During this season of change within The United Methodist Church, questions have emerged about who we are as the Minnesota Conference and how we will live together. Bishop Lanette Plambeck appointed a small task force and authorized its members to respond to the most frequently asked questions in a thoughtful and transparent manner. Task force members are: Rev. Bill Eaves (White Bear Lake UMC), Rev. Jin Hur (Fairmount Avenue UMC, St. Paul), Christa Meland (conference director of communications), Rev. Fred Vanderwerf (Southern Prairie District superintendent), Rev. Cynthia Williams (Twin Cities District superintendent), and Rev. Carol Zaagsma (Good Samaritan UMC, Edina). Their responses are below, grouped by category. The task force invites congregations to read through the responses, and to use the FAQs as a tool for their own discernment and reflection around the questions:
Is there a place for traditionalists in the continuing Minnesota UMC?
As a diverse body of Christ, of which you are a part, we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to and with all persons. The Minnesota Conference has set a path for its future. All who find themselves as active contributors in living into this vision are welcome here.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” The church is at its best when it celebrates the diversity of its many members while also recognizing that we are one body. Being in relationship with those who think differently is fundamental to a Wesleyan understanding of sanctifying grace.
John Wesley, in “The Character of a Methodist” said, “The distinguishing marks of a methodist are not his opinions of any sort.” Wesley then explains that “a methodist is one, who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto him: one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength” while adding later that, “he who loveth God, loves his brother also. And he accordingly loves his neighbor as himself; he loves every man as his own soul.”
The Minnesota Conference is committed to “inclusiveness in all aspects of the life of the Church, by embracing the richness of diversity found in sexual orientation, race, physical or mental ability, national origin, marital status, gender identity, ethnicity, economic status, and age” (aspirational vision adopted in 2019). This is one of four core values that inform our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We welcome all who see themselves in this vision and mission to continue on our shared journey.
Are we still a big tent in Minnesota?
We celebrate the diversity and complexity of our people who have found a home in our Wesleyan heritage and affirm that we can indeed live together, relishing the gifts that come with our diversity of experience and understanding. We assert that unity in the Spirit does not demand uniformity of thought. Even as we hold our doctrinal standards in common, our Wesleyan heritage reminds us that Christians are not called to be of one mind on all matters. In other words, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things charity.”
We remain a “big tent” in that we hold a diversity of viewpoints but remain siblings in Christ, grounded in our Wesleyan theology. The General Rules should guide us in our relationships with one another: do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God.
Do we still value scripture and our doctrine?
Yes! In fact, for a better understanding of United Methodist doctrine and regard for holy scripture, we commend to you the reading of our “Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task.” This section gives a rich history of doctrinal heritage, what we affirm with Christians everywhere, and our unique United Methodist theological distinctives. You will find that scripture, along with The Articles of Religion, The Confessions of Faith, The Standard Sermons of John Wesley, The Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, and The General Rules, inform our faith and our movement.
Further, as people of the Wesleyan tradition, we affirm that “the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” We believe that amid theological differences, United Methodists everywhere are ultimately seeking to be faithful to scripture and doctrine. It is this faithfulness that has led the conference to support the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people.
There are no current plans to amend our doctrinal standards in 2024 and The United Methodist Church has restrictive rules that would make such change extremely difficult.
Is it “brand” confusion when we have so many differing expressions of being a United Methodist Church?
Our brand is Jesus. Jesus frequently crossed boundaries and welcomed people from different walks of life; he had an expansive definition of inclusion. The United Methodist Church has a long tradition of providing a variety of ways to live out our faith. But we are united in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and what we have in common is that we’re all Christ followers in the Wesleyan tradition. In Minnesota, we are also united in our vision to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world. At the same time, we understand that faithful people come to different conclusions on theological and political matters and resolve to unite in love as John Wesley preached in his sermon on “Catholic Spirit,” in which he said: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.” In Minnesota, we have created space for each other’s beliefs and different ways of doing ministry that are relevant for our unique contexts.
What if I have a more traditional understanding of scripture? Will my conscience or conviction be understood as doing harm?
In our life together, we cling to the General Rules of doing no harm, doing good, and observing the ordinances of God, and assert that unity in the Spirit does not demand uniformity of thought. We value all people as created in the image of God, and doing no harm does insist “that we guard our lips, our minds, and our hearts so that neither our language nor our silence will disparage or hurt another child of God (Rueben Job, “Three Simple Rules,” p. 22). A Christ-like posture toward one another is what it takes to flourish in mission together. This means generously interpreting each other’s intentions rather than judging each other’s convictions; seeking to understand harm as is experienced by others; and offering grace when mistakes are made.
There is a tension between being inclusive of all people and keeping the door open wide and the threshold low. Does that perpetuate a harmful environment for the LGBTQIA+ community?
In our life together, we cling to the General Rule of doing no harm. We acknowledge that the gospel is for all and this truth thereby insists the door must be kept wide and at the same time we can covenant together to establish a high threshold as to how we live in relationship to one another with the intent to do no harm and to value all as precious children of God. A wide door increases access to Christ, and a high threshold honors the cost of discipleship and the privilege of being, working, and laboring together for the gospel. The Minnesota Conference has set a path for its future, and all who find themselves as active contributors in living into this vision are welcome here.
