March 2, 2017

Atlanta, Ga.: Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia this week, the Commission on a Way Forward continued to make progress towards completing the groundwork for their task, building relationships, engaging in learning, information gathering, working and worshiping together.

On Wednesday, the Rev. Donna Pritchard led a morning Bible study of Galatians 2. Later, Commission members joined the staff of the General Board of Global Ministries in the stained-glass sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church for an Ash Wednesday service.

The day concluded with Bishop David Yemba reminding the Commission that people across the Connection are praying for the Commission. He shared a meditation about Ephesians 1:15-23, noting that Paul is sharing through prayer the things believers have in common, not only what is dividing them. “Above all is that you have the Lord Jesus Christ in common and then you have in common faith in him and you have common hope in him and you have God’s promises in him,” said Bishop Yemba.

Team reports

In January, the Commission formed learning teams to take on various aspects of their work and the teams have been diligently pursuing their assignments. The work of some teams will take longer than others, but the following generally summarizes work to date.

• Initial research has involved interviewing bishops, pastors and laypersons from other denominations and gathering data and resources to report to the Commission. Denominations are unique in terms of polity and experience, and none is a perfect match with The United Methodist Church.
• One team shared information with the group about the power of language and culture, sexual orientation and gender identity. Conversations have taken place with reconciling congregations and research gathered on experiences and perspectives from Africa.
• There is ongoing research seeking clarification about the rules, petitions, logistics, and the roles of the Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference.
• One team led a learning session describing the current landscape and the different strategies at work of the Confessing Movement and other renewal groups, Reconciling Ministries and progressive strategies, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and groups in the Central Conferences with general discussion and questions.
• There was a report on a plan for gathering information within the Central Conferences related to the diversity of attitudes regarding LGBTQ issues and the different social, cultural and religious contexts. There was a strong recommendation to explore the subject of unity with the Central Conferences.

A tale of two centuries

Dr. Russ Richey of Candler School of Theology says the unity and disunity of the church has been, in a sense, his life’s work. He shared insights about how Methodism has historically dealt with disagreement and the different ways the church dealt with conflict over two centuries.

The 19th century saw separation and organizational division among American Methodists every decade. The century following brought unity, even amidst divisions that were more internal than structural. “By and large we stayed united, but there were serious divisions and controversies.”

Richey said there was “separation between” in the former and “separation within” in the latter.

The earliest disputes were over a variety of causes, sometimes over big issues such as slavery. “We were a very popular movement. In some ways for the 19th century, we were the most popular and dynamic movement, so the big issues the country wrestled with were ones we as Methodists took on.”

The result was division, and those divisions had costs, he says. “We didn’t speak with a common voice, but churches competed with one another and reached out and evangelized.”

“Beginning in the very late 19th century and continuing in the 20th, there was a sense that these denominational divisions tore apart the cloak of Christ, that we were dividing Christ’s gift to us,” he said. “There was really a Biblical mandate and Christ’s injunction to bring us together and so a lot of energy was put into unitive efforts,” said Dr. Richey in an interview.

Following the presentation was a discussion about takeaways that might be important to the Commission’s process and what other historic perspectives or information might be needed, including learning more about our history globally.

Gathering additional input

The Commission also continued discussion both in small groups and as a body regarding the input they need from other groups and individuals, including:

• Conversations with caucus groups
• Conversations with strategic denominational leadership groups at meetings that are already a part of their schedule and at which the commission might ask for time
• Conversations with seminary students
• Engaging bishops and annual conferences in supporting the work of the commission
• Engaging annual conferences to develop their own strategies by which they can offer feedback and information to the Commission so that local church members, participants and clergy have a voice

The group worked together on beginning to compile a comprehensive list.

The Commission began its last day with a Bible study on Galatians 3 led by the Rev. Helen Cunanan of the Philippines. There was also a discussion of a timeline for their work ahead. The Commission’s next meeting will be April 6-8 in Washington, DC.

More information on the Commission is available on their website at


About the Commission on a Way Forward
The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the Council of Bishops to assist the bishops in their charge from the 2016 General Conference to lead the church forward amid the present impasse related to human sexuality and resulting questions about the unity of the church.


  1. They are just now making a list of who they need to talk to. Is it just me or does it look like they are dragging their feet?
    The upcoming judicial council decision on Ms. Olivetto might kick this whole process sideways. Then the fun begins.

  2. Seems they have started the usual practice of going down rabbit holes, searching out secular problem solving models, testing the worldly winds, and unnecessarily complicating the issue and process. Would it be asking too much of them to go to the BIBLE exclusively for their information, for their problem solving model, and for their process and their way forward? Everybody just go home, go to Scripture in study, then come back and address what the Bible teaches about marriage, human sexuality, and sexual immorality — including, specifically, the practice of homosexual sexual relations.

