By now you have probably heard that the Council of Bishops Executive Committee (of which I am not a member) is in the process of naming the special commission which was approved by the General Conference to seek a way forward for our UMC. Each active bishop has been asked to nominate five persons to be considered, but realistically we all know that the Commission will be small (about 20-24 members) and our own particular nominations may not be able to included. Nonetheless, I am sure the process will generate some excellent names to be considered.
As the Commission begins its work, I am asking that we all pray for them (even though we don’t know their names yet), and to be effective in our prayers we need to remember several things:
- The Commission is entitled “The Way Forward” Commission. It is not a “sexuality commission” (even though the UM news service and others keep calling it that). Their purpose is much larger than simply studying and recommending possible changes in our Book of Discipleship about human sexuality. They are to study and propose a way for our denomination to move forward together, or alternatively, a way for our denomination to make tough decisions which might cause some to choose to leave – hopefully with grace and peace.
- The Commission is not a commission of the General Conference, it is a commission of the Council of Bishops. General Conference asked the Council of Bishops to propose a way forward, the COB proposed a Commission to be named by the COB, and the General Conference approved that recommendation. This Commission will be a product of the Council of Bishops, and it will report to the Council of Bishops. Any proposals for changes in our Book of Discipline will need to come to the next General Conference, of course, but the Commission will first report to the Council of Bishops.
- The naming of this Commission does not necessarily mean that there will be a “called session” of the General Conference, but it could well lead to the Council of Bishops calling such a session. It will all depend upon the product of the work of the Commission, and then the Council of Bishops will be the group that determines if there are proposals and possibilities that merit the expense of a called session of General Conference. As I look at the calendar, that would likely be in 2018 because the Commission needs time to work in 2016 and 2017, and because having a called session in 2019 would be too close to the regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020. But no one has made a decision yet about whether such a called session will happen.
- During the time the Commission does its work and we move toward any future decisions about changes in our Book of Discipline, it is important for everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – to be faithful to our current Book of Discipline. Some persons, some groups, and even some conferences are not being faithful, but I call upon everyone in our Indiana Conference to be faithful. Please do not put our new Bishop, Julius Trimble, in the awkward and unfair position of having to deal with disruptions while he is trying to get acquainted with Indiana.
- The Commission, it seems from what I have read, it going to be composed of persons who want to find a way for our UMC to stay together. That should be the focus of our prayers for the Commission. This is not about either side of these debates trying to “win” or trying to make others into “losers.” This is about seeking God’s guidance for a way forward. Let’s keep that prayer focus, too.
So, as I am in my final couple of weeks as the Bishop of the Indiana Area, I ask of you and everyone else in Indiana and beyond: please pray for the Commission, its work, its focus, and its guidance by the Holy Spirit.