January 17, 2020
Dear Virginia Annual Conference,
On January 3, 2020, the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation (the “Protocol”) was released. You can find the document on the conference website. It is important to emphasize that the Protocol does not mean the future of our denomination has been agreed upon. The Protocol is one of several plans for the General Conference to consider from May 5-15, 2020.
The level of anxiety and stress for bishops, clergy and laity are high as we approach the General Conference. There is a deep collective longing to resolve our human sexuality disagreement in a way that provides everyone with grace and hope.
In this journey to resolve our disagreement, I hope you can hear and understand my vow to continue to live out my episcopal consecration. On July 15, 2016, I made a solemn covenant to uphold the Book of Discipline. I did not enter into this covenant lightly. I pledged my commitment to God and the denomination to honor my consecration covenant through each passage of Church law enacted at every General Conference.
Our Church law governs our denomination and it provides the processes we as United Methodists agreed to follow. However, I am sensitive to the views of those who do not agree with the Book of Discipline or the legislation passed at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference as it relates to human sexuality. Therefore, it is crucial that we pray for our Virginia Conference delegation and the 862 delegates from all over the world that will be discerning God’s will for the future of our denomination in May 2020.
I have been asked by many whether I will implement the request in the Protocol that bishops put in abeyance any complaints filed against clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals or who preside over same-sex weddings. I respectfully ask that the Virginia Conference clergy do not perform same-sex weddings, keeping to our sacred vow in the Book of Discipline. However, if clergy preside over same-sex weddings and a complaint is filed about such conduct, I will process the complaint by the 2016 Book of Discipline and the legislation that was passed at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
On May 15, 2019, Interim Bishop Pete Weaver provided wise counsel when he sent a letter to all Virginia Conference clergy specifying how they can participate in same-sex weddings without violating the sacred covenant of the Book of Discipline. Click this link to view the letter. I fully agree with, and support, Bishop Weaver’s letter.
Please pray for our denomination daily. Prayer is a powerful discipline and I believe we can get through anything if we trust in God and seek God’s wisdom. These are trying times in The United Methodist Church, but I am confident that we will emerge stronger in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Peace and Blessings,
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis