From the Bishop
Many people have asked me what it means that 36 of our retired bishops have issued a statement calling for a change in our Social Principles regarding the issue of homosexuality. One answer is that it does not mean much of anything. General Conference is the only body which can vote changes to the Social Principles, and we bishops have no voice or vote during General Conference. What’s more, retired bishops have no vote during meetings of our Council of Bishops.
Another answer is that it is no surprise that 40 percent of our retired bishops believe that statement should be changed, because at each General Conference since 1972 the current stance in our Social Principles has been adopted by about a 60-40 vote. If our whole United Methodist Church is divided along those lines, it should be no surprise that our retired bishops are divided by similar percentages.
Even more, people have asked me if we active bishops were a part of any discussions or plans for this statement by some of our retired bishops. The answer is no. Our Council of Bishops only meets twice a year, and we have not yet had a conversation about this statement. While I cannot speak for all active bishops, I can report that I had no idea such a statement was being considered until it was announced, and I had not seen the statement or been invited to sign it.
Perhaps most importantly, many people have asked me what such a statement can accomplish. My response is – nothing helpful. Such statements are not a helpful way to move our church’s discussion forward. Such statements are not an invitation to dialogue. Such statements are in many ways an impediment to trust (at least within the Council of Bishops), and so I am very sorry that those retired bishops took this action. It does not help.
What does help? We need to talk about tough issues. We need honest conversation in face-to-face settings. We need to engage in Christian conferencing – which is our Wesleyan method of seeking God’s will through prayer, discussion, discernment and consensus among Christian brothers and sisters who have a community of trust and openness. If the past 40 years have taught us anything about tough issues like homosexuality, those years have taught us that statements, petitions and legislative actions will not move us toward deeper conversation or new insights. Such statements and the many petitions which will come to General Conference are just a way of people talking past one another, rather than talking with one another and seeking resolution.
The problem with such statements is that they do not begin with the important first step in Christian conferencing, namely, a humble approach which says, “I may be wrong, and that is why I am willing to talk with other Christians about this issue.” Those who issue statements, send petitions and make speeches at General Conference always seem to begin with the assumption that they have all the answers. Genuine Christian conferencing begins with a willingness to listen to one another, to listen to God and to be guided by the Holy Spirit – even if it means discovering that my previous opinion is in error.
I hope that our United Methodist Church will not engage in divisive disputes at the 2012 General Conference over any issues. I hope we will engage in Christian conferencing and be willing to talk about the tough issues of life and faith. I believe it is time to stop issuing statements and making speeches, and it is time to listen, pray, discuss and seek God’s guidance. It is hard work to talk about tough issues, but it is the only way forward.
Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church
“Making a Difference in Indiana
and around the world”
“We need honest conversation in face-to-face settings.”
– Bishop Mike Coyner