Well, following the opening plenary worship session I headed over to observe a committee. I chose to join the General Board of Society 2, as one of their subcommittees would be responsible for the petitions related to human sexuality.
Morning Subcommittee Meeting
Following a welcome for the day and a few brief instructions about proceedings, each subcommittee gathered in its own space to work on the task at hand. The subcommittee consisted of mainly older males–of the 23 or 24 representatives I counted at the table only 5 were women. Out of those 5 women, two were from America—the other three women were international delegates who did not have fluent English skills, and were thus in need of a translator. One of the two American women is the chair of the subcommittee. Long story short, translation issues were recurrent throughout the day, and the inability to address the need for a translator was an inhibitor over the course of the meetings. If I were one of the international delegates I would have felt disrespected. From what I could tell as an outside observer, they were gracious. I was frustrated for them.
During the morning it became clear that there are entrenched opinions present in the room–the committee wasn’t sure where to begin. There are over 50 petitions directly addressing human sexuality. Of particular concern is ¶161.G, with the most controversial sentence therein being, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” I did a quick tabulation–browsing the petitions I had on hand I found that there were approximately between 40 and 50 similar petitions seeking to strike this sentence completely. On the other extreme, there are more than 600 petitions that have been submitted which seek to retain the current language found in the Book of Discipline. Keep in mind that petitions can be submitted by Annual Conferences, churches, or any individual Methodist person–therefore regardless of the count it is uncertain how many individuals are represented by the number of petitions that have been submitted. You can search petitions here.
I’ll also add that there were between 10 and 15 petitions which had been submitted that proposed striking the most controversial sentence and indicating that United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue–one conception of a third way.
To provide just a few more details from this morning’s meeting of the subcommittee, it took about the first hour to establish some basic rules of parliamentary order and allow for the members of the committee to try and discern how they might attack this immense task. People were trying hard, but those on the committee were clearly frustrated. The only petition discussed directly was #81532 (you can search this above), only to see the discussion about this petition tabled for the afternoon amidst a great deal of confusion on how to proceed. Before the motion was tabled, there were impassioned speeches on either side of the debate.
Return for the Afternoon
Not much more came from the afternoon session other than a great deal of frustration, and anxiety. The proceedings began with petition #80055, which was affirmed 13-11. This particular petition removed the controversial sentence quoted above and another portion of ¶161.G, specifically “Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth.” The only other petition considered for a vote was #81357, which advocates for, “sex education programs that encourage fidelity in marriage and premarital abstinence.” The motion failed 13-11 on the grounds that marriage is not an option open to all persons. You can now see how the committee is split.
Even though I had to leave a few moments before the committee adjourned, I believe the committee reconvened tonight with petition #80449 as a starting point for discussion. Those in the room clearly recognized the division, and were struggling to find a way that divergent viewpoints could be voiced and understood, and unity in Christ could be demonstrated. One member of the committee directed the group’s energy to the petition cited above, as he felt it was one that could be amended to propose a new way to address this issue. If you look up the petition, you’ll see that it is a complete rewrite of ¶161.G. It includes a statement affirming the United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue, and seeks to frame the current state of the discussion in the UMC.
This stuff isn’t easy. That might be the understatement of the year.