The Northeastern Jurisdiction is often thought of as a bastion of progressive thought in United Methodism. It is usually rated as the second most progressive jurisdiction, after the Western Jurisdiction.
That is why several developments in the last week are encouraging for evangelical United Methodists there and across the church.
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference enforced the Book of Discipline and recent Judicial Council decisions related to the examination of candidates for ministry. That conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry had announced in April that it would not “consider or evaluate sexual orientation or gender identity, nor see them to be sufficient reasons to deny a candidate’s ability to live up to our United Methodist standards.” That policy flew in the face of Judicial Council Decision 1341, which required that boards of ordained ministry carry out a full examination into all candidates for ministry to ensure that they are properly qualified, including in the area of sexual ethics. The Book of Discipline requires all ministry candidates to observe “celibacy in singleness or fidelity in a heterosexual marriage.”
Questions were raised about two candidates at the Baltimore-Washington Conference meeting who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals. After it became apparent that the Board of Ordained Ministry had not done a full examination, Bishop Easterling halted consideration of all candidates at the session. During a recess, the board questioned each of the candidates about their adherence to the required standards of sexual ethics, confirming that two are indeed practicing homosexuals. Easterling then ruled that those two candidates could not be considered by the clergy session, and that their recommendation was out of order.
Easterling’s rulings came in response to a question of law raised by the Rev. Mark Gorman. Easterling herself disagrees with the position of the church on these questions. “I pray that in 2019, we move away from the restrictive language in our Book of Discipline, and allow for all to really find a full and complete home within the United Methodist Church,” she is quoted as saying. Still, despite her personal views, Easterling did the right thing in upholding the Discipline’s requirements and processes.
It is also noteworthy that the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference passed a resolution “strongly encourag[ing] the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to maintain the current language in the United Methodist Discipline concerning matters of human sexuality as we prepare for the special session in 2019.” The resolution passed 176-152. It was a substitute for a proposed resolution that called for the General Conference “to resist schism and express openness to diverse perspectives in matters of human sexuality.” The moving and passing of the more traditional substitute is an illustration of how it is possible to change the direction of an annual conference action via an amendment moved by a member of the conference from the floor. This bodes well for the General Conference, where similar motions to amend from the floor may be necessary to help the conference move in a more traditional direction.
In the Upper New York Conference, a resolution calling upon that conference’s delegation to General Conference to unify around the “One Church Plan” was defeated by a vote of 455-392. The “One Church Plan” – previously known as the “local option” – would change the definition of marriage to “two adults” and permit United Methodist clergy to perform same-sex weddings and be ordained as practicing homosexuals. The “One Church Plan” is supported by the majority of North American bishops and the “Uniting Methodists” caucus. Good News and the Renewal and Reform Coalition strongly oppose the plan.
All of these actions are significant in indicating that there is more grass roots strength for an evangelical or traditional perspective than some might think. If annual conferences in one of the more liberal jurisdictions can act in support of our current Book of Discipline, that might portend the church continuing to take a more conservative direction regarding marriage and sexual ethics.
I would like to hear news about actions from your annual conference. Please email your reports to me at email@example.com.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.