By Fred Koenig
Immediately following the South Central Jurisdiction meeting of General Conference delegates Bishop Farr launched into a statewide tour of regional conversations, beginning with the Gateway and Southeast Districts.
He wasn’t playing to an empty room. The first round of sessions saw almost 500 people and 127 churches. He was glad to see people so willing to learn more and be engaged, even if the topic was one he would have rather not have to address.
“I’m not totally comfortable talking about sexuality in front of hundreds of people. We didn’t talk about this in the house I grew up in,” Bishop Farr said when speaking at the regional conversation at First UMC in Dexter on October 11. “My mother is 80, and she can’t believe I’m standing here talking about this today.”
But the United Methodist Church has been talking about how the church relates to people who are homosexual since 1972, when Bishop Farr was 13 years old. Back then he wasn’t aware it was an issue.
Later in life when he was a pastor he thought the discussion around the issue was just a distraction, taking away from the focus on the mission of the church of making disciples. He has now come to see it as something more, and knows the issue needs to be addressed. He encouraged people to read again the book of Acts, and they will see how the church has struggled with issues regarding how it functions in the world we live in since the beginning of the church. In those days the debate may have been more around a topic such as what is permissible to eat, but opposing sides still had strong feelings about what course should be taken.
“My biggest fear is that people will make a decision too soon on what they think they know,” Bishop Farr said. “On February 26 (the last day of the Special Session), we’ll only probably be halfway through the decision-making process. Nothing will begin to implement until 2020.”
The issues before Special Session that have now created nearly 100 petitions (proposals to change the United Methodist Book of Discipline) relate to what is has generally been referred to human sexuality issues. Stripped down to the very basics, the primary issues of divisions come down to whether LGBTQ people may serve as United Methodist clergy, whether United Methodist clergy may conduct same-sex weddings and whether or not those weddings can take place on United Methodist property. The session does not seek to have everyone come take the same position on issues related to homosexuality, but rather how the church can remain in ministry together without agreeing on these issues.
The Commission on a Way Forward was given the following considerations to do their work:
- Maximize the presence of the United Methodist witness to as many people as possible.
- Allow as much contextualization as possible.
- Proves for as much unity as possible.
Bishop Farr talked the group through a summary of the details of the three proposed plans, which took about an hour. The three plans can be found in the full 93-page report from the Commission on the Way Forward at www.umc.org.
Rev. Ron Beaton of First UMC Dexter asked Bishop Farr what would happen if none of the proposed plans passed at the Special Session. Bishop Farr said that would probably mean that the same issues would be addressed at General Conference in 2020, and there would probably be some congregations on both sides of the issue that would seek to leave the denomination.
Robby Calvert of Ellsinore UMC asked if the plans were scripturally based. Bishop Farr replied that they were, and said scriptural references could be found in the full text of the plans.
In Bishop Farr’s first week of his regional conversations he spoke with about 115 people at Wentzville UMC, 135 at Webster Hills UMC, 60 at Lafayette Park UMC, 85 at Farmington UMC, 70 at First UMC Dexter, and 105 at Centenary UMC in Cape Girardeau. The conversations resume on October 30. To see the schedule and locations, go to www.moumethodist.org/events.
Bishop Farr said he sees great ministry taking place through United Methodist Churches as he travels around Missouri, and he remains hopeful that through the process before us the United Methodist Church may strengthen it’s witness and begin to reach more people to make disciples for the transformation of the world. He is also hopeful that the United Methodist Church can serve as an example to the rest of the world how differences can be worked through amicably.
“Perhaps this is our chance as United Methodist to show the world we can disagree and be one,” Bishop Farr said.