Bishop Coyner faults Western Jurisdiction on call to ignore `Discipline’

By Bishop Mike Coyner, Special Contributor, …

 The following comments are my personal opinion. I am not writing in any official capacity other than my role as a bishop who was elected and consecrated to teach the faith and to defend the church. My comments do not reflect any kind of official position of the Indiana Conference, the North Central Jurisdiction, or the Council of Bishops.

Background: the 2012 General Conference voted to retain our current language in the Social Principles which affirms that all persons are persons of sacred worth, including gay and lesbian persons, but that we believe “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” In the aftermath of that vote, many persons have expressed their personal disagreement with the action of the General Conference. The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, meeting in their Jurisdictional Conference in July, took the unusual step of adopting “A Statement of Gospel Obedience” in which they expressed their belief that our UMC statements are in error. The Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference adopted a similar resolution. However the Western Jurisdiction went a step further. They urged their clergy and congregations to “act as if Paragraph 161F does not exist.”

Reactions and Responses: While it is certainly true that our United Methodist Church continues to struggle with the issue of human sexuality, and while it is certainly true that a strong minority of delegates to our General Conferences have voted to change our teachings on the issue of homosexuality, the Western Jurisdiction has taken a step which deserves a thoughtful and prayerful response. Instead, there have been many reactions and responses which seem unhelpful, such as:

1. Many persons are angry that some bishops and some leaders of our church would make an outright declaration urging disobedience to our Book of Discipline.

2. Other persons have greeted the actions of the Western Jurisdiction with apathy. As one person said to me, “What else would you expect from them? But they are declining so rapidly that their opinions really don’t matter.”

3. Some others have responded with warnings that the actions of the Western Jurisdiction are a prelude to an actual split in our United Methodist Church. Among those, some seem to fear such a split and what it would mean for our witness to the world; others seem to welcome such a split because they are “tired” of all the debate on this issue.

My Own Response: My own prayerful response to the Western Jurisdiction and the reported actions and statements of its leaders is to offer the following critique and some (hopefully) helpful suggestions for moving forward.

First, the statement of the Western Jurisdictional Conference comes across as a kind of “neo-colonialism.” For years we United Methodists have celebrated becoming more of a global church, but now that the General Conference is dominated by a large number of delegates from other countries, most notably from Africa, the Western Jurisdiction seems to be distrusting the wisdom and experience of those delegates and instead saying, “We know better. We are more enlightened. We have more experience leading the church. We do not trust the decisions of a church which is no longer US-dominated.”

Second, the statement about acting “as if certain parts of our Discipline do not exist,” is a very poor substitute for the honorable practice of civil disobedience as expressed most clearly by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement in the United States. Dr. King taught that when a person believes a law is unjust, that person is obliged to disobey that law and to accept the consequences of such disobedience. Accepting the consequences of disobedience is a part of the witness against the unjust law – even if that consequence means imprisonment. For the Western Jurisdiction to invite persons simply to ignore parts of our Discipline dramatically weakens the ethical impact of their disagreement with that Discipline.

Thirdly, the Western Jurisdiction’s action does not offer the church any way forward on this difficult issue. While those who voted to adopt “A Statement of Gospel Obedience” may have felt some satisfaction or even self-righteousness for their vote to offer “radical hospitality” to all persons, the statement itself did not offer the same radical hospitality to those who disagree on this issue.

What if the Western Jurisdiction instead had voted to expend their funds and leadership and energy to invite the whole church into a time of prayerful discernment, study, and holy-conferencing on this issue? What if the Western Jurisdiction had voted to listen to the concerns, witness, and perspectives of our brothers and sisters in Africa, rather than simply dismissing them as being uninformed or less enlightened? What if the Western Jurisdiction, which has a proud history of diversity, tolerance, and openness to new models of ministry, had offered some suggestions for our United Methodist Church to move forward on this issue? Instead, the actions and statements of the Western Jurisdiction seem to conclude that “we are right and everyone else is wrong.” Such an attitude does not help our whole church move forward toward any new understanding or wisdom on the many tough issues we face.

