Methodists raise concern about opposing petitions in upcoming special session on LGBT members

The First United Methodist Church on Jefferson Street, Iowa City, Iowa is featured in this image. | Wikimedia Commons/Zachary Roper

Methodists are expressing concern that the upcoming special session on sexuality would be slowed down by opposing petitions, similar to the ones that resulted in the creation of a new commission to address the issue in 2016.

According to Religion News Service, the denomination's Judicial Council has issued a decision on Friday, allowing clergy, lay member or any organization that belonged to the United Methodist Church to submit petitions that will be considered at the special session.

The United Methodists are scheduled to address the issue of same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT priests in a special session of the denomination's General Conference in February 2019. Some members were concerned that the upcoming meeting would be stuck on the issue if petitions are submitted by opposing camps.

"That is certainly a major concern — that the body gets so bogged down with rules and procedure and questions and points of order that the body doesn't make any kind of determination," said Stephanie Henry, rules committee chair for Commission on General Conference, as reported by Religion News Service.

The Judicial Council has stressed in its decision that the petitions must be "in harmony with the purpose" of the special session.

The bishops' call for a special session maintained that the purpose of the event is "limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward."

The Commission was reportedly set up during the 2016 conference in Portland to deal with all discussions about sexuality after the church found itself sharply divided over the issue.

At least 56 legislative petitions, including those dealing with ordination of gay clergy and same-sex marriage, were reportedly submitted during the 2016 conference.

The Commission came up with three proposals â€” The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan — to resolve disagreements on the issue of sexuality.

Earlier this month, the Council of Bishop endorsed the One Church Plan, which allows individual pastors and regional bodies to decide whether to conduct same-sex weddings or ordain homosexual clergy.

The Council's recommendation will reportedly be included in the bishops' report to the special session.

The bishops had reportedly asked the Judicial Council to decide whether delegates at the special session would consider additional petitions apart from responding to their report.

John Lomperis, who serves as the denomination's director for the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, said that he was "very happy" by the ruling issued by the Judicial Council on Friday.

He said that he was worried that limiting the special session to the bishops' report would allow a "liberal majority faction within the United Methodist bishops to dictate what sorts of thing we delegates could or could not decide in 2019."

Henry said that she was not surprised by the Judicial Council's ruling, but she expressed disappointment that the court had not provided more guidance on what is considered to be "in harmony" with the purpose of the session.