Home Equipping Leaders Courageous Conversations Courageous Conversation about Removal of Restrictive Language in the Book of Discipline

Courageous Conversation about Removal of Restrictive Language in the Book of Discipline

By Scott Hughes

Article Diverse Group Talking

Setting for a Safe Environment:

Set up the room with tables (round tables are preferable) with no more than six chairs per table.

Place “Guidelines for the Conversation” around the room in large print or on a projection screen. (For samples, see “Sample Guidelines for Courageous Conversations.”)

As participants enter the room, have them choose a number from a basket. Invite them to sit at the table marked with the number that matches the number they have drawn.


While the following sample outline is designed for 120 minutes, users are encouraged to adjust the time as needed. While some participants, particularly extroverts, can be frustrated by a slower-paced conversation, this pacing will promote listening. Thus, it is advised that if you adjust the timeline, do so that it takes a longer amount of time and not shorter. For example, instead of one 120-minute session, the conversation could easily be adapted to two 90-minute sessions or even three 75-minute sessions. In particular, the small-group questions could be split into two or even three sessions, keeping the rest of the framework relatively similar for each session.

The following outline is a sample. Other small-group techniques or ways to facilitate the conversation might better fit your context. Be sure to check other Courageous Conversations resources, including other sample outlines, to make this outline fit your needs.

The following outline is intended for a churchwide conversation but can be adjusted for small groups, Sunday school classes, and even dialogues with nearby churches.


  • Basket with numbers
  • Tables for small-group discussions
  • Table numbers for each table
  • Candles for each table
  • Small crosses or some other markers to serve as talking sticks
  • Printout or screen for displaying “Guidelines for the Conversation”
  • Printout of prayers (See “Prayer Guide.”)
  • Large sheet of paper and markers
  • Tape or adhesive to post the large sheet of paper


  • Bell or chime for beginning and ending times of silence
  • Microphone to enable everyone to hear the speakers clearly

Estimated Timeline:

The following is based on a 120-minute timeframe. Adjust as needed.

  • Opening Prayer (3 minutes)
  • Overview (5 minutes)
  • Opening Circle (10 minutes)
  • Personal Assessment of the Situation (10 minutes)
  • Conflict Spectrum (20 minutes)
  • Break (10 minutes)
  • Small-Group Time (45 minutes)
  • Large-Group Reflection (15 minutes)
  • Closing Prayer (2 minutes)

Courageous Conversation

Opening Prayer

  • Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)


  • Read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this is a safe space for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. Emphasize that participants are to listen for the assumptions underlying their own and other people’s perspectives.

Opening Circle (modified)*

  • Form people into groups with no more than three people in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer the question, “What brought you here today?” Remind participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not discussion – that will come later.

Personal Assessment of the Situation

  • Make sure each person has a piece of paper and pencil for this exercise. Give participants five to ten minutes to write down biblical stories, passages, doctrine, facts, and other opinions that support their position on human sexuality.

Conflict Spectrum*

  • The purpose of this exercise is to allow participants to name where they are on a spectrum from progressive to traditional. It is helpful to begin in a lighthearted manner. Introduce the conflict spectrum with fun topics such as “cat lover or dog lover,” “vacation at the beach or vacation in the mountains,” “prefer summer or winter,” “lover of sweets or lover of entrees.” (This exercise is best done by using local references.) Try to transition from the fun spectrum to the more serious spectrum of where people stand on the position of homosexuality. (For example, traditional worship or contemporary worship; identify with God as Father or God as Holy, etc.)
  • Designate places in the room as ends on the spectrum, so that people must physically move themselves from one side of the room to the other and anywhere on the spectrum they would like to place themselves. (For adults with limited mobility, allow them to raise one arm or another.) Once people are at a place on the spectrum, allow roughly fifteen to thirty seconds for people to talk to those around them about why they positioned themselves on the spectrum.
  • End with the topic of homosexuality: The spectrum is traditional or progressive (or whatever language is better for your context – affirming or traditional marriage). Once people have positioned themselves on the spectrum, allow them to form into at least three groups (left, middle, right). Assign each group to a table to talk about why they identified themselves as they did. Ask each group to prepare a list of strengths and weaknesses of the position on a large sheet of paper. Ask groups to prepare a list of questions they would like to ask another group. At the designated end point, ask each group to post its list for display.
  • After people have gathered back into their groups, allow participants to walk around and read each group’s statement.


