By Heather Hahn
July 25, 2016 | UMNS
Amid growing concerns for the denomination’s future, United Methodist bishops approved a plan for establishing a commission dealing with church teachings on homosexuality.The bishops’ executive committee also took a step toward a special session of General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, in early 2018.
The Council of Bishops executive committee met July 19-20 in Chicago behind closed doors to discuss creating the Commission on a Way Forward, which General Conference authorized in May. The full council has charged its 17-member executive committee with developing a framework for the new commission.
Many United Methodists see the panel as a last-ditch effort to keep the multinational denomination from splintering.
Church members have long debated the denomination’s bans on same-gender weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy. However, the bishops acknowledged that the denomination’s landscape has changed dramatically since the most recent General Conference, and they face mounting pressure.
In the past two months, a number of conferences voted not to conform with church restrictions related to ministry with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning individuals.
Meanwhile, a group of United Methodists announced the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a member-based network for congregations that regard the church’s teachings on homosexuality as part of Christian orthodoxy.
Most recently, the Western Jurisdiction elected Bishop Karen Oliveto, who is openly gay and married to a deaconess.
These moves “have opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism,” said Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Council of Bishops president, in a detailed statement. “The church finds itself in an extremely fragile,