For those in non-dominant culture congregations, will the cultural norms and values from their countries of origin be honored?
We affirm our congregations’ desire to reflect the daily lived experiences of the people they are serving, and we celebrate the various cultural expressions throughout our conference that honor everyone and every one. One of our four core values as a conference is being inclusive of all persons; we affirm multi-cultural congregations' cultural traditions and values, and we seek to learn with and from them. Our cultural identities compel us to express the gospel in a myriad of ways, and we celebrate that diversity in our midst. The Minnesota Conference has set a path for its future, and all who find themselves as active contributors in living into this vision are welcome here.
How will we lead the annual conference toward living into and embodying our vision? In what ways will we go about engaging in this work?
Engaging in this work is already evident through the Appointive Cabinet’s Statement on Racial Justice, the Building Beloved Community Video Series, the Extended Cabinet Statement on LGBTQIA+ Inclusion, “The Wesleyan Way” 2023 conference-wide Lenten Study, the upcoming LLP retreat series featuring Wesleyan scholars, and the hiring of a full-time director of racial justice and equity. All of these actions undergird a Methodism that is rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation.
Bishop Lanette is aligned with and encouraged by the mission, vision, and values of the Minnesota Conference and will lead accordingly as one committed to a fully inclusive church. Her commitments, along with those of the Appointive Cabinet, were articulated January 26, 2023 in “How We Will Lead.”
We want to remember that we all comprise the Minnesota Conference, so we all have a role to play in living into and embodying our vision through our study, our alignment, our commitments, our words, our decisions and our actions.
Will I be compelled to preside over marriages that violate my conscience?
The current Book of Discipline says “the decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.” Context is important. In those places where pastors will not perform a same-sex marriage, they will, out of pastoral concern for the couple involved, seek out a pastor who will perform the ceremony and a setting in which their wedding can be celebrated.
As potential clergy are vetted for appointment in the Minnesota Conference going forward, what will it mean to be “in alignment with our values?”
Potential clergy will be asked about their commitment to The United Methodist Church and to serving as provisional, ordained, or licensed leaders within it. We affirm the prayerful discernment of our Board of Ordained Ministry, which, along with our conference leadership, has determined nine characteristics for evaluation of clergy. We support the Board of Ordained Ministry’s decision to evaluate candidates for commissioning, ordination, licensing, and candidacy on the basis of these characteristics alone.
Can a congregation expect an appointed clergyperson who aligns with their values?
The discernment of appointments begins with a conversation between the superintendent and a congregation’s Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) around the church’s ministry profile and pastoral needs. Superintendents seek to listen deeply for the leadership gifts and graces that will best serve the congregation and its mission field. Consideration is given for the unique situations of clergy and the context for congregations to ensure a missional match between pastor and people. The Appointive Cabinet works to ensure the healthiest alignment of clergy and churches toward our shared mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and our shared vision of growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world.
How will Bishop Lanette handle complaints against LGBTQIA+ clergy with regard to their identity and complaints against clergy who officiate at same-gender weddings?
Bishop Lanette is aligned with and encouraged by the mission, vision, and values of the Minnesota Conference and will lead accordingly as one committed to a fully inclusive church.
When do we take a vote?
Your congregation is United Methodist, and no vote is required to remain so. Only those congregations that have engaged in an intentional disaffiliation process will need to vote in order to disaffiliate. We are grateful that most congregations in the Minnesota Conference (more than 90 percent) will not move toward a vote to disaffiliate but rather will remain United Methodist. All of our congregations are embraced as a vital expression of our connection.
How many churches are disaffiliating in Minnesota? How many are staying?
Based on the information we have right now, we estimate as of today that fewer than 10 percent of churches will choose to disaffiliate from the Minnesota Conference. This means that the vast majority of churches–as of today more than 90 percent–will continue to make their home in our conference and journey with us as we seek to reach new people, grow in love of God and neighbor, and heal a broken world.
What happens after 2024? Is the plan to no longer welcome traditionalists or centrists at that point?
It’s impossible to predict what General Conference will decide in 2024, however there is no proposed legislation that, if passed, would prohibit traditionalists or centrists from being part of the United Methodist Church.
The Minnesota Conference has already determined its course for the future. We are rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation. Anyone who aligns with these values and is willing to work together to live into them is welcome in the Minnesota Conference.
What’s going to happen at the next General Conference? Do bishops or other denominational leaders know in advance what the outcomes will be?
The postponed 2020 General Conference is scheduled for April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
General Conference functions as a legislative body, and therefore tends to be political in that caucus groups from all perspectives typically organize beforehand to see how to achieve their desired outcomes. Even so, no one truly knows in advance what will happen at a General Conference. One of the best indicators of what might happen is to review legislation that has been submitted, and to watch and listen for support building for various proposals.
Legislation submitted in advance of the 2020 General Conference is available for download. The deadline for additional legislation is Sept. 6, 2023, and petitions submitted will be available for review sometime after that date.
Additional General Conference news can be found here.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
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