By Dr. Riley Case

Tuesday morning is a time of anticipation at General Conference. Everyone senses that the big issues will soon be addressed on the Conference floor.

As I made my way to the convention center this morning, I passed through a gauntlet of persons, distributing special interest hand-outs, pins, devotional sheets, snacks, stoles (the gay advocates are wanting people to wear rainbow stoles), and various newsletters. In addition there were big banners, drummers, a singing group, and hundred of boots and shoes (an anti-war display representing persons who have died in Iraq). Soulforce (the gay advocacy group) is in full force with maybe 75 persons present.

Some of the critical, controversial issues that will come before the Conference in the next few days are below.

Does the pastor have the right to discern a person’s readiness to join the church? Historically, the pastor has been charged with the duty of determining if a person understands the vows of membership and is ready to commit him- or herself to those vows. The driving force behind legislation to remove this right from the pastor is the desire for practicing homosexuals to join the church without committing themselves to a celibate lifestyle. If the proposed legislation passes, sexually active gay couples could join the church and the pastor would have no option but to receive them.

Again, regarding homosexuality, one committee will bring forth a proposal that removes from the Discipline the statement that the UMC does not condone homosexual practice and that we find it incompatible with Christian teaching. Instead, the committee wants us to acknowledge that we are divided on the issue and that we will continue to study the complexity of human sexuality – and little more. Basically, our statement concerning the practice of homosexuality will become a non-statement.

Our position regarding abortion may actually become stronger this General Conference. For the first time coming out of committee is language that acknowledges “the sacredness of the life of the unborn child” and the importance of guarding his or her well-being. There may also be the opportunity to pass legislation that would remove one of our most liberal board’s membership in the radical Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Several constitutional amendments will be proposed that will prepare the way for the creation of regional conferences around the globe. The effect of these changes would be to lessen the connection between the United Methodists in the United States and United Methodists overseas in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Regardless of the petition’s intent, the possibility remains that these changes would begin a process that would remove the influence of the a large number of delegations that hold traditional, biblical views on many important social issues.

Please be in prayer for these important issues. The people here who are representing you are working long hours (from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm and later every day) to keep the UMC faithful to the Scriptures. Pray for them and pray for the church that we love.