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Highlights from Bishop Ough's Press Conference

Summary: Here are some highlights from the press conference held with Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops of the UMC, on Wednesday, May 17, 2016. This press conference was held after the presentation to the GC by Bishop Ough, and before the plan was adopted (after an afternoon of debate) by the 2016 General Conference.

by Ben Roe

In response to a question about how international the conversations have been: "we are not all of one mind on all issues. In fact, I believe one of the reasons this whole matter was referred to the Council of Bishops is because some people believe that the  council represents the diversity of the church in a way that no other body does. I actually think that's an affirmation of the fact that we do have different opinions and that in order to move us forward on very critical issues, it's important to have the diversity of our global church represented."

He reported that "There [are] very honest, candid conversations going on" and that there's a growing awareness that "we have to come together even though we may have very strong opinions, very strong values, different cultural contexts."

In response to a question about responses to the initial statement from the bishops, he said it "has been for the most part positive" because "our heart is to be a people that remain united for the sake of the mission.... we're also very clear that the council knows our boundaries. The constitution is very clear about legislative role of the general conference and the presiding role of the bishops--we've tried to respect that. And so it was helpful if the body some wanted additional leadership it was helpful to hear from the body that they wanted that." He said the bishops were "very humbled" and aware "that the church has given us a kind of holy moment" and they prayed that they wouldn't "blow it."

In response to a question about the desire of some churches to leave, he said, "Of course we've had some conversations about not only what happens if there are churches that feel like the only way to remain faithful is to leave, but we've also had conversations about what happens with those churches who have engaged in ministries in a profound way with gay and lesbian, transgender folks who also feel like it's hurtful to leave." He said that it was clear that as the possible commission did their work, the council of bishops would have to continue the conversations. "Part of the urgency is that we can't stay where we are."

In response to a question whether there would be LGBTQI persons on the commission, Bishop Ough said that decisions haven't been made yet as to whom would be on the commission, but "we are deeply committed to having all the voices at the table....We're going to need to have all the voices at the table or folks will not trust or engage in anything that might emerge from that, so we get that. We're deeply committed to making sure that there are voices that represent the full range of groups....We're particularly concerned that this be a global conversation."

In response to a question about the breakdown of trust in the denomination, he said, "Being perceived or viewed as trustworthy, all flows from having integrity and the statements we offer being genuine in those statements and then being consistent in our polity. I think one of the reasons there is a lot of distrust is that we currently do have a discipline that is very clear about these matters and that some people perceive those to be very, very hurtful and others perceive them to be actions that give us identity and definition." [Interesting way to put this, IMHO.] He further said that we have people who say "if everybody just did this, we'd trust each other" and that we have to get beyond this. He went on to say that we have two pillars or principles of who we are as UMs: connectionality and our locality and contextuality. "The Central Conferences have great freedom to adapt the Discipline now, on most matters." But we're not applying the principles uniformly.

In response to a question about how the bishops have been able to make a statement that is "extraordinarily" beyond the current polarization, Bishop Ough said that without the prior conversations with the significant leaders, "we would not be here." These conversations have helped "set the spiritual tone." He said, "Persons with very, very different opinions--strongly held values and convictions--strong enough that people were saying the only forward is for somebody to leave--that strongly--still came to a place where they were affirming one another as children of the same god, no longer questioning one another's faith. No longer denying that God is present in people's lives. That is significant and has set a tone that allowed us to build on."

In response to a question regarding how out gay and lesbian clergy would be handled with integrity in the context of the current rules, he said, "This commission that we would form will be sure that all voices are present." #gc2016 #justlove

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