Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, released this statement following the April 26, 2019, rulings by the UMC Judicial Council on legislation approved at the 2019 General Conference:
The complex, often painful debate that has garnered so much of our time and energy over the past few years has reinforced that the United Methodist Church is far from consensus on matters of human sexuality.
The 2019 General Conference was called in hopes of bringing the church together in holy conferencing to find a place from which a people called Methodist could remain united in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Unfortunately, the actions taken in St. Louis in February – whether or not we agree with the outcome – have not brought us together and in many ways seem to be pushing us away from shared ministry.
That said, the General Conference is the only body that speaks for the church. The 2019 General Conference has made a decision, and I will uphold the Book of Discipline, as I vowed to do upon both my consecration as bishop and my ordination as elder.
This week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has ruled that the Minority Report on Disaffiliation, permitting the “gracious exit” of a local church, and most of the petitions that made up the Traditional Plan are constitutional. The Judicial Council upheld its previous rulings that seven of the 15 Traditional Plan petitions are unconstitutional and “null and void.”
As a bishop, I am called to lead with “a passion for the unity of the church.” (2016 Book of Discipline ¶403)
Diversity of thought and understanding is present among United Methodist clergy and laity across the South Carolina Conference. In May 2018, I entered into a covenant as a member of the Council of Bishops by which I committed myself to unity as a part of our consecration vows, rather than polarization and disunity among the body, and to creating a non-anxious presence in my leadership.
My heartfelt prayer is that, by leading in this way through this agonizingly divisive issue, I can continue to fulfill my role as “the shepherd of the whole flock, and thereby provide leadership toward the goal of understanding, reconciliation and unity within the Church.” (2016 Book of Discipline ¶403)
There is tremendous pain throughout the United Methodist Church because of the decisions of the General Conference. Those who hold convictions that the church’s stance on human sexuality must change are deeply disappointed, hurt, frustrated and angry. Those who support the General Conference’s decisions because of their own convictions are struggling with being labeled as judgmental and hateful.
What’s happening in our church is painful to me, as well. I believe that in the midst of our pain, we will see the opportunity that God has planned for us. In the midst of our hurting, we will see the possibility for healing.
I humbly ask all South Carolina United Methodists – whatever our differences – to stay in conversation, to focus on those things that unite us, and to remain steadfast in our mission as we walk together toward a future with hope.
Grace and Peace,
L. Jonathan Holston