The United Methodist Church will hold its General Conference at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon May 10-20, 2016.

The General Conference convened every four years is considered as the top law-making body of the Methodist Church which has the sole authority to decide on all church matters. During the conference, the group of delegates can change church laws or its Book of Discipline, revise doctrine, make financial or budget decisions, adopt resolutions or policies, decide on letters and appeals and discuss all other church initiatives for the next four years.

Methodist churches from around the world are represented in the event. This year, 864 nominated delegates from the U.S., Africa, Europe and the Americas will form the General Conference. An additional 2,500 visitors are expected to attend or witness the event.

From the time the church was formed in the 18th century, general conferences are convened by Methodists to make vital decisions for the church. Among the landmark internal legislations throughout the church’s history include: the denouncement of slavery at the General Conference of 1800; the acceptance of women to become part of the clergy at the 1956 Conference; the establishment of the Africa University decided in the 1998 Conference; and the effort to end malaria or the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign which was initiated in 2008.

This year’s General Conference is marked by bigger plans as well as issues for the church. First, the church will celebrate the successful end of the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign. Second is on the church’s global plans because even if its membership population is dwindling in the United States, the Methodist Church is actually booming overseas particularly in Asia and Africa. And as early as today, the church has already announced a Manila, Philippines conference in 2024 and a Harare, Zimbabwe conference in 2028. For its assets, the church delegates will also decide on the faith of its Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola shares.

But out of the more than 1,000 requests and appeals in the pipeline this year, the most controversial topic the General Conference has to discuss is on the issue of homosexuality, same sex marriage and the ordainment of ministers or preachers who are members of the LGBT community. Based on the church’s website itself, there are more than 100 pieces of legislations or letters that are related to human sexuality.

One of the notable letters to be discussed in the conference is the open letter jointly made by the Baltimore-Washington Conference and the New York Conference requesting the policy making body to eliminate the need to inquire the sexual orientation of all its ministry candidates. Currently, the church’s Book of Discipline states that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve.” Additionally, “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is a grave offense that could result to a ministry’s trial, removal and lose of credentials.

Though many groups and individuals in and out of the church have expressed their approval of such effort to eliminate LGBT discrimination in the Methodist Church, not everyone is hopeful that the General Conference will at last change its doctrine and laws when it comes to gays and lesbians.

In a blog post, writer Moflo who also became a delegate of previous General Conferences in the church said that such hopes for the Methodist church to change its views on LGBT members won’t happen anytime soon. He stressed that majority of the chosen delegates are coming from areas or conferences which are known for their anti-LGBT views. In the end, the writer suggested that LGBT members of the church who are also frustrated with the church to just jump to another denomination or church where they shall be accepted.

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