A Way Forward: I believe that our United Methodist Church one day may modify its various statements on human sexuality. The Social Principles in our Book of Discipline are the result of many General Conferences, which means its various statements and paragraphs were written by committees – and they read like they were written by committees. There is little sense of consistency and theological structure. I believe that a future General Conference may indeed take action, first to affirm that Christians of good will are in disagreement on these issues, and second to adopt a more moderate and holistic approach to these issues in our Social Principles.

Changing our Social Principles or other parts of our Discipline is not the whole answer. As one of my colleagues has expressed it to me, “The question is not if our church will modify its stance; the question is when and how that stance will be modified.” The how is the most important part of his statement. For the church to move forward, any modification should come in an atmosphere of prayer, theological reflection, humility, listening to God and listening to one another. The actions of the Western Jurisdiction, while understandable, do not provide a helpful way forward. Bringing together the best of our church to address these issues outside of the legislative processes of a General Conference could be the how that is needed. Even if such a process takes time, it would worth that time to come together as a church and to find a way forward together.

Bishop Coyner leads the UMC’s Indiana Conference.


Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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7 Comments on "Bishop Coyner faults Western Jurisdiction on call to ignore `Discipline’"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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When I first started my journey toward ordained ministry, I shared with my candidacy mentor my discomfort with a contradiction in our Book of Discipline: our assertion that all people are beloved children of God, and ministers of God, and our setting apart a certain group of people as ineligible for ordained ministry. I've never been able to reconcile that contradiction. I was taught not to proof-text, but to read the passages before and after a single text to get the full meaning of the text in question. Therefore I understand the Old Testament texts regarding homosexuality are written in… Read more »
I grew up in Indiana. I attended high school and college in Indiana. I am old. Usually, I am proud of where I'm from and proud of my Christian roots. But not in this case. Not with the Indiana Bishop advocating the same old same old approach to gays in our denomination. I support with all my being the statements of jwik. What would Martin Luther King do when there were unjust and discrimatory laws. I think we know. More importantly, as Christians, what would Jesus do (and what did he do?) Did he follow the laws of the church… Read more »
Bishop you imply that the Western Jurisdiction is not acting in Civil disobedience by ignoring p161, and you bring up MLK. I recall that MLK wrote a small book called, "Why We Can't Wait" as he sat in that jail cell. He called Clergy to specifically act without regard to the social norm of the time. It was against the law, Bishop, to sit at the lunch counters or not give up your seat to a white person before civil rights demanded states to change their laws. Isn't that exactly what the Western Jurisdiction is doing? We are marrying people… Read more »
On Sunday, August 26, the CBS Morning Show aired a segment on legal issues regarding marriage equality in Washington State. I was astounded to see a United Methodist minister interviewed in the course of this program because of her open claim that she officiated at a "commitment ceremony" of a lesbian couple who were also interviewed. I have heard of no charges being filed for this violation of our Book of Discipline. The Western Jurisdiction seems to be ignoring paragraph 161F as they said they would do. It seems to me that any pastor who would make such an… Read more »

In the actions of the Western Jurisdicion, I believe Bishop Coyner fails to understand a deep faithfulness to scripture, an obedience to love and the birthing of a church able to be true to the gospel in ways it hasn't been in regards to welcoming all persons and empowering all persons to serve as the Spirit of Christ calls. May our bishops act as midwives to the church birthing gospel good news and ministries of inclusion and not demand that she keep her legs crossed.


The Western Jurisdiction is having its cake and eating it, too. It is, for all practical purposes, functioning as a seperate entity, the bishops accountable to no one, with apportionment dollars from across the connection propping up conferences that don't have any people left.


If I understand things correctly, one reason for the "Statement of Gospel Obedience" as part of the "way forward" affirmed by the Western Jurisdictional Conference delegates is the refusal of the conservative voices to allow GC2012 to "affirm that Christians of good will are in disagreement on these issues."

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