Council of Bishops announce that they are not of one mind

Bishop Bruce Ough answers questions during a press conference Wednesday.

Portland, OR — In a statement today, Bishop Bruce Ough made it clear that there is no plan of separation of the United Methodist Church originating from the Council of Bishops.

But while the bishops are taking no specific action, Ough acknowledged that  there have been conversations between the Council of Bishops and leaders of various groups in the weeks leading up to the 2016 General Conference session in Portland.

“We have risked exploring what many would consider radical new ideas to organize the United Methodist Church according to deeply held and differing values and convictions,” said Bishop Bruce Ough during this morning’s plenary session.

Ough, the incoming president of the Council, addressed the Tuesday morning plenary session for about ten minutes, responding to rumors released on social media yesterday from both individuals and advocacy groups.

“Anxious distrustful organizations have difficulty affording space to anyone,” he said. That space, he said, is “vital for hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.”

He spoke clearly to the vast divide between conservatives and progressives over human sexuality and acknowledged that divide extends into the Council of Bishops.

“We ourselves as a Council of Bishops are not fully united,” he said.

A Black Lives Matter protest during yesterday’s plenary session, along with reports of voting guides for delegates sponsored by the Institute for Religion and Democracy and Good News illustrate just how entrenched the conservative and progressive positions in United Methodism have become.

Statements today from both Reconciling Ministries Network and Good News also highlight the divide:

“Separation conversations are not new and at this General Conference, the idea has been pushed by conservatives who finally understand that fairness and equality for LGBTQ people in the church will not be silenced. While we appreciated the recognition of our struggle by the Council of Bishops today, we are discouraged by their refusal to meet this head on and bring peace and justice to all of us who serve this church.”
– Matt Berryman, Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network‪


Good News Statement:

Some of you may have read or heard last night that “the Council of Bishops is working with a broad base of United Methodists to develop a proposal for a plan of separation for the denomination to come before a special GC in 2018.” On the night before General Conference convened and over the last week, we have been invited by Bishop Warner Brown, outgoing president of the Council of Bishops, to participate in conversations seeking a way to be able to live together within our church, despite what we see as irreconcilable differences. The conversations reached the point that the Council of Bishops was considering their role in moving the process forward. While we were waiting for the response of the Council, some in the progressive movement last night broke the agreement of confidentiality by publicizing something that had not been formally proposed. We are still waiting for the response of the Council of Bishops. We will attend another meeting today to see if the bishops are willing to propose anything. However, this breach of promise makes us extremely cautious about moving forward. We will keep you apprised in the days to come.

Although the Bishops are not of one mind as to the future direction, they have agreed to do the work of the episcopacy at the General Conference and will preside as the body makes appropriate legislative decisions. Ough called upon the delegates to engage in finding creative and unifying solutions so that we might go forward as one church.

One possibility might be the “Third Way” proposal originated by the Connectional Table which will be considered by the conference on Wednesday morning. The “Third Way” legislation was by and large defeated at the legislative committee level in four different committees, however, all of the legislation is being brought to the floor of the conference and with the guidance of the Committee on Agenda will be considered in a single block. There have been reports that some within the Council of Bishops believe this legislation is a viable way forward.

Reports last night suggested that the Council of Bishops would be proposing a special commission to develop a formal plan of separation  to bring to a called General Conference in 2018. Several groups working for GLBTQ inclusion published posts and videos suggesting that the Council would propose a two-year moratorium on charges and trials for clergy who perform same-sex marriages or are openly LGBTQ for the next two years.

“We can’t do that,” Ough said. “The bishops are charged with upholding the provisions acted upon by the General Conference.”

Ough noted that several of the groups releasing information last night had asked the Council of Bishops to offer leadership on the division facing the church. Ough said that the council has no legislative authority in the current United Methodist polity, and said that several members of the council would suggest that an attempt to offer a plan would overstep their legislative authority.

Ough and several other bishops reiterated that the Council remained committed to the unity of the church, and hope a means of remaining together could be found. However, he also recognized that the differences between the extremes on the debate on human sexuality were great, and acknowledged that finding a place for conversation and common ground would be difficult.

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is scheduled to end Friday evening.


Click here to read the transcript of Bishop Ough’s remarks to the General Conference. 


Laura Harbert Allen, Managing Editor

Laura is an independent public radio and multimedia producer who makes stories in the documentary tradition. She served as communications director for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church for seven years and has more than 20 years experience in public radio as an announcer, producer, program director, and general manager. She has also written about music for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, and done feature work for Wonderful West Virginia Magazine. Laura is married to the Rev. Jeff Allen. They live in Charleston, West Virginia.

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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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jimmie shelby
jimmie shelby

This writer believes that the council of bishops is so fractured that it is UNABLE to lead. It feels like that many of those individuals TRY to lead with their heads as opposed to their hearts. The umc will continue its downward spiral so long as the hierarchy is divided. Paul and Peter went their separate ways–each touched many hearts for Father/Son/Holy Spirit–through the leading of the Triune God. Please, split the umc so that at least one part of it can become the UMC………………….

Steve Zinser
Steve Zinser

The ‘way forward’ and the ‘third way’ are not compromises. They are a wholesale loss for conservatives. Pretending that total capitulation is a ‘win’ can only be avowed by a pure partisan.

The so-called way forward allows each church to decide on homosexual ministers and weddings and for each annual conference to decide on homosexual ordination.

In other words, the result will be a denomination that widely includes everything that conservatives have fought to prevent.

That is no compromise. That is capitulation in a pretty wrapping with a bow.

Richard F Hicks
Richard F Hicks

Bipolar leadership. This outta help. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC


Hi, I’m mostly uninformed but here is my worthless 2 cents. Africa / Asia has different ideas (as a rule) of LGBTQI (?) stuff than we do. Promise to continue to fund them (because.. let’s face it.. we totally do) and separate from them. Then let people state-side duke it out (ha ha) in a fair fight. They have a completely different culture. I was in SA and asked to speak to a group of men. They cut me off after my first sentence because EVEN THE IDEA of their 18 year old boys “dating” was abhorrent to them. There… Read more »

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