Randy Frye of First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport and Carol Wilson of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City will attend the conference, which will be held Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis.
The nearly 900-member international assembly will meet in a special session to consider plans that “could strengthen the denomination’s current ban on same-sex unions and gay clergy — or change the law to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community,” according to a press release.
What is the United Methodist Church’s current stance on homosexuality?
As stated on UMC.org, an online ministry of the United Methodist Church, the church’s current belief is that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
“Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches,” the website continues.
The church currently allows all people to attend its worship services, participate in its programs and become church members.
What will be decided at the conference?
The assembly will discuss and vote on three main plans proposed by the bishops’ commission, plus two additional plans proposed by other groups. Other plans may also be proposed by delegates during the conference.
The five current plans are briefly described below:
• Traditional Plan: This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the United Methodist Book of Discipline and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations.
• One Church Plan: This plan would shift to churches and conferences decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates throughout the worldwide church. It would also remove some of the language in the Book of Discipline that limits LGBTQ people’s involvement as United Methodists.
• Connectional Plan: This plan would subdivide the Church into three connectional conferences, or branches, based on perspective on LGBTQ issues: one conservative, one progressive and one moderate.
• Simple Plan: This plan calls for removal of language in the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation in the church.
• Modified Traditional Plan: This plan would add to the Traditional Plan a committee with authority to hold bishops accountable to the sexuality standards in the Book of Discipline. It would offer a $200,000 grant to annual conferences that want to leave the denomination because of disagreement over LGBTQ issues.
What do the local pastors think?
Wilson and Frye were elected to attend the General Conference as representatives of the Holston Conference, which encompasses Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and North Georgia.
As she prepares to attend her fifth General Conference, Wilson said she hopes the assembly doesn’t lose sight of the church’s mission during the decision-making process.
“I don’t have a stated desire for a particular legislative outcome,” Wilson said. “I have a desire for the church to continue to be fruitful in ministry and to continue to stay faithful to our mission, and we’ve always been very active in our local communities and committed to making a difference there, and my prayer is that we don’t lose that, that we continue to be effective in ministry wherever we are.”
Frye, who will attend the General Conference for the fourth time, said he plans to go into the conference with an open mind, though he does have concerns that some may choose to leave the United Methodist Church based on the conference vote.
“That might be individuals; that could very well be entire congregations, and I don’t want to see that happen,” Frye said. “My hope is that whatever happens, we’re still going to greet one another and embrace one another and agree upon the things that are essential to our faith and work within that.”
Frye added that nothing about worship or outreach at First Broad Street will change as a result of the conference.
“As difficult as this period is and as stressful as it is, I don’t want anybody to lose sight of the fact that God is still God and He’s bigger than our problems, and God has made a way forward for His people going all the way back to the Exodus, and He’s going to do that in this,” Frye said. “We may not come out looking the same as we are today, but I genuinely believe that we’re going to come out still as a Church that is offering the grace of God to people and helping them experience transformation in their lives. That’s what I hope for; that’s what I believe will take place.”