Bishop Carter's Address on "A Way Forward"

June 23, 2018

Remarks on "A Commission on a Way Forward"

Bishop Ken Carter | Annual Conference 2018


Questions/Thoughts/Concerns? You can provide those anonymously here


This is from a rough transcription provided by Loveeta Baker, Realtime Captioner

For those who are visiting or coming to the Annual Conference for the first time, you have not had the privilege of meeting Bishop Ken Carter, Bishop Carter was a member of this conference at the time of his election, a district superintendent in the Annual Conference, served Providence United Methodist Church just before that.  Bishop Carter is an exceptional leader, a great theologian, inspirational writer and great encourager of those who serve in the council of bishops.


This extraordinary ability to relate to all people and to listen carefully to what they are saying with a non‑anxious presence and yet with an affirmative and perspective of our calling and our baptismal vows allowed the council of bishops to request he be one of the moderators that can hear all voices in the conversation and discussion related to how can we move forward in the midst of this conversation we have been having that created tension in the life of the church, different perspectives of theological understanding and how we live out our faith.  Bishop Carter after his election was assigned to the Florida conference where he serves at this time.  I would like to welcome him with warm applauses, welcome him home for his report.


Bishop Carter: 
Thank you very much.  It's an honor, thank you Bishop Leeland for the invitation and I want to echo what you said about Jarvis Wilson, Robert Michael was a person who meant a great deal to me.  I think the first five minutes on a Monday morning I was in the office getting started in the work of a bishop, I had called Robert and Jarvis, asked if they would do the music at our Annual Conference.  I knew I needed it.  So thank you.  And thanks to each of you.  I can say that I know that without the support of this conference I would not be doing this work, that's something I never forget and will always be grateful for.

My adviser in seminary was Tom Langford, who was a member of this Annual Conference, and lived here at Lake Junaluska.  He taught me about the theology of the church and about how to think of grace in relation to holiness.  In 1999 he began actually to write and think about the topic we will be reflecting on for a few minutes.  I heard him speak in Winston‑Salem.  I was pastor of Mount taker, I talked to Ann Marie, we corresponded, she sent me a prayer he had written and I would like you to hear these words as our prayer.

Oh God, your intention to give exceeds our readiness to receive.  Your boundless love is restricted by our small vessels.  Your generosity far exceeds our responding reception.  Your richness is restrained by our poverty of expectation.  Your expansiveness is channeled through our small hearts.

Oh God, enlarge our capacity, increase our receptivity, release us to our full life and make us more able to receive your generous grace.  Amen.

I have just a few slides.  Not all that many.  If we can go to the first one, the dates.  I want to begin this conversation by reminding us of three important dates in the life of our relatively brief 50 year history as the United Methodist Church.  The first is 1968.  The formation of the United Methodist Church from the evangelical united brethren and Methodist churches.

And a year earlier the central jurisdiction.

A third date ‑‑ not as well known, 2004, when we welcomed the Ivory Coast Annual Conference into the United Methodist Church with 1 million members.  Now, that is approximately the size of Western North Carolina, Florida, North Georgia and Virginia combined.  I mention these three important dates because we often have this conversation as if it is a U.S. conversation and it's not.

Two images I want to put before us, I know we are in the summer, not near the season of lent, but if you could give up these two images as a Lenten discipline, it would be wonderful.

The first is we are like a liberal and conservative person who may get divorce.  That is not a helpful image.

The second we could give up is that one day we will be in church and the next day for some reason will no longer be at church.  This kind of binary, all or nothing thinking is not accurate, not based in reality, and is not helpful, simply creates anxiety.

The story of the commission on the way forward, in brief, begins in Portland, Oregon in May 2016.  We meet every four years to a global general conference.  I will assume that some of this is very basic, some of you will know this intimately.  If for some it's mostly new.  But we meet as a global conference, once every four years, half laity, half clergy, based on membership.  We spend about 30 minutes on the topic of human sexuality.  Once every four years for about 30 minutes.

In Portland, the last general conference, by a very slim majority, delegates voted to establish a study commission to study the impasse of the unity of the church and human sexuality.

Now, I know there are criticisms of study commissions.  But the alternative is not to study it.  Simply to meet for a brief time once every four years, sort of throw it up against the wall and see what it looks like.  Whoever has the most power, wins.

