By ED TOMLINSON
At every General Conference since 1972, much energy has been expended in discussing the section on Human Sexuality in the Book of Discipline. The “incompatible with Christian teaching” statement, the prohibition on same-sex marriages, and the exclusion of self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordination have consistently been reviewed. While things seem a little quieter in the run-up to General Conference this time, it is certain the issues will garner much attention again.
Multiple petitions have been submitted to the two legislative committees on Church and Society. Some wish to remove the aforementioned incompatibility statement and others want to make it more stringent. There are those persons who advocate same-sex marriages and individuals who want to make punishment stronger for any who choose to disobey the prohibition. Likewise, some individuals and groups call for ordination of homosexual persons and others make plans for what will happen if changes that alter the current stance do or do not occur.
The conversations are painful to people on both sides of the issues. No discussions attract more attention of the press. The deep disagreements and inflammatory aspects feed the interest. Regretfully, the reporting has not always been accurate. Incorrect or incomplete information has been communicated and people have reacted in error. There are three sources where one might find the most accurate information: Our denominational website (www.umc.org), our Conference website (www.ngumc.org), and the North Georgia Advocate (www.ngumc.org/advocate).
Yes, there are always persons who are frustrated that the General Conference allows these issues to be opened. Others try to raise consciousness and persuade delegates to make noteworthy alterations. Current information predicts little, if any, change in the aforementioned stances but significant deliberation in the process.
Nestled in the considerations of Church and Society Legislative Committee B are two petitions (not directly related to the discussions noted above) submitted by North Georgians. One indicates that sexual assault is not explicitly condemned in the Book of Discipline. It adds a paragraph that begins, “Sexual assault is wrong. We affirm the right of all people to live free from such assaults, encourage efforts of law enforcement to prosecute such crimes and condemn rape in any form . . .” The rationale reads in part, “The FBI estimates a woman is raped in the U.S. every two minutes. Rape is used as a political and social engineering tool by governments and religions. It is time to condemn this vicious crime unequivocally.”
Another petition addresses the “Responsible Parenthood” resolution. It strikes the “mental capability” reference to the unborn child. The rationale states, “A Christian church should not support the possibility of a child’s having mental retardation or another disability being used as a reason for abortion. This is completely inconsistent with our Church’s defending the equal humanity of the disabled. . .”
It is completely clear that the two Church and Society Legislative Committees (A and B) will deal with issues where we have long had disagreement. Prayers for divine guidance, patience, wisdom, and even stamina are in order for these committee members and for the plenary session of General Conference.
Ed Tomlinson has been elected as a clergy delegate to four General Conferences. In 2004, he served as Chairperson of the General Administration Legislative Committee which formed the Connectional Table. He is a current director of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and a member of the Church Systems Task Force formed by action of the 2008 General Conference.