UMC Lead Bishop Tells Both Sides of Homosexuality Debate to Be Open to 'Changing One's Mind' to Avoid Schism

Delegates meet at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. | (Photo: Facebook/United Methodist General Conference)

The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops president has urged his fellow church leaders to be open to "changing one's mind" on the homosexuality debate to avoid schism.

"Let's be open to Christ changing our minds. Let's show the world what unity in the Body of Christ looks like," Bishop Bruce R. Ough said Sunday at a four-day Council of Bishops meeting in Dallas, Texas.

Ough referenced the special General Conference that will be held in 2019 aimed at resolving the mainline denomination's internal debate over LGBT issues.

"Let us practice the Lenten discipline of listening to God and one another to the point of dying to ourselves," stated Ough.

"Let us practice the Lenten discipline of self-emptying, letting go of the positions we came here to defend and the battles we are plotting to wage in this Council or the Judicial Council or on the floor of the Special General Conference."

Ough also urged the bishops to "help our people empty themselves of their fear of the future and their fear of a changed church."

"Let's help our people empty themselves of their obsession for security. Let's not hinder or harm one another," concluded Ough.

Over the past several years, there has been increasing debate within the UMC over the church's official stance as recorded in the Book of Discipline stating that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Every four years, the global denomination has debated removing the language, with delegates voting down the proposed measures to make the UMC more accepting of homosexual behavior.

At the 2016 General Conference, delegates approved the creation of a "Commission on a Way Forward," which seeks to resolve the debate without resorting to schism.

In his address on Sunday, Ough confessed that his "mind is made up on so many things."

"I am conditioned to stay on the map. I am suspicious or afraid of the guides who live and minister on the margins. I am becoming increasingly risk-averse. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness of our denomination's battle over homosexuality, the picture in my mind of home — of a vital, growing, healthy movement of God — is growing dim with frustration and fatigue," he said.

But he called on fellow Methodists to "go off the map into unknown territory."

"Let's not hinder or harm one another. Let's take our people off the map," the North Dakota native said.

"There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of United Methodist laity and pastors among us who are discovering how to move beyond a 'single-story' narrative or a 'church-dividing' narrative on human sexuality, while maintaining a clear, theologically grounded, integral sexual ethic and a passionate, effective evangelical mission, particularly to younger generations." 

Ough's message to the Council of Bishops comes as an Ohio UMC pastor is facing a possible defrocking for entering a same-sex marriage.

Next week, the UMC North Central Jurisdictional Committee will hold a hearing for the Rev. David Meredith, senior pastor of Clifton United Methodist Church in Ohio, over his 2016 marriage to a man.

Last year, the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled 6–3 that the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, a practicing lesbian, to oversee the Mountain Sky Area of the UMC violated the Church's ban on noncelibate homosexual clergy. 

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