Bishop Ough: 4 thoughts on unity, trust, connection, and context

May 18, 2016

By: Christa Meland

On Wednesday, the General Conference body decided to adopt a recommendation from the Council of Bishops to delay a debate on homosexuality until a proposed commission can study church regulations—and to have a special General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to deal with such proposals.

The bishops asked for the body’s permission to name a special commission that would completely examine and possibly recommend revisions of every paragraph in the Book of Discipline related to human sexuality. The commission would represent the different regions of a denomination on four continents as well as the varied perspectives of the church.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough presented the recommendation to the full body on Wednesday morning on behalf of the Council of Bishops. Afterward, he answered questions in a press conference. Here are four of the key things he shared about unity, trust, connection, and context:

Finding common ground: “There is very honest, candid conversations going on and I think a growing awareness within the entire council that we have to come together even though we may have very strong opinions, very strong values, we have different cultural contexts…Having a conversation about how we can be a unified church with some local, regionalized expressions is what’s carrying the day. Our heart is to be a people that remain united for the sake of the mission. I think we believe in Jesus’ prayer that the church would be united for the sake of the witness.”

Implications: “[The Council of Bishops has] had some conversations about not only what happens if there are churches that feel like the only way to remain faithful is to leave…we’ve also had conversations about what happens with those churches that who engaged in ministries in a profound way with gay, lesbian, transgender folks who also feel like if it’s hurtful they need to leave. We’ve talked about the whole spectrum…Have we gone as far as we need to go in those conversations? The answer is no. What we’ve offered to the church is a process for how we can engage more deeply in those conversations…We also anticipate that the council has to continue those conversations. What are the implications of a whole variety of scenarios, and how do we lead the church through a whole variety of scenarios?”
Building trust: “Being perceived or viewed as trustworthy all flows from I think having integrity in the statements we offer, being genuine in those statements, and then being consistent in our follow-through. I think one of the reasons that there’s a lot of distrust is that we currently do have a Discipline that’s very clear about these matters, and that some people in church perceive those to be very, very hurtful. And others perceive them to be actions that give us identity and definition. And I think trust starts to break down when we say, ‘This is our position,’ but it doesn’t always get reflected in all of our actions…We will not rebuild trust until there’s some way for every individual United Methodist and every individual bishop to be able to have a place to say, ‘I am speaking with integrity and I am acting with integrity,’ but we don’t have that right now.”
Connection and context: “There are a couple of really key pillars to who we are as United Methodist people. One is our connection and our connectionality, and how do we affirm that we are all connected across things that we agree upon, including our Discipline? And at the same time there’s a principle of locality, and that is, how do we remain contextual and therefore relevant in all places? Both are important and both need to find some affirmation.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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