Hinesville First United Methodist Church welcomed 275 people to Thursday’s forum on human sexuality. Members of 88 Methodist churches from across Georgia’s coastal district, which stretches from St. Marys to the Savannah area, gathered to discuss “a way forward” on the issues of same sex marriage and the potential ordination of gay ministers.
“I was so proud of our church members,” Rev. Dave Hanson said. “They were such good hosts.”
Bishop Lawson Bryan, resident bishop of the South Georgia Area of the United Methodist Church, facilitated the Way Forward meeting.
“Our gathering in Hinesville is one of hundreds being held all over the world as United Methodists engage in prayer and discernment in preparation for the special called session of General Conference,” Bryan said in a news release.
General Conference is the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church, according to umc.org. Methodists will meet to consider proposals regarding church unity and homosexuality at a special General Conference set for Feb. 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. This large scale conference will take place after many district-wide forums, such as the one at Hinesville’s First United Methodist Church, are held. In 2016, church leaders formed a Commission on a Way Forward “to examine and possibly revise every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality,” according to umc.org.
Methodists at the locally held forum were encouraged to ask questions and share their concerns as church leaders begin the process of weighing three plans for moving forward on these issues.
The first plan, One Church, would, “have the denomination recognize that marriage is between two adults, not necessarily between one man and one woman. It would allow pastors to decide whether or not to preside at same-sex weddings, and it would give local churches the right to decide whether or not same-sex weddings could take place in their sanctuaries. Finally, it would allow annual conferences to decide whether or not to ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” according to information handed out at the forum.
The second plan, Connectional Conference, would create three branches of the church. Each branch would, “have a significant degree of autonomy when it comes to sexual ethics, teachings on marriage and ordination standards.” The three branches would operate under a unified Council of Bishops and receive support from numerous church boards and agencies.
The Traditional Plan is the most orthodox option suggested by church leaders. United Methodist clergy would be prohibited from presiding at same-sex weddings, and same-sex weddings would not be allowed on United Methodist property. Likewise, “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals would not be eligible for ordination in the United Methodist Church.”
The discussion was governed by “Heart Principles”: H, Hear and understand me; E, Even if you disagree, please don’t make me wrong; A, Acknowledge the greatness within me; R, Remember to look for my loving intentions; and T, Tell me the truth with compassion.
Methodists, no matter their views on same-sex marriage or the ordination of gay ministers, are asked to adhere to the belief that human rights and civil liberties are “due all persons” regardless of sexual orientation, according to umc.org.