A larger-than-expected crowd turned out for a breakfast meeting hosted by Good News, an unofficial traditionalist advocacy group, on the first day of the special General Conference.
Organizers of the Feb. 23 event at a downtown St. Louis hotel had planned for 250 visitors and delegates.
“We had to set up 90 more chairs. It was a bit of a scramble,” said Steve Beard, editor of Good News Magazine.
Beard added that Good News also had to send out for bagel sandwiches, to supplement the planned breakfast offerings. Altogether, Good News estimates about 350 to 400 people attended the breakfast.
Good News has a tradition of holding breakfast briefings at General Conference, and this was notably diverse and international.
“This was the highest percentage of Africans I’ve seen at one of our breakfasts,” he said.
The 2019 General Conference was called by the Council of Bishops to deal with longstanding division in the church over homosexuality. Good News and allied groups are supporting the Modified Traditional Plan, which would strengthen enforcement of the church’s official restrictions against same-sex unions and ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
The plan also requires conferences to certify they will abide by the rules and encourages them to separate into their own self-governing denominations if they do not.
The Rev. Jerry Kulah, a Liberia Conference delegate and general coordinator of the Africa Initiative, spoke at the breakfast.
“Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning or queer,” he said. “We love them and hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.”
He added: “And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: We are not children in need of Western enlightenment when it comes to our sexual ethics.”
Kulah also rejected any argument that African delegates are taking U.S. financial support into account as they weigh how to vote at General Conference.
“We get by on far less than most Americans do,” he said. “We know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birthright in Jesus Christ for American dollars.”
Kulah also argued in favor of legislation that would allow churches an easier path to leaving the denomination with their property.
“Separation in truth is better than unity in error,” Kulah said.
The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News, briefed those in attendance on how the voting process is likely to go as delegates prioritize which legislation they will consider.
Lambrecht said he emphasized to delegates at the breakfast that they would need to vote three times on their favored legislation.
On Feb. 24, the 864 General Conference delegates will be able to pick which of multiple submitted plans they want to prioritize. On Feb. 25, the delegates will be able to refine whatever they prioritize, and on Feb. 26, they will have final voting.
Lambrecht is also a member of the bishop-appointed Commission on a Way Forward, whose report includes the Traditional Plan. The modified version augments the Traditional Plan.
He urged delegates present to prioritize the Traditional Plan, the Modified Traditional Plan and two pension petitions that require any congregation departing the denomination to pay its fair share of unfunded pension liability for their conference.
Lambrecht said the spirit in the room was very good.
“I think the international delegates, by and large, are committed to supporting the Traditional Plan and that gives encouragement to U.S. delegates who are supportive of that,” he said. “I think there was some hope this morning.”
Hodges and Hahn are reporters for United Methodist News Service. Contact them at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.