  3. Well at this rate nothing will be accomplished before the denomination separates on its own accord over this issue. The Bishop’s will fiddle while the United Methodist Church burns itself down with further schismatic acts like Bishop Olivetto’s election and other out right non compliant acts towards the BOD and the scriptures.

  4. “Then the fun begins”


    I wonder what Jesus would do if He were here as a man today.

  5. All of this is nothing but foolishness. The question is whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it is the church should ban any clergy who are or preform marriages that are gay. Scripture is clear on this issue, even going back to the original Greek. If the commission can prove that scripture provides that being gay is not a sin then they should make the case and it needs to be definitive. Any other arguments are trying to overturn the word of God with the wisdom of humans. Who is in charge of our denomination, God or man?

  6. From where I sit, it seems the ‘foot-dragging’ is more likely a lack of leadership from the Holy Spirit. When we depart from the leading of the pillar of cloud/fire we are bound to be lost in the wilderness.

  7. The federal government has become too powerful, too intrusive, enacting laws which may serve one part of the nation well while becoming a problem for other parts. That is why I believe in ‘states rights’, decision makers, governors,,etc. are closer to home, have to be more accountable…to real people. Individual states govern themselves but we are still The United States!!

    Could something like this, help the UMC to deal with the issues of ordaining homosexuals.? Perhaps the discipline could allow each jurisdiction to decide the issue for their area. In fact, each jurisdiction could have more authority in other areas ….and we could still be a United Methodist Church..

  8. I continue to appreciate the difficult work that is being done and uphold the entire Commission in prayer. That being said, I earnestly wonder…
    – how do you reconcile two diametrically opposed ideas about how scripture interprets the issue of homosexuality?
    – how do you reconcile those who hold to a traditional view of Wesleyan theology to those who would allow a continuing evolution of church discipline based upon constantly changing social mores and fashions?
    – how does the UMC, with a sense of genuine biblical conscience, seek to reconcile those who accept scripture as holy, unchanging and infallible with those who believe scripture must evolve and change to be able to relate to a changing society?
    The more I pray and hope and read God’s word, the more I am wondering if we might be on a fool’s errand. Are we truly looking to do God’s will…supporting God’s word…building God’s kingdom? Or, are we looking to reinvent a theology which seeks to reclassify sin, based upon a modernistic sense of permissiveness and popularity? Sometimes, reconciliation is not a desirable end. If we are forced into an unholy alliance, which is predicated upon the devaluation of scripture and acceptance of sin, we have sold our church for much less than 30 pieces of silver. Unity is of value…but, not at the cost of presenting our church holy and blameless before Christ.

  9. Here’s an Episcopalian’s thoughts on the UM Way Forward Commission from the perspective of “been there, done that, here is how it turned out for us”:

  10. As I read this report, I kept wondering when will they study what God’s word, the Bible has to say on this topic? Finally, at the end of the report, I see they will study on Galatians 3 which is a good place to start. I pray they use the full counsel of God’s word. Otherwise, I fear their efforts will be in vain.

  11. They may come up with a solution like that in an effort to keep as many people as possible under one roof. The consequences might be that some jurisdictions will refuse to recognize the ordinations of other jurisdictions. Imagine the chaos that would produce. Are you ready for polygamy? Or multi-party marriages of various self-identified genders and transgenders? How about incestuous marriages? What line are you willing to draw and on what basis? And how would you enforce it? Then of course we would also have people insisting that their money not in anyway be spent supporting those unrecognized elders. .
    And these quasi-independent jurisdictions could decide that other parts of the discipline would become optional. Once that happens the rulings of the judicial council and the policies passed by GC would be meaningless.
    We would most definitely not be united from that point on.

  12. They have studied God’s word on this topic for the past 50 years and have reached a point where irreconcilable differences in interpretation have brought us to where we are. The question is now put to them that since we can’t agree on this issue is the disagreement is too big to keep us together? My guess is that the growing gap is just too big. We are simply too far apart and growing even farther apart. By the time this commission comes up with a proposed solution the solution will have already happened. .

  13. This seems like a very organized approach. Part of leading is providing a sense of consistency and order in chaos. However, as many of you have stated the situation is moving toward a solution. Large Congregations are voting to leave and are negotiating the out or just flat out leaving the buildings and debt and going somewhere else. As goes the large congregations so go everyone else. As I have tracked these churches after they leave their giving has changed. They are not supporting African or many cases any foreign ministry. Its being plowed back into local activism. Maybe in our attempt to hold onto a global church we are rendering it useless for the Kingdom of God. Maybe we need to hold ourselves less tightly. A good relationship is one where both parties are able to be together, but are allowed to be most fully themselves as well. That isn’t happening here. I think its time for moderates like myself, and liberals to just move on do the mission in our own way and let the conservatives go their own way. At this point I’d be willing to just get up and leave and worship in a gym again. Anything just to get away from this fight going no where.

