The following FAQs are intended to provide Central Texas Conference clergy and lay leadership with accurate and concise information to assist in responding to questions from church members and guests, their local community, members of the press* and other interested parties. As such, the content offered below is presented as brief responses and bulleted talking points vs. full and comprehensive details and nuance. Links to resources of more information will be provided whenever possible for those who wish to dive deeper into a subject.
The document will be updated as necessary and available. Please return often to the conference website (www.ctcumc.org/GC19-FAQ) for updates, and send any questions regarding the FAQ to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Please note that if you are contacted by and choose to respond to questions from a member of the media (television, radio, print, social media/blogger), that you should be clear that your responses represent you and/or the official position of your church. Any questions related to your district, the conference or the denomination should be referred to the Central Texas Conference Director of Communications (email@example.com / 817-877-5222).
Who is coming to General Conference - is this just a U.S.-only event?
864 delegates and many more observers from around the world will gather at the Dome at America’s Center, Feb. 24-26, for the Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference. The General Conference is the only body that speaks officially for the 12.6 million
Does GC19 begin on Feb. 23 or 24?
General Conference 2019 will officially open at 7:30 a.m., Sunday, February 24, with a worship service. Preaching will be Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., president of the Council of Bishops. The day preceding the start of General Conference, February 23, has been designated as a day of preparation and prayer as a culmination of the Praying Our Way Forward initiative (see schedule here).
During the three-day session, 864 delegates from around the world will consider 78 legislative petitions, all of which must receive a vote in the single legislative committee. All those approved by the legislative committee must receive a plenary vote.
How can I watch what's going on during the conference?
The event will be available via live video streaming at UMC.org/live. Plenary sessions and legislative committee meetings of the General Conference are open to the public. Guest and observer registration is required to attend the General Conference sessions. Registration desks will be located inside Entry B of the Dome at America’s Center. On-site registration opens on February 22 at 2 p.m. There is a suggested badge fee of $10 for on-site registration to offset the costs of the credentialing process. Pre-registered guests may pick up their badges at the registration desk.
Is The United Methodist Church going to split?
While schism is possible, actions taken by General Conference 2019 will redefine our present United Methodist connection. We pray for the unity of the church in its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. The call (or purpose) of the 2019 General Conference is to find a way for the church to move forward from our current and long-standing impasse concerning human sexuality and to explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.
What is going to happen to my church? What should I be doing to prepare?
Until the General Conference takes action, there is little way of knowing how much or how little the actions taken, or not taken, by General Conference 2019 will affect the local churches of the Central Texas Conference.
No matter what happens, our intent is to remain completely focused on and actively pursuing our Wildly Important Goal (WIG) to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our ministries will continue. The church of Jesus Christ will go on. As Bishop Lowry likes to say, “Breathe Deep. Jesus is still Lord!”
There is something very important and powerful you can do before, during and after General Conference – pray. Pray for the General Conference, the bishops, the delegates, the support staff, the church in general and your local church. Visit www.ctcumc.org/prayforward2019
for more on how you can Pray Our Way Forward.
What is the General Conference?
The General Conference is the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church. It is the only body that officially speaks for The United Methodist Church. The General Conference meets every four years (or upon call, as with the upcoming February conference). The last meeting was in Portland, Oregon in 2016, with the next one scheduled for 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
If the General Conference is every 4 years, why is it meeting in 2019 instead of waiting until 2020?
The 2016 General Conference, after much discussion, debate and deadlock over the issues of human sexuality, made a formal request of the Bishops of the UMC to find a way to lead us forward on this issue that promotes the unity and mission of the Church. As part of their response to that request, the bishops called this Special General Conference.
Why has a Special Session of the General Conference been called?
In response to the request of the 2016 General Conference, the bishops formed the Commission on A Way Forward (32 persons from around the globe who represented various positions on the issues of human sexuality) to research, prayerfully consider and recommend a way or ways forward for the church to consider.
What exactly was the mandate of the Commission on A Way Forward? The 32-member Commission of clergy and laity was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to conduct a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016 concerning human sexuality and to explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. The Commission was directed to prepare recommendations to present to the Council of Bishops that would be forwarded to a called session of General Conference.
Is General Conference 2019 voting on whether LGBTQ+ persons would be allowed to worship in and/or participate in the ministries of The United Methodist Church?
No. All people are welcome in worship and encouraged to participate in the ministries of the United Methodist Church. Ministry to, with and for LGBTQ+ will continue. This meeting and the topics to be discussed are NOT about the Church’s desire or commitment to love, include, worship with, minister to, serve with and be in community with LGBTQ+ persons.
What does LGBTQ+ stand for?
The "LGBTQ" part of the LGBTQ+ acronym is formed based on the following terms: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. The expanded acronym LGBTQQIA+ is also widely used - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people. LGBTQ is the more commonly used term. The "plus" stands for love, acceptance and the embracing of all.
What will be discussed and debated at General Conference 2019?
