June 22, 2016

Dear Bishop Hayes:

We write to express gratitude to the Council of Bishops for their leadership at the 2016 General Conference. We are thankful for A Way Forward, and the recommendation to defer the consideration of all legislation related to human sexuality that was due to come before the General Conference. At a critical moment for our denomination, the bishops were called upon to lead us, and they did exactly that. We are grateful.

We support the Council of Bishops as they appoint a special Commission “to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality,” and “maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission.” We express our hope that the Commission will complete their work in a timely manner and report to a called General Conference before the regular 2020 General Conference.  We commit to being in continued prayer for the Council of Bishops and the Commission throughout the journey ahead.

We acknowledge the critical importance of carrying out this historic process with the utmost of care, effectiveness, and timing. While we agree that establishing the details and naming the members of the Commission are paramount to success, we must also acknowledge the harm that grows with each passing day and the importance of preserving momentum and collective trust.  We urge you to prioritize and proceed without delay, taking care that this new way forward will not ultimately result in failure as similar Commissions have in our past.  We must not repeat past mistakes.

As we consider how the Oklahoma Conference can support the Council of Bishops, we are reminded:

– At an Orders meeting in the spring of 2014, you acknowledged that as clergy we do not always agree and you encouraged us to express our disagreements with our Book of Discipline and to do so in a civil manner. We appreciated your reminder that we have a right to disagree and work for change.

– On October 9, 2014, in a letter to the pastors of our Annual Conference, you wrote: “I know Oklahoma United Methodists do not all agree on this issue. My role as a bishop is to have a passion for the unity of the church and to be the shepherd of the whole flock. I intend to do that as long as I oversee the temporal life of the annual conference.”

– In  your article in the “Contact” on October 31, 2014,  you wrote that you were encouraging pastors to talk with you and with each other about human sexuality and that you are “committed to find ways that we can be the Body of Christ, working together — ways we can live faithfully within the tension that exists within the Church and our society.”

In light of all the above, we, the undersigned United Methodists in the Oklahoma Conference encourage you and the full Council of Bishops to do the following:

1. Name the members of the A Way Forward Commission on or before a date that allows for the first official meeting of the Commission to be convened before the end of this calendar year, 2016.

2. Among the members of the Commission, include out gay and lesbian persons so that such voices will be represented. Such a conversation will lack integrity if their voices are not included. We are prepared to offer names of Oklahomans who would be willing to serve, both allies of the LGBT community as well as out and faithful LGBT United Methodists.

3. Authorize and encourage the Commission to seek out and invite established experts to provide information as needed.

4. Provide a forum for the Commission to receive input from individual churches and members, perhaps through and with the cooperation of the Annual Conferences.

5, Report to the Annual Conferences at least twice a year on the progress of the work of the Commission;

6. Provide a final report at least two months in advance of any called General Conference that shall take up any necessary legislation to implement the recommendations of the Commission;

7. Provide continued leadership and a commitment to unity during this interim and vulnerable period, agreeing to a moratorium on the processing of any current or future complaints related to Discipline paragraphs having to do with human sexuality until the General Conference is reconvened.

We offer ourselves as partners and active participants in the work that lies ahead. Please know that we stand ready to offer you, the Council of Bishops and the special commission our prayers, support and any help needed in these important days.