing an opinion on the human sexuality matters.
“Reaction for the most part had been positive,” Ough said of Tuesday’s statement at a news conference following his Wednesday address. “I know that’s not universally true. I think there’s generally been a positive response because our heart is to be a people that remain for the sake of the mission.”
The response to Tuesday’s statement did not directly impact the follow-up, Ough said.
“That was directly affected by the motion that came off the floor inviting the council to offer some additional leadership,” Ough said of the motion made Tuesday by the Rev. Mark Holland of Trinity United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kansas. “I’m grateful for the motion.”
The Council of Bishops, Ough said, began its deliberations Tuesday afternoon after Holland’s motion.
“The body wanted some additional leadership, and it was helpful to hear from the body,” Ough said.
Soon after the bishop’s speech, the Rev. Adam Hamilton of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, made a motion to accept the bishops’ proposal, citing specific petition numbers to be set aside. An amended petition that would have accepted the bishops’ proposal but continue debate and voting on human sexuality petitions was defeated handily.
After the lunch break, Hamilton’s motion failed 438-393.
Frustrated delegates then proceeded to the microphone to make what they said were points of order that the presiding bishop during the early afternoon plenary session, Bishop William T. McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area, failed to hold to rules of order. One delegate from the East Coast stood to ask the bishop to recuse himself from presiding over the session, using a tone that drew support from some on the social media platform Twitter but far more criticism for being disrespectful.
The result of the motion offered by Hamilton brought disappointment among some Great Plains delegates prior to the bishops’ plan eventually passing.
“Totally confused and stunned,” said Sandy Simmons, an alternate lay delegate from Leavenworth, Kansas. “After we implored the bishops to help lead us and move us forward together, I’m surprised and stunned.”
Hamilton’s motion started by thanking the Council of Bishops for providing leadership requested by delegates the day before.
“We know you’re not of one mind and don’t speak for the church as a whole, but thank you,” he said.
The Rev. David Livingston, pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Lenexa, Kansas, voiced on the floor his support for delaying a decision, even though a petition he wrote and was passed in 2015 during the Great Plains Annual Conference session would be delayed by two years or more.
“We have been sent here to get something done,” Livingston said, later adding that if it adds to meaningful conversation on the subject, “I would gladly defer that decision for two years.”
In his Wednesday address, Ough again called for unity and prayer, as well as a “complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.
“We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts,” Ough said.
In the news conference, Ough said he understands the need to discuss the issues immediately.
“Part of the urgency is that we can’t stay where we’re at,” he said.
Asked if any openly gay or lesbian pastors would be included on such a commission, Ough replied, “We will make sure that all voices are present.”
Ough’s follow-up statement brought positive responses from some in the Great Plains Conference delegation.
“It’s clear the bishops really took their tasks seriously,” said the Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, pastor of Southgate UMC in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a reserve delegate. “When he talked about unity and unanimity not being the same, it really speaks from a socially diverse set of world views and theology, yet working to craft this statement together.
“So often the people looking for change are being told to wait. Yet this time when they’re told to wait, it comes from a place where I see more hope for all of us, a hope we will share stories and share that struggle together this time,” Ahlschwede added.