United Methodists across the Dakotas and Minnesota engage in conversations about A Way Forward

Posted on November 6, 2017

More than 1300 United Methodists from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota have been in conversation with Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, about the work of the Commission on A Way Forward. Ough held 15 gatherings at local churches in September and October.

Above: Bishop Bruce R. Ough visits with small discussion groups during his "Conversation on a Way Forward" at Fargo Calvary UMC on October 29, 2017. Photos by Dave Stucke.

The 2016 General Conference called upon the Council of Bishops to guide The United Methodist Church in finding a “way forward” through the four-decade-long divide we have had on the matter of homosexuality. As a result, the Council formed a Commission on A Way Forward to assist the bishops with this task. The Commission will make its final report to the Council of Bishops in May 2018 and the Council, in turn, will make its recommendation to a called session of the General Conference in February 2019.

The gatherings informed participants about deliberations and progress of the Commission.  It was also a chance for those attending to share thoughts and ask questions about the church's position regarding homosexuality.

The debate about homosexuality has been around since 1972.  It reached new height and tension at the 2016 conference when word of schism was imminent.  Ough described the conflict this way at the gathering held at Fargo Calvary UMC. “We can’t perpetuate the current conflict over polity and the LGBTQ community. I have been in ministry for over 40 years defending and teaching our polity. It is hard. We must place our trust in God and each other. The Commission has been given the authority and space to imagine a different church,” Ough told over 160 participants. Photo: Rev. Randy Cross discusses a Way Forward with two participants during small group time at Fargo Calvary UMC.

The Commission is focusing their work on mission, unity, and flexibility. Ough told those attending that, “Our work is to focus on the mission of the church—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  We need to maximize the witness of the church.  When the dust settles, we hope that the recommendations advance the witness, the missio dei—the mission, of the church.”

Unity defined by the core theology of The United Methodist Church. The Commission shares John 15: Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches” as a key scripture that shapes unity of the church.  “The words of John Wesley, ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can,’ shape our United Methodist witness. These words, the Nicene Creed, the Wesley hymns, are the core that binds us, the branches, to the vine, The United Methodist Church,” stated Ough. Photo: Participants during small group time at Fargo Calvary UMC.

The 32-member Commission is a very diverse body with members from all across the globe, bishops, clergy, and laity. The members represent a broad spectrum of views on the interpretations of homosexuality and Christian teaching.  The task before them is to make recommendations that expand the mission, maintain as much unity as possible but allow for flexibility to contextualize the Gospel.

“We have given them a difficult task to see if they can work with all of the dynamics,” said Ough. “What would it look like to have more contextual interpretations?  Contextual interpretation happens in Central conferences but not in North America.”

Ough shared several resources with participants at each of the gatherings including a video, PowerPoint, and four books—Unafraid and Unashamed, by Wil Cantrell, Is it Time?, by Adolf Hansen, Finding Our Way, edited by Bishop Rueben P. Job and Neil M. Alexander, Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease, by David N. Field.

“Buckle your seatbelts, because what is coming is a church that will not be the same,” said Ough. “The day after the 2019 General Conference, I am going to go back to work and get busy doing what God is calling us to do. God will still be God. God will be faithful. There will still be people that need to be fed.”  Photo: Bishop Ough asking questions during his meeting with United Methodists at Fargo Calvary UMC on October 29, 2017.