Well, by a slim vote, a commission was established.  It was referred to as a pause for prayer.  In July 2016 only a couple months later the Executive Committee of the council of bishops met and they elected three moderators of this study commission.  That was Sandra Steiner Ball who you heard this week, and David Yemba of the Congo, and me.

Our first task was to name the commission, but we noticed we should take a step back and identify the mission, vision and scope of the work.  What was our purpose?  This commission which we would invite people to serve.  If you show the next slide, in the vision, these words are very important.  I will read the frame around it but I would love you to stay focused on the sentences.

The commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible and balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible.

So as much witness as possible, we want to see the cross and the flame in as many places in the world as possible.  As much contextual differentiation as possible, as much unity as possible.

After defining the mission, vision and scope we composed the members of the commission.  We wanted a diversity that looks like the global church and we wanted men and women committed to finding a way forward for our church.

So we ended up with 32 persons, approximately 30% of them are from Africa, which is roughly what our membership is.  One‑third laity, one‑third clergy, one‑third bishops.  Bishops would not vote on the work of this commission or at general conference.  But bishops would be the ones in residential areas who would help to lead it.

In the commission there were persons from four continents.  There were profound theological differences.  There were urban, rural, younger and older.  Several members from the LGBTQ community, professors, administrators, youth ministers, campus ministers, lay leaders, large church pastors.  There were evangelical traditionalists and there were uniting people and there were progressives.

There was Korean, Hispanic, African‑American, Filipino, European, and African representation.

Many people in the group said it was by far the most diverse group of people they have ever been a part of.  A decision we had to make at the beginning was whether we would include persons who were identified with renewal or advocacy groups such as Reconciling Ministries and Good News, et cetera.

We finally made the decision that we would include persons who were either employed or served as Board Chairs of these organization.  So we had the Board Chair of R RN, executive director of R RN, executive director from Good News, and so on.

The key part of the work in the beginning was to build trust among a group of people who had very good reasons and spokespersons not to trust each other.  They had been harmed by each other and had done harm to each other.  So we worked on relationship building and trust.

At the end of the first meeting we gave every member of the commission the permission to leave.  With honor.  We said to one another, if we cannot commit to finding a way forward for our denomination, if in your conscious you cannot commit to this, you can leave and do not have to be part of this commission.  No one left.

At the heart of this relationship building work was a book entitled The Anatomy of Peace.  Several of us had done work with this book in coaching and conflict, mediation work.  The book simply focuses on how we live with each other with either a heart of peace or heart of war.  A heart of peace sees the other person as a person.  A heart at war sees the other person as an issue or as a stereotype or as an obstacle to what I want.  A heart at war exaggerates the differences between us.  In order to go to war with someone else you have to exaggerate the differences between you and them.

Frankly, we knew the war of most general conferences is a holy war.  People go there to do war.  If you have been there, you have experienced it.  We were trying to change the culture and build relationships.  Finally, a heart at war escalates the conflict.  Groups within our denomination clued with each other, they have collude ‑‑ to escalate the conflict.  This is what gets reported in our media.

So a big question we had at the beginning was whether our meetings would be open to the media or not.  We finally determined they needed not to have media there.  Because people simply needed to learn to trust each other and be honest with each other.

We wrote a covenant with each other.  We read that covenant in the meeting, tested in between the meetings.  It was real, emotional, it was raw.  We were trying to find a way forward.  We planned nine meetings over 18 months, a total of about 50 days over 18 months.

The members of the commission really sacrificed, many of them laity, from all over the world.  Once we move through the work of relationship building and trust and knowing each other, the members of the commission were really ready to start working on models and plans for the future.  This was in dialogue with the council of bishops.

You mentioned we listened to each other.  We also listened to the church.  We had an open framework for receiving documents, there were local churches from within the Annual Conference that sent documents, testimony, interpretations of passages of scripture, and to speak personally, once I was asked to be a moderator of the commission, I really removed myself from every other thing I was doing except being the bishop of Florida.

I just felt like in this season of my life, if I was not working on the Florida conference work I needed to work on this.

So I have spoken in most of our seminaries, several Annual Conferences, I met with the Duke Endowment, some local churches, advocacy groups, with renewal groups, and other commission members did similar work.

One significant conversation I want to tell you about was with the African college of bishops, who ask me to come speak with them and listen to them.  It turned out to the week before hurricane Irma.  I got back right as she was hitting.  The way I framed that, met with them, the 15 bishops, I know them all.  Three are on the commission.

