Dear South Central Jurisdiction Delegates to General Conference 2016, Grace and peace to you, the 108 elected delegates from the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ). Thank you for your commitment to Christ and our United Methodist Church (UMC) and for your willingness to serve in this unique capacity. Next Spring you will undertake the tremendous task of serving our denomination at General Conference (GC). We thank you for the time and energy you are already giving to this very important role, and the hard work that you will devote to the UMC while in Portland for GC. As you prepare for General Conference, we ask that you prayerfully consider what it means and what it will take for the UMC to become a fully inclusive church where the beloved community of Christ is reflected in word, deed, and action. We know that many important and urgent issues face the 2016 General Conference. As we continue to strive to be faithful United Methodists we do so knowing that mainline denominations continue to decline and struggle for relevance. Change must come from the local church level, the general church level, and all those in between. We must work together. We wish to share our thoughts, concerns, hopes, and expectations for the upcoming GC, and we will deeply appreciate your prayerful consideration of all that is expressed here. As United Methodists dedicated to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, we envision a global church where justice reigns and each person’s God-given gifts, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, are recognized, affirmed and embraced. God’s acts of love, justice, and grace are evident throughout the sacred texts of our faith. When approached with legislative proposals that address inclusion and the reorganization of the UMC, it is our hope and prayer that God’s love and grace will compel you to represent and work for the entire church and not just the privileged and powerful majority. It is unfortunate that Methodist history has been shaped by a narrative in which African Americans, Native Americans and women were relegated to the margins, even when their gifts and calling were pronounced by God and acknowledged by their church family. United Methodists have disagreed about the full inclusion of its gay and lesbian members for more than four decades. Yet our denomination’s Social Principles and Book of Resolutions call us not to reject or condemn our gay and lesbian members and friends and further calls us to reject and educate against homophobia and heterosexism. In order for the UMC to fully minister with all persons and present a message that reflects God’s all-inclusive love, several actions are necessary. Simply put, we cannot continue to do ministry in the same ways and expect different results. This includes the way that we approach General Conference. We desire to have deep, authentic, and meaningful conversations with one another, to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to be open to fresh ways that God is moving in today’s world.
As United Methodist clergy and laity serving throughout the South Central Jurisdiction;
We call upon you to say “yes” when a member of your conference reaches out to your delegation requesting time on the agenda of a future meeting for the purpose of sharing stories from dedicated United Methodists who are personally affected by the current condemnatory language and discriminatory policies.
We call upon you to work with great intention for everyone in the South Central Jurisdiction, not just those who worked for your election to this coveted position of power, but for all United Methodists in your conference. Given our system of majority rule, United Methodists in a few conferences were prevented from electing even a single delegate who shares their values and passion for social justice, leaving significant numbers of dedicated members without voice or vote. The continuation of our current policies will place the UMC on a path to certain demise from which we may never be able to return. Let us unite, regardless of our identifiers, around common issues and values that will foster vitality, enhance discipleship, and lead to full inclusion and reconciliation. It is our hope and prayer that you will envision new strategies that will lead us in this direction. Failure to do so makes the church insignificant, fragmented, and destined to fall short of Christ’s calling.
We call upon you to give careful consideration to the critical timing of this particular General Conference and the larger context of our nation and the world - our neighbors, our mission field - and how our current policies prevent laity, clergy, and all future members from being in ministry for and with all persons without the threat of additional persecution. Gay and lesbian United Methodists, while living with the daily harm of being designated as “other” or merely “tolerated,” and in many cases completely cast out by the institutional Church, continue to show up - week after week, year after year - to worship, serve, lead, give, and pray. For forty-four years God’s beloved children have waited and worked, conferenced and cajoled, petitioned, protested, and prayed for change as General Conference has continued to say, “No, not you. Everybody else, but not you.” If the 2016 delegates to General Conference say “No” once again, we anticipate and worry about the sudden loss of countless United Methodists - gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and their families and straight allies, who can’t take another day of harm and wrongdoing, and will simply give up on us.
We call upon you to take seriously and hear clearly our expectation of change, of forward thinking, of working together in new ways, of relevant 21st century, just policy making, of language that calls us to and equips us for genuine mission field ministry that will supply both congregations and clergy with the full authority of the Book of Discipline to love and be in ministry with our neighbors - all of our neighbors, equally and unconditionally.
In summary, we, your pew neighbors and partners in ministry throughout the South Central Jurisdictions call upon you to:
- remove the incompatibility statement in its entirety, and from every place it appears in the Discipline - remove all language that reduces and confines marriage to opposite sex couples - make legal the right for pastors to officiate services of Christian marriage for all prepared couples - remove the officiating of same-sex marriages from the list of chargeable offenses - remove the hosting of same-sex marriages in UM sanctuaries from the list of chargeable offenses - remove all language that prohibits ordination of lesbian and gay persons called to ministry
We, the undersigned laity and clergy throughout the South Central Jurisdiction, continue to pray for you and our United Methodist Church.