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Bishops called to navigate ‘off the map’

November 08, 2017

United Methodist bishops find themselves “off the map” as they try to navigate a way forward through the church’s impasse over the practice of homosexuality and whether it is acceptable among those entering or engaged in ordained ministry and marriage.

At the UMC Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C., Bishop Bruce R. Ough, council president, compared his colleagues to early American pioneering explorers, as the bishops struggle to navigate through the denomination’s mountainous moral challenge. He spoke as the bishops were about to embark on discussing the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.

“There is currently no larger or more intractable barrier to the mission, unity and vitality of The United Methodist Church than the matter of homosexuality,” the bishop, who leads the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, said Nov. 6, in his fall address to 127 of his episcopal colleagues.

Nevertheless, he expressed confidence that with “a rock-solid, Christ-centered core,” the church can find a way forward that “maintains unity, honors our distinctive Wesleyan connectional values and has the property of being continuously adaptive.”

Ough likened his fellow bishops to the U.S. explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who expected to navigate their way to the Pacific Ocean by canoe but found their path blocked by the rugged Rocky Mountains.

“His comparison of our challenge to theirs is apt,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson, leader of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area. “We too must explore new methods and new paths to uncharted places if we are to remain connected in Christ’s mission while overcoming deep divides and imposing obstacles as a denomination. It gives me—and it should give all of us—hope and much-needed courage for the days to come.”


“The specific issues of same-gender marriage, the ordination of LGBTQ persons, and the underlying issues of scriptural authority and biblical obedience are our denomination’s Rocky Mountains,” Ough said. “And it is clear there is no way forward unless we are willing to rethink and redesign what a global United Methodist Church looks like.”

Read more of Heather Hahn’s story for UMNS