I said to them, "Tell me what's important in your Annual Conference, what you never get to talk about in our meetings, and tell me what this means to your people."

For a day and a half they talked.  And their cultures are simply profoundly different than our own and yet they have a deep desire for the unity of the church and what division looks like in many African contexts is tribalism.  The last thing they want is for us to import our American divisions into Africa.

So the report was released in a very general form to the general public last November.  It noted three plans, if you will put that slide up.  A brief word about the three plans, that's what the work has continued to be.  If I could clarify something, I would say the three plans are currently being translated into the four official languages of our global denomination.  I wouldn't expect hardly anyone to know what those languages are, but they are French, Portuguese, Swahili and English.  Think about that.  Korean is very important, Spanish is important as well, needs to be translated into that.  There were pressures that these plans should come before Annual Conferences this June.  That was a very U.S.‑centric motivation.  What would be the justice of U.S. Annual Conferences voting on a plan for the future of this global church that was never even translated into some of the other languages?  We just thought that was profoundly wrong.

What is the meaning of Annual Conferences voting on a plan they have never seen?  That's happened in a few Annual Conferences.  I said to some of my brother and sisters who were really wanting to do this kind of work.  I said it sounds like you are a teacher and you are going to grade the paper before the student turned it in.  What does that mean?  Well, the three plans are being translated and there has been a general sketch, I will give you that general sketch.

The first one is what has been called the One Church plan.  This was received strong and significant report by the council of bishops, means it was not close, it means if this were the vote that took place in your local church you would feel like you had significant permission to go forward.

The primary meaning of this One Church plan is that it removes the language about human sexuality that was inserted in 1972.  It honors the contextual differences across our world.  It is simply very difficult to do ministry with the same Book of Discipline in Monrovia, Liberia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Miami, Florida and in Toledo, Ohio and manila, Philippines.  The contexts are very different.

When I moved to Florida I quickly discovered the trees that would grow in Western North Carolina would not grow in Florida and vice versa.  The beauty of our global church is we are global.  The world is our Parish.  The challenge is that our contexts are so different.  In some parts of the world they simply do not talk about human sexuality, or only an aunt talks to a girl, only an uncle talks to a boy.  Across the U.S. there are profound differences.

The One Church model would remove the language.  It would allow conferences who wanted to re‑insert the 72 language to do so in their standing rules.  It would allow local churches who wanted to have traditionalist clergy to write that into their profiles and clergy who were traditionalists to write that into their profiles.  It's contextual.  It would not force an agenda on anyone.  But it would allow LGBTQ persons a home in the United Methodist Church where this is contextual.  And in some places it is.

This is the simplest of the three models, requires no Constitutional amendments.  We just voted on one.

A second plan is the traditionalist plan.  The traditionalist plan maintains the current language in the Book of Discipline about homosexuality being incompatible.  But it greatly increases the accountability to certify that persons will uphold this at every level of the church, from the laity to district committees on ministry to boards of ordained ministry, to cabinets, to council and bishop.  It is not maintaining the status quo.  It is sharpening and making more pronounced, accountability for being a traditionalist church and providing an exit for people, whether they are centrists or traditionalists.

This plan has a number of Constitutional amendments.

The third plan, connectional conference plan, the best analogy I have come up with, it's sort of like the world Methodist council, where currently we have the church in South Africa, fully inclusive, Costa Rica, Brazil, others are not.  Our relationships would be looser and we would really end up with an umbrella underneath it with sort of three branches of church, traditionalists, centrists ‑‑ this has 32 Constitutional amendments.  These are the plans being translated and the day the general conference has given us is July 8.  They will simultaneously be made available.

The delegations will be the primary persons who will work with these plans and vote on the plans.  Bishops will vote.  This is the work your authorized delegation, half clergy, half laity, will do.

Now I will move to the last portion of what I want to say, kind of a pastoral framework for this work.

I was a pastor for 28 years in this conference.  I served in Yadkin County, Kannapolis, Winston‑Salem, Greensboro, Charlotte.  I was a DS for 14 months.  At the very end.  I was the superintendent of this area.  I met a man in this district name Wes Hirsch who was a part of the [indiscernible] church.  A retired DS from Missouri, worked with Robert Snazy.  He told me I will take you hiking to the highest places in this area, and he did.

