Breaking up is hard to do (the Annual Conference edition)

heartbreakby Scott Fritzsche

If you missed it, Part 1 can be found here. I have started talking about why it is indeed time for the United Methodist Church to break up. In this post, I want to examine the actions of the Annual Conferences who have chosen to pass resolutions of non-compliance with the General Conference. These resolutions are, in a nut shell, saying that the Annual Conferences will not follow the Book of Discipline on matters relating to the practice of homosexuality and that they indeed support homosexuality as a normal sexual expression that can be pleasing to God. The worst of these (so far) comes to us from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. I am going to take the space to reprint their resolution here so that we can refer to it.

“Trusting in the Author of Life who makes no mistakes when creating her children, inspired by the nonconforming Christ who taught us to defy oppression in all its forms, and led by the Holy Spirit who continually liberates us from our addiction to law and into a life of grace, The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference as a body affirms our commitment to be a radically hospitable church.With a deep appreciation of our common ministry, a desire to practice Biblical obedience, united in God’s love for one another, and a commitment to allowing for our many understandings of following Christ, we the People of the Pacific Northwest move together.­­

The PNWAC will not conform or comply with provisions of the Discipline which discriminate against LGBTQIA+* persons, including marriage (161.B), the incompatibility clause (161.F), ordination and appointments (304.3), homosexual unions (341.6), AC funding ban (613.19), GCFA funding ban (806.9), chargeable offenses pertaining to being “a self avowed practicing homosexual” or to officiating at weddings for couples regardless of the sex of the partners (2702.1b,d).

The PNWAC and its members will not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to the Discipline’s prohibitions against LGBTQIA+* persons.

The PNWAC will realign its funding to reflect these commitments, using no reserve funds to pay for judicial procedures related to the Discipline’s prohibitions against LGBTQIA+ persons, and instead asking the Connectional Table to lead and fund efforts in cultural competency, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-ageism, anti-homophobia, and anti-oppression training at the conference and district levels, as well as for advocacy and implementation efforts related to the same.

*LGBTQIA+ is an acronym names the identities including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and the many other forms of identity related to gender and sexuality.”

To be honest, this will be struck down by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist church. The Annual Conferences who passed these resolutions know this. To be honest, most of us who are more traditional minded believe that these Annual Conferences will do this anyway. For some of these Annual Conferences, it is really nothing new as statements like these have been made several times, though not so bluntly and forcefully. So we have the obvious really. There are rules and these Annual Conferences are deciding to break them. There is something more though. Something that affects others outside the Annual Conference. Something that forces them to be disobedient to the obligations that they have made or to hurt the ones that they love. If we use the marriage covenant that I spoke about in the first installment of the blog, we would call this one partner trying to manipulate the other. Surely that is not a healthy expression of marriage. Let’s take a moment and see who else that this effects.

“¶ 806.9 Fiscal Responsibilities [of the General Council on Finance and Administration] [The General Council on Finance and Administration] shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends” (¶ 161F). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures.18 It shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.”

This is from the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline. The General Council on finance is responsible to make certain that no United Methodist Church money is to be spent on promoting the acceptance of homosexuality. These resolutions, which can be easily seen as promoting the acceptance of homosexuality, put those on the General Council on finance in the unenviable position of either allowing this to happen and by doing so not fulfill the responsibility that was entrusted to them, or to make every attempt to stop the flow of money to these Annual Conferences. Many have said it is not a big deal because the Judicial Council will strike it down. I disagree as these resolutions show the intent of Annual Conferences to not live within the boundaries of the United Methodist Church. Some have said it is not a big deal because the Annual Conference should be able to make it’s own decisions about the matter, but as we can see, there is indeed repercussions and effects on individuals beyond the Annual Conference. The ecclesial disobedience of these Annual Conferences now puts those entrusted on the General Council on Finance in the position of not trying to fulfill their duties or trying to stop money going to entire Annual Conferences, which is probably impossible, and likely to fail. Most importantly it forces them to try and adversely effect those in the Annual Conference that they love as brothers and sisters in Christ. The choices are disobedience, trying to cause real distress to entire Annual Conferences by making an attempt to do what is practically impossible in stopping the money, or resigning, as one local pastor already has.

Now I am not a polity expert. I could be reading the passages incorrectly in the Book of Discipline. If that is the case, then my bad. I also readily admit that the chances of cutting off all money to an Annual Conference is impossible and am not advocating that we try really. For the sake of argument though, let’s pretend for just a moment that I am correct in my understanding and that these resolutions actually stand. What has happened then? I am using this as one example how the seemingly innocuous efforts of a few Annual Conferences have implications or potential implications, far beyond what was thought or perhaps even intended. This is why it is indeed time to break up. I do not for a second believe that Annual Conferences had any intention of putting those on the General Council on Finance in a bad place (at least I hope not), nor do I believe that the intent was to cause distress to anyone. I do believe that the intent was to push an agenda that they passionately believe in forward. I also believe that there are many who unintentionally get caught in the crossfire of these actions. This is why it is time to break up. Our Annual Conferences have taken actions that have effects far beyond what they though, and to different people than they thought. This is not to mention how it undermines further the General Conference and the responsibilities that it has or the Bishop’s committee that was supposed to be examining if there is a way for us to move forward and, before even being appointed, is finding themselves with more and more problems to try and work through. It’s time to break up because even when we are acting out of what we think is best, we just end up hurting each other, and I just can not bring myself to believe that is what any of us want.

Read the Original post on Unsettled Christianity.

Part 1: Breaking up is hard to do (Let’s admit it is time)

Read Scott’s commentary on UMR from May 2016: A Response to Same-sex Marriages

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Scott A Fritzsche is an active lay member in the United Methodist Church. He is a family man, loves Jesus and the church He established, serves when and where he is able, and regularly contributes to unsettledchristianity.com.

Special Contributor to UMR

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This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
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3 Comments on "Breaking up is hard to do (the Annual Conference edition)"

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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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eric pone
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How are you going to break up with people and conferences who will not leave and will continue to fight an even smaller less financially stable enitity? Breaking up means that both sides die period. We have to find a way to coexist in the same communion while acknowledging that there are core theological differences that cannot be reconciled or we can kiss the UMC at least in the US goodbye or just grant it will survive as a regional SE US church unable to do more than educate African Pastors. I just refuse to believe that breaking up is… Read more »
Kevin
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What does “breaking up” actually mean in this context? Without some explanation as to some of the difficult details this is all meaningless. Since we kicked the can down the road and put an action to our bishops nothing formally can be done within the next three years anyway. Of course by then the “break up” may be a done deal. Refer to the Episcopal church as a bad example of how to break up.

Bruce Davis
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Let’s face it, none of the options are good, at least so far as I’m concerned. I’m pretty sure that what’s happening in the Western and Northeast Conferences is not what the General Conference had in mind when it referred matters of human sexuality to the bishops. Too bad. I do appreciate Scott’s analysis and believe he’s probably on the right track. The “difficult details” will have to be worked out at the episcopal level, but the bishops are as divided as the rest of the church. Sad situation.

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