Shared Responses to General Conference 2016


Many of us are processing the events of the last two weeks in Portland. Here we gather responses from clergy in our Rio Texas Conference and elsewhere in Texas.  Send additional responses to 


by Rev. Dr. Sid Hall
Senior Pastor of Trinity Church of Austin

Our divide is over much more than whether the UMC will treat LGBTQ Methodists by the same standards as straight Methodists.

Our divide is over whether the government or women should be in charge of their own bodies.

Our divide is over whether our long-standing positions on divestment of governments that do not respect human rights will continue to be upheld.

It is a battle of what Wesley called “the catholic spirit,” made plain in the efforts to dismantle the Wesleyan Quadrilateral , asking whether Scripture will continue to be wrestled with through Reason, Tradition, and Experience, or whether our Methodist practice will cling to a literal interpretation of the bible.

Our divide is significant and that is becoming clearer and clearer.

by Rev. Fred W. Kandeler
Retired UMC Clergy associated with Travis Park UMC in San Antonio

One of my college philosophy professors held that if you expect the worst, then you will be pleased. A cynical stance toward life. Yes, but for me, a misfit, progressive Christian in the United Methodist Church, a way to approach the 2016 General Conference without opening myself to being devastated. I expected the worst, namely, the final take-over of our denomination by our traditionalists. Since that worst case scenario has been delayed for another two to four years, so I should be pleased. I am not pleased, for in reality, I no longer think that a way forward exists for the UMC. As I reflect on 2016GC, I identify these two primary reasons for my position:

1) Our Bishops at GC2016 only offered a way backward not a way forward. While the particulars are a bit different, this same approach was used, for example, in 1988. The result was not change, healing or real unity, only the General Conference’s voting down of the study committee’s recommendations that meant continued rejection of our GLBTQ community. The votes for making the necessary changes to the Discipline to rid our denomination of discrimination against GLBTQ persons were still not available at 2016GC. Clearly, they will not be available whenever the new approved study committee reports to General Conference.

2) Unity with diversity is no longer a real option for the UMC. Given the great divide in our church on issues of human sexuality, biblical interpretation, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, orthodoxy, and our status as global church, our UMC traditionalists have made it clear that they do not want to be in a church that is diverse. They have said so and taken action on their convictions. They have the votes to keep eliminating diversity, as evidenced by their continuing assault on the UMC’s social justice ministries. Therefore, no holy conversations are necessary for them, nor possible with them.

Of course, I know that a positive spin has to be put on the adoption of the Bishop’s “A Way Forward,” by our progressive leadership. When our progressive leaders do not want official schism on their watch, and when they do not have any alternative plan for the future, if official schism does happen, the only glimmer of hope is what they point to: the Spirit possibly working through the processes of a new study commission to find a way to avoid schism. Also, since we are hoping, maybe the Council of Bishops will find a way to lessen the harm being done to GLBTQ members and clergy (and their support communities) during the interim.

What else could our progressive leaders say after nearly having to face the final takeover of our denomination, if not for 20+ votes in favor of the Bishops’ plan. What else could they say that might help stem the immediate flow of more progressives out of UMC membership disappointed that “NOW” was not the time for change and justice. Disappointed for, not in, our progressive leaders, organizations and volunteers, I deeply appreciate all the dedicated and faithful work at GC2016 and their trying to do their best with what’s left for the immediate future.

Prior to the 2008GC in Fort Worth, I was serving on the board of MFSA and was invited to attend an “unofficial summit of UMC progressives” meeting in Chicago. I risked sharing that rather than continuing our struggle within the UMC with our traditionalists, I preferred to start a movement to create a new progressive denomination in the U.S. (with a stress on ecumenical options). I wanted us to take what is best from our UMC/Wesleyan heritage and tradition and join others in a new spiritual community centered on living more fully Jesus’ “kin_dom” of unconditional love and justice. I wasn’t laughed out of the room, but politely told that no one wanted to stop the fight and let the other side win and take our church from us. Now eight years later, we know where that continued struggle has led us, namely, to the brink of disaster.

I continue to affirm the option of UMC progressives working to creating a new denomination, trusting that this is way the Spirit is calling us in light of the realities of the 2016 General Conference. This is my hope.

by Rev. Dr. Paul L. Escamilla
Senior Pastor of Saint John’s UMC in Austin

Portland left many of us feeling a profound mixture of sadness, exasperation, and hopefulness. We witnessed the adoption of several very discouraging legislative actions in the course of the week, particularly if these are interpreted as bellwethers for a reactionary shift in the church’s philosophical direction. At the same time, there was that one important initiative related to opening the doors of the church: the charge to the bishops to act, and the response on their part to agree to form a commission and possibly call a special general conference. As Matt Berryman cautiously observed in regard to that achievement, “it is just a beginning, but it signals hope . . .”

The combination of deep hurt and hopefulness is difficult for the heart to reconcile, but we’re no strangers to that blend of emotions, having lived nearly half a century with both a polity that excludes gays and lesbians from full inclusion and an ongoing effort to revise that polity. Linking the locomotive of cultural change that has already occurred with the caboose of reluctant institutional change can be an excruciating undertaking, particularly for those . Even so, our task at such a time as this remains the same: to continue our work of seeking justice for those who are by policy treated unjustly.
In this we are not alone. God is with us, and has given us one another, our blended voices summoning change with every song and chant. In the midst of my own sadness, frustration, and anger, I have drawn strength and found fortitude through the witness for freedom and acceptance we all make together in Christ, who has broken down every dividing wall.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. from the Talmud



by Rev. Eric Folkerth, Senior Pastor of Northaven UMC in Dallas

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