A New Reality: A Look at What Happened at North Texas AC 2016

On June 7, news broke that a resolution was adopted by the North Texas Annual Conference. This resolution stated that "members of the NTCUMC will prayerfully and actively work toward a new reality" regarding the United Methodist Church's inability to resolve their disagreement over human sexuality.


North Texas has, since 2013, conducted the business and worship of the annual conference in the sanctuary of a church large enough to hold us. This year, Annual Conference occurred at St. Andrews. 


The North Texas AC (NTCUMC) is an interesting conference. Geographically, NTCUMC is the smallest Annual Conference in the South Central Jurisdiction but might arguably be the wealthiest with no signs of slowing in growth. It has a very strong nexus of metropolitan churches in the city of Dallas and very many large (some cases "mega") churches in the northern suburbs surrounding Dallas. It is also home one of the fastest growing real estate markets in the nation, with towns like Frisco, Prosper, and Celina, TX, experiencing exponential growth within the past 5 years.

NTCUMC has a distinct history in regards to discussing human sexuality. In at least one instance I could find recorded, a special clergy session was called to discuss and debate how to define "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" on March 26, 1994. The resulting decision is notated in the 1994 Annual Conference Journal: "A self-avowed practicing homosexual is a person who engages in, and openly acknowledges, genital sexual behavior with a person or persons of the same sex."

I'll give you a moment to let that sink it. It's a breathtaking statement to read in an ecclesial/historical document. The debate of the church on human sexuality in the 70s/80s/early 90s is worth serious historical consideration.

Other attempts have been made to pass resolutions in the recent history, all failed. One was withdrawn by the signers and not much is said as to what happened outside of these brief mentions ins Annual Conference journals.

The language in the resolution that passed in the NTCUMC in 2016 is tame for me personally. I am openly in support of full recognition of LGBTQ folks worthiness for marriage and ordination. This statement doesn't fully say that, but that does not change how significant this resolution is for the NTCUMC. There are those who think resolutions aren't worth writing or working on. But when one realizes that it is the resolutions that end up in the journals that one finds in libraries 20 years after the fact, resolutions become a bit more significant. A resolution passed by an annual conference becomes a part of that conference's story. A story that is reprinted, stored in archives, used by historians decades from when it was written. This resolution is now a part of NTCUMC's story and I am very interested in how the next chapters will be written, especially as a 28 year old provisional member of this conference.

I think it is fairly remarkable for a conference in the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC to pass a resolution that has words of mild affirmation for a diversity of theological differences and respects to differing practices regarding ministry with LGBTQ+ individuals. It is also remarkable that the resolution passed with an overwhelming majority. AND it's remarkable that the only amendment that changed the original text of the resolution squeaked into it by a margin of 31 votes. 

Let's look at that amendment: "...by joining the bishops and upholding the discipline," is an innocuous statement. The preliminary acknowledgements of the resolution already acknowledged this language about upholding the discipline, so in some ways it is almost redundant to add (it is also grammatically problematic). I am going to wear my Laundry Machine hat and turn the "spin cycle" on for a second: What does it mean when a conference like NTCUMC, with its history of one-sided discussion on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ children of God, has only 52.3% of its voting members agreeing "to uphold the discipline?" 

In a conference that has been debating this for decades (like most annual conferences have, I am sure) the relative ease in which this resolution passed is striking. I went to the 2016 General Conference and bore witness to how truly awful we treat each other when we meet as a global church. Over and above our disagreements on human sexuality, we have much to answer for in how we fail, categorically, to meet each other in a spirit of mutual understanding and shared identity. But that is a another blog post. The other striking observation that I make personally to the passing of this resolution is how utterly low-anxiety, grace-filled, and peaceful the entire process was: from the resolution's introduction, to its passing. Because of that, I am very proud of my Annual Conference, especially as it compares to the General Conference of our denomination.

This resolution is a first step, and it is joined by other statements in other Annual Conferences in the South Central Jurisdiction. Today, June 8, 2016, Central Texas also adopted a resolution that is similar in spirit, submitted by its general conference delegation. Last year and this year, the Great Plains Annual Conference took up legislation on LGBTQ+ inclusion and succeeded in passing it. I think these are all small victories in the broader movement of the church toward accepting the marriage of LGBTQ+ persons and fully accepting their baptism through acknowledging the fact that God can call them to ordained ministry, too.

It is a very exciting, weird, and sometimes frustrating time to be a United Methodist, wouldn't you agree?



