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Oregon Convention Center (two towers) where General Conference 2016 was held

The Way Forward proposed by the Council of Bishops at General Conference potentially provides a way to deepen the dialogue within the United Methodist Church on matters of human sexuality. It also gives us some breathing room to see how diversity can actually contribute to unity, rather than trying to force unity (perhaps I should say uniformity) through institutional pleading and legislative action.

As an LGBTQ ally and advocate for an inclusive church I am grateful for the leadership of the bishops in inviting respectful conversation that reflects the wideness of God’s mercy. However, I am also saddened and angry that justice is once again being delayed for many of my sisters and brothers in Christ by the harmful language that will remain in the Book of Discipline for at least two or three more years, and very possibly longer. In the meantime, many more gifted leaders will give up on serving in a church that does not accept them as the beloved children of God they are. In the meantime, many more young people will look elsewhere for open and affirming faith communities where they do not have to wonder if friends or family members will be accepted. In the meantime, many more loving and committed couples will be turned away from the ministries of a church that does not honor their love or value their witness. In the meantime, many more clergy will be forced to risk their livelihood and their future within a church they dearly love because the calling God has nurtured within their lives will not allow them to do otherwise.

So while I applaud the thoughtful leadership of our bishops and will pray and work to support a rethinking of the church’s stance on human sexuality through the special commission to be established, I am mindful of the deep pain and mistrust that many will continue to experience as a result of this outcome. Even though every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality will be examined by the commission and a special session of General Conference could be called in 2018 or 2019 to act upon the commission’s recommendations, we cannot predict how these processes will play out and whether they will create more just and grace-filled church structures and laws. What we do know is that we need to pray earnestly and work expectantly for the future God has in mind for the people called United Methodist, a future shaped by the justice and mercy at the core of the Gospel.

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

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