  14. There is no mention here of getting feedback from individual UMC MEMBERS (laypersons). Are we beneath that? Do they not want to hear from us? Are they so far removed from us that we’re irrelevant? Or, are they so far above us in their high place that we could not possibly have anything of value to offer?

  15. This Commission on the Way Forward needs a scout, pointman, or leader to show the way forward on the topic of sexuality. This article does not have substance to its goal, but it does have a lot of fluff. It is like a boat without oars or a rudder and it is adrift to the winds and tide. Paul’s Gospel spells out that if you are a believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit baptizes you into the Body of Christ. He also points out that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As a believer, one is not to join his body with another body that is not permitted by the ordinances of God. He who touches tar becomes defiled. In touching another outside of Biblical marriage, you and the other person becomes defiled. The Commission needs to return to the “substance of Faith” and quit wasting time and treasure on seeking an unsubstantial conclusion that has been rejected over and over.

  16. Imagine that the Bishops are visited by the Holy Spirit in a way like we read about in Acts 2. Then they declare that the UMC will act according to scripture in all matters, and uphold the book of Discipline. There would be short-term chaos, but the UMC would emerge as a strong witness for the Lord in a God-hating culture. My guess is that membership and giving would soar . . . Maranatha!

  17. This does seem to be the case!

  18. I agree with those who have already commented on how this process seems to be clouding an issue that the Commission is charged to clarify. In fact, the issue is pretty clear. I dare say that most of those who are on this Commission have a very good idea of the history of the issue, of the Biblical interpretation issues, of the the theological issues, of the Discipline issues. Now they want to spend the next 6-8 months running down more information. This will give them the appearance of being thorough; it will give them a little more time to…what? See if some big time event–like a Judiciary Council ruling–will overshadow them? Perhaps bring the denomination to point of desperation so it will accept some monstrosity of a “local option” or “regional churches” proposal? I see the choices for this Commission to be (1) reaffirm the present Discipline and call for consistent enforcement, (2) gut the present prohibitions regarding homosexuality, (3) create some sort to “big umbrella” that either allows local options by Conference or Jurisdiction or whatever while keeping the denomination together. The Africans and a lot of people in the US will reject either (2) or (3). There is almost no likelihood that (1) will be chosen. So, this Commission is not very likely to find a way forward. That is sad in many respects. On the other hand, it is high time that the conservatives and progressives shake hands and go separate ways.

  19. Thank You for your article. I assume that you are on the Commission or very close to its workings. I feel that the leadership is trying to use certain tactics to gain an end. If the power of the 1st entity can be reduce by the power of the 2nd entity, a victory can be had; and vice versa. Also if a rallying event of some kind happen or created whereby the focus of the Commission is shifted away from the main topic to a false unity, the problem is solved temporarily. The real issue will arise again, but the consequences will be more severe. The main objective is to have “substance” to the solution. The long range view is to be accounted to the goal. As in Divorce, the question is ” will we be better off with the other party staying or will we better off by being single in our commitment to our integrity.

  20. Bill,
    I agree. The separation should follow the path that has already begun. The Western Jurisdiction, for example, has essentially declared its independence from the established UMC and its law book. Therefore, it and others of like mind and actions should be granted a peaceful exit with their property and accrued benefits if they so decline an offer to come in line and live in covenant with the established church and its established laws. The separation process is already underway. Please finish it before more damage is done.

  21. I’m glad you suggest other possible marital arrangements because I have thought about it too and wondered where it would stop. Will siblings marry each other in the future? Sound outrageous? No more than same gender marriage sounds to me. I know of no one in the past who predicted same gender marriage and if you know of a one, please share it with us.

    Proponents of same gender marriage have on their conscience the destruction of the United Methodist Church when they could have chosen other denominations of acceptance. I am elderly and have to leave my group of many years, people closer than family, and find a place where I can fit in again because I find no scripture detailing marriages of this type.

  22. Great summation of the problem.

  23. I guess the Commission has to give Conservatives the proper amount of study and time out of brotherly love and so it won’t be sued. However, I want to see the UMC and its book of Discipline remain intact BUT allowing Conservatives to go with their property so they can organize however they want and whenever they want under another name, completely removed from ours. We can all respect each other, neither surrendering beliefs, and move on. It’s the kind thing to do.

  24. I’m concerned that if the Way Forward tries to create a two-track system where some churches can approve homosexuality and some can remain with the current Discipline that they will be leaving those who want to remain open to the current Discipline also open to law suits. The church is already in schism. Perhaps it’s time to think about how we can take up our toys and go home?

  25. Amen!!

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