Organizers of The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly plan to offer an alternative process for considering legislation related to the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.
To go forward, General Conference delegates will need to approve rule changes when they meet May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Oregon.
The Commission on General Conference, which plans the legislative gathering, hopes its Group Discernment Process might provide a template for dealing with other contentious issues in the life of the church.
But right now, the commission’s focus is on finding a different way to address a debate that has raged at each General Conference since 1972 and has led some United Methodists to raise the possibility of a denominational split.
The goal is for United Methodist decision makers to discuss the proposals through the lens of “the values of centrality of mission, unity for the sake of mission and our identity as Christians and as United Methodists.”
“What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so let’s look at an alternative,” said Judi M. Kenaston, the commission’s chair and conference secretary of the West Virginia Conference.
One goal is to bring out the “middle voices” — those who typically don’t sign up for the legislative committees that deal with human sexuality and don’t speak up once debate gets going.
Commission members, who themselves have varying theological views on homosexuality, don’t have a particular outcome in mind for the process, Kenaston stressed.
“My dream would be that at the end of it, you would have a decision we could all live with,” she said.
How it will work
Under the plan, the first stop of all sexuality-related petitions would not be legislative committees. Instead, all 864 delegates would review the petitions in small groups with no more than 15 members.
The groups would each have geographical, linguistic, ethnic, gender and age diversity, along with a mix of clergy and lay people.
Even before General Conference begins, each conference delegation may nominate up to three delegates to serve as the small-group leaders. The executive committee of the Commission on General Conference will appoint the leaders from this pool.
The leaders will go through training at the same time legislative committee officers do.
The commission asks each small group to make recommendations on the petition. Members will have the opportunity to review and sign the recommendations.
The groups will meet during the first week of General Conference. The Rev. L. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist II, secretary of the General Conference, said he expects the process to give more people a chance to be heard.
“If we take time in a small-group setting, everybody has an opportunity to speak,” he said. “You get 120 people in a legislative committee room, and only the people who are dominant and passionate get to the microphone.”
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