A Guide to Reading the Commission on the Way Forward Status Report ©

A Way Forward … Thus Far: A Status Report on the Commission on a Way Forward has recently been released for sharing across the church.  I believe it potentially represents some excellent work on the part of the members of the Commission. The report is available as a PDF and as a video slide show presentation. As I went through the Report with Vance Morton, director of Communications & IT for the Central Texas Conference, he strongly urged both a greater communication on the subject and some explanation of the terms used, the purpose of this report, etc.  This is not meant as an advocacy blog, but rather as an attempt to help people understand some of the terms and references. I will share some personal comments at the end of this post.
  1. The Commission on the Way Forward was established by the Council of Bishops at the request of the 2016 General Conference. It is to review and make recommendations back to the both the General Conference at a Called Session in February 2019 and to the Council of Bishops on all matters related to The United Methodist Church’s deep division regarding human sexuality and LGBTQ. It is made up of both lay and clergy members from around the world.
  2. This is a status report NOT a listing of preliminary findings or recommendations.
  3. Context (and all its variations throughout the status report) are references to the different settings or mission fields that local churches, conferences and even nations find themselves in. By way of example, the context or mission field of a church in rural North Katanga (a Conference located in the Republic of the Congo) is dramatically different from the context or setting/mission field of a church in urban Los Angeles (U. S.) or one in suburban Berlin (Germany). Context includes the socio-economic setting, diversity and a multitude of other factors which can mean that churches physically near each other operate in very different ministry environments.  What may be considered culturally acceptable in one setting (or context) may be culturally unacceptable in another setting (or context).
  4. Slide #6 – The Anatomy of Peace is a reference to a book by The Arbinger Institute. The Arbinger Institute describes itself as "a global training and consulting firm that specializes in organizational transformation and conflict resolution.”  In conjunction with the work of The Commission on the Way Forward, the Council of Bishops has asked that all bishops read this book.
  5. Slide #8 is particularly instructive. It is important to understand that at this point (a shade less than halfway through their work as a Commission) we are being offered a look at a “sketch,” a very rough framework for a way forward.  The Commission notes:  “At this point, the Commission is sketching models with a pencil in one hand and an eraser in the other, improving and correcting until we have something more detailed and complete to share with the Council of Bishops and the church for feedback.”
  6. The reference to “The Colloquy at Emory” refers to an academic theological colloquy entitled “Missio Dei and the United States: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness,” which was recently hosted by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools (AUMTS). The gathering engaged United Methodist scholars (Seminary professors and academics) and some members of the Council of Bishops in deep learning about how to “reengage our Wesleyan heritage to participate in the Missio Dei” (the mission God has called us to).
  7. The reference to a “pre-1972 approach” in Slide #15 under the subheading “Context” refers to the structure of the United Methodist Church prior to the reorganization of the General Boards and Agencies, which took place after the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
Again, Here is the link to the PDF, and here is the link to the video version of status report from the Commission. Some Personal Observations:
  • This represents an immense amount of prayerful work on the part of the members of the Commission on a Way Forward. However else we respond, we should first express our gratitude for the faithful diligence of their efforts.  I ask all of us to continue to lift them in prayer.
  • Slide #7 - “What connects us now: Our Common Core” - is extremely significant. It represents a theological foundation crucial to whatever future the Lord may have in store for His church. Flushing out the meaning and implications of this theological foundation is particularly important. As the saying goes, “both God and the devil are in the details.”
  • Slides #9 - 13 contain some potentially radical implications: o   “A new church will not look like the current church.” o   “It may mean multiple versions of the Book of Discipline.” o   “Jesus’ call to unity may look like associations or affiliated churches.” o   “The way forward cannot be an extension of our path of conflict.” o   “We value pushing the pendulum toward looser on structure and contextualization and tighter on naming the essentials of theology and doctrine.
  • Slide #12 - “Our Global Context” - contains a wealth of insight that American United Methodists need to take prayerfully into consideration.
  • Slide #14 - “What We Have Learned” - is deeply significant and requires thought, conversation and prayer.
  • Structure and Finances on Slide #15 are critical. o   “We need enough structural freedom so that no one has to compromise their deeply held beliefs.” o   Issues involving the Pension Program cannot be ignored or wished away.  Liability is real.
There is more to be said, much more, but for now I invite a careful reading of this substantial status report from the Commission on the Way Forward.  I ask for your continued prayers for the Commission and the church as a whole. Here in the Central Texas Conference, we have tasks groups led by members of our General Conference Delegation, Cabinet and others working to set up systems and avenues where we can give feedback to the Commission.  This is part of a combined effort of the Council of Bishops and the Commission on the Way Forward.  More information will be shared this fall as the various task groups solidify their plans. For now and always!: “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,     when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.” Selah (Psalm 46:1-3)