As the new year begins, many developing stories regarding churches and ministries are taking place all across American Christianity.
Ongoing theological debates, issues regarding pervasive scandals, and possible influence in the political realm are on the horizon.
Here, in no particular order, are five important church stories to watch for in 2019. They include major conferences, ongoing controversies, and political advocacy.
UMC Special Session of General Conference on homosexuality stance
April 2017, the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops announced that there will be a special session of General Conference held Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri to determine a resolution to the denomination’s years-long debate over its stance on homosexuality.
For decades, the UMC’s Book of Discipline has held that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” banning the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and refusing to bless same-sex marriages.
In advance of the special session, the UMC also organized a commission that hammered out three major plans meant to resolve the divisive internal debate: “The One Church Plan,” “The Traditional Plan,” and the “Connectional Conference Plan.”
The Traditional Plan would keep the current stance of the UMC on LGBT issues, plus guarantee more enforcement and possibly allow dissenting churches an easier process for leaving the denomination.
The Connectional Conference Plan would restructure the denomination and establish multiple loosely connected conferences, each with a different position on the debate, with local bodies getting to choose which conference to join.
The One Church Plan, which is favored by most UMC bishops, would maintain the overall church structure, but it would allow regional bodies and congregations to determine their stance on LGBT issues.
Many both within and without the UMC have noted the likelihood that the special session will lead to a schism within the mainline Protestant denomination.
Episcopal Church vs. Diocese of Albany on Resolution B012
Last year, The Episcopal Church General Convention passed Resolution B012, a measure that allowed congregations to perform gay weddings even in dioceses where the leadership objects.
This stood in contrast to a resolution passed by the General Convention in 2015 that allowed bishops opposed to same-sex marriage to maintain a ban on such unions within their diocese.
In advance of the Resolution officially taking effect on Dec. 2, Bishop William Love of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany released a lengthy pastoral letter stating that the gay marriage rites approved earlier this year “shall not be used anywhere in the Diocese of Albany by diocesan clergy (canonically resident or licensed).”
“Jesus is calling the Church to follow His example. He is calling the Church to have the courage to speak His Truth in love about homosexual behavior – even though it isn’t politically correct,” stated Bishop Love.
“Sexual relations between two men or two women was never part of God’s plan and is a distortion of His design in creation and as such is to be avoided. To engage in sexual intimacy outside of marriage between a man and women, is against God’s will and therefore sinful and needs to be repented of, NOT encouraged or told it is ok.”
As the new year begins, the diocese and the national church remain in communication over Love’s refusal to implement the resolution.
Catholic Church sex abuse scandal response
Last August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report details how the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy systematically covered up sexual abuse across the northeastern state.
The over 1,300-page report detailed how 301 priests abused over 1,000 children over the past several decades and how the hierarchy shielded the perpetrators from accountability.
Soon, other revelations emerged both in the United States and abroad, leading to renewed outrage over the Catholic Church’s history of failing to bring abusive clergy to account for their crimes.
On Jan. 2, American Catholic bishops began a week-long prayer retreat near Chicago, Illinois over the sex abuse problem, with a summit of Catholic leaders scheduled for next month on the issue.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski