On the heels of General Conference 2016, there are many, various, and legitimate concerns and hopes regarding the Bishops’ establishment of a commission to study human sexuality in ways that take us beyond the current impasse, while at the same time preserving the unity of the denomination. I write today as one grateful for the leadership of our bishops and the process they have set in motion. But the question that connects all of us is this: what will it take to make this process a genuinely new way?
In the days following General Conference there will be numerous suggestions made about this, both within the Council of Bishops itself and outside it. I offer today some of my own thoughts about the question, looking at it from two vantage points.
First, there is a crucial non-negotiable: no one must sit on the commission whose past or current behavior says, “I can tell you right now how I am going to vote, no matter what I see or hear during the process.” I do not mean that the commission should be comprised of those who lack conviction, but I do mean it must not be made up of those who hold what today are called opinionated convictions. Partisanship will poison the well before any water is drawn from it. Just as people are not placed on juries who have already made up their minds about the guilt or innocence of a person, no one must sit on the commission who is closed to the very things the process is designed to bring forth.
Second, the commission must include LGBTQIA members and new-generation United Methodists. I mean ongoing membership, not just consultation or involvement through listening sessions, etc. LGBTQIA persons must be members because the process is focused on the paragraphs in the Book of Discipline which directly affect them. And new-generation United Methodists (those under 40–who were not even alive when all this got started) must be members because they live in a world that is different than it was in 1972 (both in terms of knowledge and experience), and this generation is the one that must live with whatever decision the commission reaches and the General Conference enacts.
Although there are many factors embedded in these two points, my overall conviction is this: the commission must not be made up of people who have demonstrated over the course of 40+ years that they are either unable or unwilling to lead us beyond the current institutional impasse. It must not be put back into the hands (that is, control) of the very people who have had plenty of time to address the challenge, and whose failure to do so is what has given rise to the need for a commission in the first place.
It must be made up of people whose bedrock conviction is this, “By God’s grace, we can discern and enact a better way.” If that spirit characterizes the members of the commission, it has real potential to become what the Bishops envisioned in calling for it, and what the General Conference hoped for in approving it–a new way for the denomination.
I hope this blog puts me in the role of “Captain Obvious,” and merely states what is clear to everyone. But clear or not, I offer these two points for consideration and out of the conviction that new wine must be poured into new wineskins.
At the core, the proposal is a fresh call to prayer in these days immediately following General Conference, not only for those who will be members of the commission, but a call to prayer for the rest of us who support them in their efforts.