By: Tara Barnes, Response Magazine
PEORIA, Illinois—The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) welcomed the North Central Jurisdiction to a breakfast and episcopal candidates’ forum on Wednesday at First United Methodist Church of Peoria.
“MFSA is the conscious of The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Laurie Haller, candidate for bishop from the West Michigan conference.
According to its mission, MFSA works to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive United Methodist movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. An unofficial United Methodist body, MFSA is accountable to its board of directors and supported by members and contributions.
All 17 episcopal nominees were present for the forum. Each nominee was presented the same question by the Rev. Luis Reyes, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Lombard, Illinois, who moderated.
“Our bishops have expressed widely diverse responses to charges filed against clergy who have violated currently disciplinary prohibitions against performing same-sex marriage ceremonies,” Reyes said. “One bishop has said that if 100 ceremonies are officiated, 100 church trials will occur. Other bishops have encouraged just resolutions that are witness to grace, mercy and justice. Describe the approach you will take if a complaint is brought against one of your pastors.”
The candidates’ answers ranged from active non-conformity with discriminatory language in The Book of Discipline to trusting the process of church trials to bring grace and understanding. All candidates expressed a desire to reach a just resolution before going to trial.
Each candidate was given a chance for an introductory statement and to answer the question posed. One final question each candidate was given one minute to answer touched on the future of the denomination—whether The United Methodist Church will separate or find a way to remain unified.
“Some leaders within our church have suggested that the time has come to move toward separation into multiple denominations. This will continue to influence life within our annual conferences for the next several years,” Reyes said. “Describe your approach as an episcopal leader within a jurisdiction that reflects a diversity of theological and scriptural understanding.”
No candidate encouraged separation; all expressed that remaining a united church was a top priority.
“‘Bishops shall have a passion for unity,’” said candidate the Rev. David Bard. “It says that in paragraph 403,” referring both to The Book of Discipline and a question posed to him the night before during the Black Methodists for Church Renewal forum. “And I do have a passion for the unity of the church.”
“I am passionate about maintaining the unity of the church,” said the Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone, endorsed, among others, by the United Methodist Women of the Northern Illinois Conference. “I do believe, that as the Church, we can find a way to exist. We were all baptized in the same waters. If we could not see one another as opponents, as enemies, but as the Beloved Community of God, we can begin to not just lead with the law of the Church but with the heart of what it means to be the Church than we can remain together.”
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