United Methodist Church sets new date for conference expected to debate homosexuality stance

View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. | United Methodist News Service/Kathleen Barry

The United Methodist Church has finalized a new date for its next general conference, which was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

The Commission on the General Conference announced Tuesday that the denomination-wide legsilative gathering will take place Aug. 29–Sept. 7, 2021.

The venue will be the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, which was going to be the location for the originally scheduled General Conference.

Commission Chair Kim Simpson expressed regret that the new date was likely problematic for younger delegates, given how it falls around the start of the typical academic year.

“Including young adults in the General Conference is always an important consideration. We affirm that their voices need to be heard,” stated Simpson. “Unfortunately, this request did not come to the Commission until late in the process. By that time, the available dates were secured and any attempt to change the dates would endanger the carrying forward of the deposits to the newly agreed upon dates.”

Simpson also stated that finding a new date would require pushing the legislative gathering back to 2022, which would be detrimental to the overall operations of the UMC.

“To meet in 2021, if at all possible, is very important in the life of the church. Many things hinge on the dates for General Conference,” continued Simpson.

“Pushing it to 2022 affects budgets, jurisdictional conferences, central conferences, the election of bishops, bishops’ retirement dates, terms of office of general agency boards and elected denominational leadership, and more.”

Ordinarily, the UMC General Conference brings together the global denomination every four years, with the previous conference being held in 2016.

Over the past several years, the UMC has seen a great deal of divisive debate occur over its official stance on LGBT issues.

According to the UMC Book of Discipline, homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and it prohibits same-sex marriages and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

Increased resistance to the UMC rules by progressive United Methodists recently led to a theologically diverse group of leaders pledging their support for an amicable separation plan.

Known as the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” the measure would allocate $25 million for Methodists who support biblical sexual ethics to leave the UMC and form their own denomination.

Three annual conferences had voted to send the protocol to General Conference for consideration, with two of them also expressing their endorsement of the separation plan.

In March, the commission announced that it was going to postpone General Conference, acting in response to a letter by the UMC Council of Bishops asking for a delay.

“Newly imposed international travel restrictions to the U.S. are making it more difficult for our Central Conference delegates,” explained the letter, sent out earlier this year.

“Consideration must also be given to the grave risk resulting from international travel and meeting in a very large gathering with the potential spread of the virus when we are together.” 

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