Thursday, July 31, 2014

Global Young People's Convention and the Unity of the Church

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

The Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly (GYPCLA) took place a week and a half ago from July 16 to 20 in the Philippines.  More than three hundred attendees participated in the event, with just over 100 voting.  This was the third such meeting of United Methodist youth and young adults, previous convocations having taken place in 2006 and 2010.  While the story from the GYPCLA that received the most attention was the disruption of the meeting by Typhoon Glenda (see also here), that was certainly not the most significant story from the event.  In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the significance of having such a meeting.  In this post, I will follow up by examining an important resolution that came out of the meeting.

The GYPCLA was not just about fellowship and relationship-building.  As the name "Legislative Assembly" suggests, it was also a forum for young United Methodists around the world to propose and vote on legislation that the GBOD could forward to General Conference 2016.  Bishop Warner Brown of California-Nevada Conference and Pampanga Philippines Conference worker Joanne Valenzuela explain the legislative process in this video, and youth delegates Benjaim Musasizi of East Africa and Lee Rodeo of North Carolina share their views on their legislative work in this video.

The GYPCLA discussed legislation around numerous issues, but of course the issue of preoccupation, at least among American United Methodists, is the debate over the status of LGBT people in the church.  There, the youth and young adult delegates at the GYPCLA seem no less divided in opinion than the church as a whole.  On a vote to remove language declaring the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching" from the Book of Discipline, delegates split their votes evenly, 54-54.

Where the youth and young adults differed from some of the louder voices in the denomination was that although they were divided in opinion, they were not divided in spirit.  The GYPCLA did not spend extensive time in legislative wrangling on the issue.  They did not use a series of parliamentary procedure tricks or protest tactics to advance their agendas on the issue.  Instead, they listened to each other.  They discussed.  They prayed.  And, at the end, they issued a statement calling for unity instead of schism in the denomination, despite disagreements about LGBT issues, disagreements which they themselves also had.  The full statement of that statement reads:

Statement of Unity from the United Methodist Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly held in Manila, Philippines:

“There has been increasing talk of schism of the United Methodist Church in recent months. Many say that the issue of homosexuality is so contentious that it will inevitably split our Church. We, as the young people of The United Methodist Church, would like to say that we do not desire a divided Church.

 “The Church that we have taken our places in is called to a ministry that includes so much more than this one issue. There are genuine, passionate perspectives on all sides of the issue and though we disagree, we have committed ourselves to loving, faithful discussion on this subject. Part of the beauty of our Church is that there has always been room at the table for a wide range of theological diversity within our connectional church family. As Wesley said, ‘May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?’

 “We urge everyone to seek solutions that promote our global unity as the United Methodist Church of Jesus Christ, rather than focus only on the issues that divide us, so that we may faithfully live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

By The Global Young People's Convocation & Legislative Assembly
Manila, Philippines

The GYPCLA is not unique in prioritizing unity and a variety of ministry foci over division on LGBT issues.  A recent survey of American United Methodists found that the vast majority had other ministry priorities than sexual politics and no interest in a schism.  The GYPCLA confirms and expands that finding, adding in youth voices and voices from around the world, voices which, as this blog has previously mentioned, are important to include in any discussion of the future of the denomination.  Decision-makers in the denomination would do well to listen to the voices coming out of the GYPCLA.

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