Comments

  1. I agree with your take on the resolution. To me the wording of the resolution doesn't really say a lot that is not already assumed or said earlier in some other form somewhere else. I voted for it out of solidarity for full inclusion. But what was significant to me was the signal it gave as to where the conference is in regard to the issues at hand. Simply put, I think North Texas is of a mind to support something like a Hamilton/Slaughter compromise. To me such a plan would be a great step forward and I say that as a very progressive person. The value of the vote was that it showed that NTC is more open to change than the GC. Also that fact that circa 120 clergy signed a document supporting change was very significant and the signers were not all young clergy either. Symbolically the actions were significant. I didn't fully realize it until after the fact.

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  2. I can't speak for all the 'old guys' but my progression went this way: from tolerance, to acceptance, to why the hell did I ever give a damn? My kids led the way, all the way. I hope I can see the Open Doors truly be open before I check out but I know many of you indeed will. Blessings..

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  3. Part 1

    I was the first person to speak against this resolution. I voted for the amendment to gut it and against the resolution as it was finally presented. I will get back to that speech in a few paragraphs.

    A few hours after the discussion and adoption of the resolution, Bishop McKee noted the 60th anniversary of the inclusion of females in all parts of the ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church. He called up to the stage all the female ordained clergy in the conference. The stage was more than filled and we all gave them loud and sustained applause. It was a beautiful sight and I could not help thinking about this presentation of female ministers together with the vote on this resolution.

    I thought how beautiful it would be if all the gay men and lesbian women who have served this conference and the members of this conference as ordained clergy were free to come up the stage to mark a history of service that harks back much longer than 60 years. Without undue exertion, I can think of a half dozen men who have ministered personally to me and my family over that last quarter century. These men’s ordained ministry dates back to 1947.

    I think we are past the issue of gay marriage in the Methodist church. In fact, the legality of gay marriage in the US and Canada takes away the strongest argument against the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers. The best argument was never the scriptural argument. Those passages from the epistles of Paul – we all know them by heart – are, in the end, ambiguous and clarity only comes when they are interpreted in the light of someone’s opinion. The best argument against the ordination of homosexuals was that ministers should contain their sexuality in the context of a legally recognized, lifelong committed relationship. Gays couldn’t do that, until last summer. The gospel contains an unmistakable commandment about sexual order and restraint. That is now available.

    As I spoke against the resolution, I noted my personal opinions on these issues. The questions before the Methodist church get resolved not on what we believe about scripture, but what we believe about the sovereignty of God. Acts 10 and 11 are about as clear as you get on the relationship between interpreting scripture and the active call of God. And God is calling . . .

    BUT!

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  4. Part 2


    BUT!

    This is a gigantic change. It is unimaginable to many. I think it is unimaginable to most Christians if you take a non-denominational, world-wide view. The call of God may be clear to me and the persons who sponsored this resolution, but ordination of homosexual ministers is not even conceivable yet to most Christians, including most Methodists. I personally am increasingly alive to the possibility that I have this issue wrong.

    One thing Paul’s letters are not ambiguous about is the call to unity within the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:1 – 6; Philippians 2:1-2. We need to stop voting, because that is driving us further apart; we need to stop marching, because that is making us angry; we need to stop vilifying each other, because that is just unchristian. We need to listen, open our hearts and try to bring each other along to a unity of the faith. We need to make sure we are moving together to where God is.

    This resolution passed when debate was cut off twice. It was past lunchtime and everyone was “hangry.” Not a single mind changed. Not a single fist was unclenched. As someone deeply sympathetic to what I think were the underlying thrust of the resolution, I was very suspicious in the end what the original intention of the resolution really was. That’s what Robert’s Rules seem to do to a person. Fortunately, those of the sponsors I personally know are persons of good faith who love the church and love the LORD. I hope that they continue to love those they may believe are behind on this.

    Since this is a liturgical blog, let me suggest an idea for going forward that doesn’t involve voting, but calls on each Christian to open his or her eyes to where God is calling. The next Annual Conference will be held at First United Methodist Church Richardson. How about a keynote address that includes some randomly selected person who was called by God, ordained and served that Church, but was cashiered when he came out? The address could also include this hypothetical persons’ father, especially if he is a beloved Methodist minister in an adjoining conference, his mother and perhaps the senior pastor he came out to and had to do the work required by the Discipline to defrock this still faithful, still serving (elsewhere) young man?

    And then, after these four people talk to us, and we listen to them, what if the bishop calls up to the stage anyone in the Conference who has been ministered to by a gay man or lesbian woman? While we do this, the congregation can sing Mark Miller’s “God has work for us to do.”

    As we sing, those already on the stage can move back and forth to those still sitting cross armed in the pews and remind them about Billy and Phil and Georgia and Cheryl who always explained that they are single because they agreed with St. Paul that marriage would get in the way of the call God placed on them.

    Then, when everyone who is going to move has moved, we can join together in singing “Here I Am, Lord,” not the buttoned down version I like, but the evangelical version where I waive my hand in the air so God can see that I am available.

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