2020 General Conference held in Charlotte from April 23 to May 3 under the theme of ‘Know that I am God’ brought an end to all the debates on ordination of self -avowed homosexual persons. The conference itself had an ambiguous name from the start. It was named the “2020 General Conference” while it met in 2024, reflecting the fact that it was a gathering postponed due to the global pandemic that shut down the world. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Contrary to the theme, people were not still nor silent. Our denomination has been noisy for decades. And yet, after all is said and done, the church remains the body of Jesus Christ. And God does what God does.
The GC passed a total budget of $373.4 million for the next four years. Regionalization, allowing important decisions to be made based on the realities of each region such as the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Philippines, was approved. The definition of marriage has been revised to ‘one man and one woman, or two adults,’ and clauses prohibiting the ordination of candidates who are self-avowed practicing homosexual and penalties for pastors officiating same-sex weddings have been completely removed.
It opened the path for LGBTQ persons ordination but did not replace it with a statement supporting homosexuality. And the GC created legislation to ensure that churches or pastors who adhere to ‘traditional faith’ are not unfairly treated. 1. Bishops will appoint pastors who align with the faith tradition of the church when sending them out. 2. The authority to decide on the provision of same-sex marriage ceremonies and venues lies with the church and the senior pastor. 3. In this regard, no church or pastor will face any reversed discriminations.
Eliminating all the discriminatory languages was passed with a 93% majority. Delegates from Africa, who hold more traditional beliefs than the traditionalist stance maintained by our Korean community within the denomination, supported this decision. This marks a decision to cease further debate on the matter. Korean leaders who attended the conference gathered to pledge their hearts and intentions to become stepping stones rather than obstacles to such changes within the denomination. In line with this commitment, the leadership of the Korean caucus announced their decision to support all 140 GBGM missionaries.
As the conference concluded, I reflected on the words of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…” (3:1). It requires wisdom and courage to discern when that time is. Now is the time to rebuild what has fallen, to heal wounds, to make peace, and to love. That’s the choice I make and the decision I take.
A few days ago, I read an article titled “Belief is not Intelligence” by Dr. Cha Jungsik. It discusses an incident where a professor at a theological school in Korea faced disciplinary action for claiming that the creation story in the Bible is a statement of faith, not a scientific fact. Cha argues that true faith requires the power of reason to analyze, interpret, and understand its meaning, rather than ideological beliefs.
After the conference, I talked to Bishop Bickerton and said, “When making decisions like these, I hope you understand the difficulties that people like me, frontline pastors, have to face.” To which he responded, ” You know that bishops don’t vote. But I do know how hard it will be for you. I am praying for you and FUMC in Flushing.” The New York delegates also expressed genuine concern and prayed sincerely that FUMC in Flushing would not suffer difficulties.
In the days ahead, there will be many words. I saw an article in an online newspaper yesterday criticizing UMC and PCUSA, saying they have departed from the truth of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and therefore are not churches. However, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are not something that anyone can monopolize. Those who speak as if they were God are simply ignorant of the fear of God.
People may live and judge differently based on their life circumstances. I have fond memories of wells and streams from my childhood. In Chicago, I enjoyed the beauty of Lake Michigan, while in Atlanta, I savored the Chattahoochee River. Now, in New York, I enjoy beach walking the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on where a person lives, life perspective may vary. The United Methodist Church is like the sea. However, each church exists in diverse life settings such as wells, rivers, lakes, and seas. FUMC in Flushing is in New York City. New York is like sea. The sea always offers opportunities along with significant risks. Life perspectives of people living in New York may very different from people living in rural mountain places. And stagnant water loses its vitality. It must flow. Jesus emphasized the importance of flowing as the living water becomes a river of living water.
There’s a Celtic prayer attributed to Irish fishermen who live and work on the sea: “O God. The sea is so big and our boat is so small. Have mercy on us.” We never know what waves may come our way. We must learn to ride the waves. And learn to be still to know that only God is God.