The Council of Bishops is currently meeting in Oklahoma City, OK. As part of that meeting, they heard a presentation yesterday by Candler School of Theology Assistant Professor of Wesleyan & Methodist Studies Kevin M. Watson on Christian Conferencing. United Methodist News Service live-tweeted the presentation. Reactions from the bishops that UMNS captured included positive responses by Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area and David Yemba of the Congo Central Conference. According to the UMNS Twitter feed, "Bp. Alsted asks how can we live into Christian Conferencing at #UMCGC in 2016," and "Bp. Yemba: Christian Conferencing is our heritage that we need to reclaim. Don't wait until #UMCGC in 2016."
As an American, I am exciting to see the main interest in the concept of Christian Conferencing at the Council of Bishops coming from outside the United States. In the United States, it can seem at times like "Christian conferencing" or "holy conferencing" is a euphemism for "arguing about homosexuality." In contrast, neither the Nordic countries nor the Congo are arguing about homosexuality in their United Methodist churches, albeit for very different reasons. Yet the concept of Christian conferencing still has resonance for these two bishops. Both bishops recognize this spiritual practice as an important part of our Methodist heritage and common life.
This is a positive reminder to Americans. "Christian conferencing" or "holy conferencing" is not only about arguing over LGBT ordination and gay marriage. It is a means of living with and relating to each other as sisters and brothers in faith on a variety of issues. Gay marriage and LGBT ordination may be the issues of the day in the United States, but there will be and are other issues on other days and in other places that also call for loving, mutual conversation about God's will. Americans must resist the temptation to make everything about and only about debates on homosexuality. Our Christian calling, including our calling to treat each other with love as we work towards perfection, is a calling on all areas of our lives. Debates about gay marriage and LGBT ordination may be important to both sides for good theological reasons, but we do a disservice to the concept of Christian conferencing and to our faith as a whole if we reduce it to one issue. God is at work in the world in many ways, and we would do well to engage in holy conferencing together to discern the full variety of those ways.