The three primary questions are:
1. How will the United Methodist Church define a Christian marriage? Is it a union between a man and a woman or a union of two adults? (currently the Book of Discipline defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman - ¶161.C)
2. Will same-gender weddings be allowed in the local churches of The United Methodist Church and/or be officiated by UMC clergy? (current church law forbids same-gender wedding to take place in local church buildings/campuses and/or be officiated by UMC clergy)
3. Will the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing” homosexual persons be allowed? (current church law does not allow such ordination).
How will the issues above be considered by the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference?
The Commission on a Way Forward commission will present to delegates of the Special Session of the General Conference three prayerfully and thoughtfully considered plans, each of which propose a different way forward. Those plans are known as The One Church Plan, The Traditional Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan (see bulleted summary of each below).
What is the way forward as proposed by the One Church Plan?
In a nutshell, the One Church Plan proposal:
· Allows conferences, local churches and clergy to make decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons.
· Definition of “marriage” changes from “a man and a woman” to “two adults.”
· Congregations control how facilities are used – same as today but would now have the ability to allow same-gender weddings.
· Pastors retain the right to decide for whom they will or will not officiate a wedding (as has been and currently is the case) but would now be allowed to officiate same-gender weddings if they so choose.
· Clergy Session of Annual Conference would still determine who will or will not get ordained but self-avowed, practicing homosexual persons would now be eligible for ordination.
· Bishops will have the right to decide who they will or will not ordain. If they are unwilling to ordain an “avowed, practicing homosexual,” another bishop will perform the ordination.
· Decisions on the issues of human sexuality moves from General Conference to the Annual Conference and local church levels
What is the way forward as proposed by the Traditional Plan?
In a nutshell, the Traditional Plan proposal:
· Retains the current UMC Book of Discipline Language regarding human sexuality and the existing definition of marriage.
· Encourages enhanced levels of accountability and enforcement for persons, churches or conferences that actively defy church law.
· Provides a Gracious Exit plan for persons, churches who, in good conscience can no longer continue their ministry under this plan.
What is the way forward as proposed by the Connectional Conference Plan?
In a nutshell, the Connectional Conference Plan proposal:
· Creates three (3) Connectional Conferences, each with clearly defined values and/or theology – as an example A Progressive/Liberal Conference UMC, A Traditional/Conservative Conference UMC and A Moderate Conference UMC.
· Eliminates the five (5) U.S. Jurisdictions – the CTC is currently in the South-Central Jurisdiction.
· Each Annual Conference determines its affiliation with one of the three created Connectional Conferences.
· Annual Conferences will initially follow their existing Jurisdictions into the Connectional Conference selected by the Jurisdiction but may choose to join a different Connectional Conference by tacking action by July 31, 2021.
· Local Churches have the option to join a Connectional Conference different from the one chosen by the Annual Conference – i.e. if the CTC votes to join the Moderate Conference, but a church in the CTC decides it cannot be a part of that conference, it may join one of the other two.
· Local Churches will initially follow their existing Annual Conference into the Connectional Conference selected by the Conference but may choose to join a different Connectional Conference by tacking action by July 1, 2022.
· Clergy may choose to join another Connectional Conference - i.e. if the CTC votes to join the Moderate Conference, a clergy person may join one of the other two conferences if she/he cannot serve in good faith – even if the church the clergy currently serves decides to stay with the conference or votes to move to one of the other two conference different from the preference of the clergy.
· This plan requires multiple amendments to the existing UMC Constitution
Are any or all of the three proposed plans “written in stone” or will General Conference have the opportunity to amend the plans?
The delegates of General Conference will have the opportunity to discuss, debate and amend any proposal duly put forth.
If General Conference decides on a plan, when will it take affect?
Typically, actions taken by General Conference do not go into effect until January 1 of the next calendar year (so in this case, Jan. 1, 2020). However, General Conference could vote to change the start date.
Is General Conference 2019 required to vote on one of these plans – or an amended version?
The Conference is not required to approve or adopt any of the three plans – or any plan. However, it must take action on each petition duly presented to the body.
What happens if no action on A Way Forward is approved?
The church will move forward under the current provisions as stated in the 2016 Book of Discipline.
Did the COB recommend one of the plans?
By a majority vote (37-24), the Council of Bishops decided to recommend The One Church Plan. However, there are differing views among the Bishops as to the best way forward.
Which plan does the Central Texas Conference support?
The Central Texas Conference has not endorsed any of the three plans.
What is Bishop Lowry’s position on these issues?
Bishop Lowry conducted 10 different meetings in all five of the districts on this subject last fall. During those meetings he very thoughtfully laid out his position. While he is on record as supporting the traditional view/definition of Christian Marriage and opposes the ordination of practicing homosexual persons, he is adamant about the United Methodist Church being open and welcoming to all people.
Who will represent the Central Texas Conference at the 2019 General Conference?
The clergy and lay members of the2017 Central Texas Annual Conference voted to keep the clergy and lay delegates to the 2016 General Conference in place as our official representatives/delegation to GC19. Please visit https://www.ctcumc.org/CTCDelegation-2019
to see who is on the delegation and how to contact them.