One day we were hiking, he said to me, you know Ken, you were a pastor 28 years, I think you will be a DS for ‑‑ that will be good, because when you become a bishop you think like a pastor.  On this matter I should say, in relation to the people God has created, and is sending to us, I think like a pastor.  I hope I do.

So two resources have helped me in this and the next slide ‑‑ one is Donald Miller's Building a Story Brand.  Donald Miller insists that every story has a main character.  In my reading of his work, in this story, this conversation, the main character is not the United Methodist Church.  The main character is not the commission on the way forward or council of bishops.  Who is the main character?  Well, these are some of the main characters for me.

The evangelical pastor who spent his or hear life building a strong church.  The lesbian who has been part of the United Methodist Church her whole life.  The young adult clergy who wonders if there will be a church to serve in.  The African Christian who is doing life‑saving work.  It's not that any one person operates out of fear.  In each story there's a fear.  The pastor wonders if all of their life's work will be diminished because of the conflict.

The lesbian woman or person in the LGBTQ community a part of the church, baptized in the church, confirmed in the church, youth group, mission teams, gives money, her fear is at the end of the day was this ever really my church?

The young adult clergy has gone into a lot of debt to go to school because God called them.  They are wondering if there's going to be a way to express their ministry.

The African leader is proud of the cross and the flame.  I can tell you in Africa they are proud of the cross and the flame.  They cannot imagine a logo that was not the cross and the flame.  It would be absurd.  The cross and the flame in some of those contexts is the difference between life and death for people.  They wonder if they will continue to have these resources to do this work.

What I want you to see is there are multiple main characters in this story.  A second resource, the commission ‑‑ a TED talk viewed about 15 million times called The Danger of a Single Story.  To magnify only one story, as if this is it, draw a line in the sand.  Say if you don't see it the way I see it you are wrong.  You can find another church.

We are a global church with 12 million members on four continents.  There are many main characters and multiple compelling stories.  The question is how do we live together with our multiple stories?  I mentioned Dr. Langford, Tom, in the Book of Discipline paragraph 165 we find the only other place in the Book of Discipline that uses the words, phrase, incompatible with Christian teaching.

It's in relation to whether United Methodists can serve in the military or not.  It essentially says United Methodists can be pacifists, and United Methodists can serve in just wars in a military.  It uses words like conscience and respect, extending the ministry of the church and acknowledging disagreement.  Kendall Solan teaches on the faculty, has done research on this.  Why is it we can ‑‑ with war, but not human sexuality.  What is it difference?  In closing, what I want to say to you ‑‑ going to the next slide, I am very traditionalist in my theology.  Which is to say, I am generously and unashamedly orthodox in my convictions.  I believe in the scriptures, I believe in the creeds, I believe in the resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ, I believe in his divinity.  I believe the church is the body of Jesus Christ on this Earth.  I believe Jesus performed and performed miracles.  I believe prayer really does change us and change the world.

This was the theology I was taught.  It is a theology of the grace of God that leads us to a holy life.  In the Wesleyan tradition a holy life is not about our purity or our separateness from unholy people.  A holy life is that we are being made perfect in love.  That's the language of Wesley.  Holiness is love of God, and love of neighbor.  My traditional convictions lead me to believe the grace of God and the church of Jesus Christ really is for all people.  [Applause]

So a very important question for me ‑‑ it's not the only question, but in this season an important question is:  How is this good news for the LGBTQ persons and families among us?  This is important for them that we move any obstacle to a living relationship with Jesus Christ and his church and brothers and sisters, it's a litmus test for younger generations.

An important passage of scripture for me, increasingly, one I read almost every day, Ephesians 4:1‑6.  This is not unity for the sake of unity.  It is, I believe, what it means to be a disciple in a very divided country and world.

If we conform to the world, we will divide.  The world will teach us how to divide.  But I close with these words.  I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, this is Paul writing, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.  With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.

What does it mean for the United Methodist Church, what does it mean for your local church?  For you, who know someone with whom you profoundly disagree, to bear with one another in love?  Making every effort, have you made every effort?  Have we really made every effort?  Making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.  There's one body, one spirit, just as you recall the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all who is above all, and through all and in all.  Thank you very much for doing this work, it's unfinished, but we really do need all of us to do this work.  Thank you.

Slides from Bishop Carter's Presentation

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