Small-Group Time*

  • This style of group dialogue emphasizes clarity of thought and naming assumptions or perceptions about the topic. The focus here is on attentive listening, not debating or persuading.
  • Break into small groups with no more than five people per group.
  • Ask participants to sit with their assigned table number. Identify the cross on the table, plastic game timer, or other object to be used as a talking stick. Clarify that only the person with the talking stick may speak and the other group members are to practice attentive listening. Each participant has no more than five minutes to answer one or more questions. Print out and/or display the following questions:
  • Reflect on the recent changes removing the restrictive language from the Book of Discipline (specifically, the phrase “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”). How do you feel this has affected you or those close to you? What conversations or experiences have influenced your thoughts or feelings on this matter?
  • What is your greatest concern/fear regarding the restrictive language being removed from the Book of Discipline?
  • Once complete, repeat the same process for the following questions:
  • What Bible stories or passages shape how you view people who identify as LGBTQ+?
  • Where do you see God leading the church now that the restrictive language is being removed from the Book of Discipline?
  • Once complete, repeat the same process for the following questions:
  • How might this change affect our church’s role and reputation in the broader community? What opportunities or challenges do you foresee?
  • How can we foster an ongoing dialogue within our church that respects diverse viewpoints on this issue while moving forward together?

Large-Group Reflection Time

  • This is the time for the larger group to hear some of the statements that were made during the small-group time and reflect on the perspectives of other participants.
  • This part of the exercise will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows because of particular comments.
  • If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated (instead of naming their own perspective). This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
  • Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”
  • An optional closing exercise would be to ask, “Imagine you get to heaven and your belief about this is wrong. What did you overlook?”

Closing Prayer

  • End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)

*For more detailed instructions about these models, consult The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright.

Teachable Points about Human Sexuality

(The following is a minimal representation of teachable points. We should be aware there are many others that could be included. The aim of these outlines is more about listening and uncovering assumptions than hosting a debate or passing on information. As noted in the Introduction to the Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines, the point is not providing more information or arriving at a consensus.)

Scripture passages of note (a minor sampling of what could be drawn upon):

  • There are traditionally six passages that people point to regarding homosexuality in scripture: Genesis 19:1-10; Leviticus 18:20, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10.
  • Each of these passages has been explored and interpreted in more than one way. For example, it is pointed out that what is condemned, especially in the Old Testament passages, primarily are acts of violence and abuse of power more than consensual adult homosexuality.
  • The household code of Ephesians 5:21-6:9 can be a confusing passage for many reasons. It is important to note that Paul frames the passage with verse 5:21, “Submit to one another.” Within this passage, Paul uses the analogy of Christ and the church as a model for marriage in which the foundation is mutual self-giving and loyalty. Just as Christ’s love for the church is marked by sacrifice and commitment, so should the relationship be between spouses.
  • We should remember about all these passages to look long and hard not to see “what we wish were there,” but to see what is actually there. This can be difficult for a variety of reasons. The way we use words changes. Further, scholars differ in their translations of biblical passages. (See, for example, the way various Bible versions translate 1 Corinthians 6:9.) Many people point out that the way homosexuality was practiced during the Roman empire of Paul’s day (between people with unequal power and/or age) is not the same as today.
  • While some point out that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, others will point to Mark 10:1-12 as Jesus affirming what normative marriage should look like. Others point out Jesus’ radical inclusion of the marginalized: women, tax collectors, lepers, and non-Israelites as an imperative for inclusion. As well, Jesus commanded his followers to love and “not to judge” (Matthew 7:1).
  • Given the patriarchy of certain passages and a failure to address “modern” issues such as bisexuality and transgender issues, some see the Bible as offering little to no guidance in these areas.

While some rejoice at the actions of General Conference, others are disappointed. It is helpful to remember Paul’s admonition that “now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) as well as James’s advice, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

There are scholars and (“Bible-affirming,” “Jesus-loving”) Christians who disagree on this issue and many issues. At their best, those on all sides of this issue affirm that all people should experience “abundant life.” Those on both sides of this issue (affirming or traditional) also believe they are speaking prophetically (one taking a minority stance within the Christian tradition and another taking a minority stance within the culture). Yet all sides can affirm that sexuality is a gift of God that entails responsibilities (commitment) and privileges (being self-giving). All sides agree that sexuality should be among equals and in the context of a committed relationship.

In the Revised Social Principles, passed by the 2024 General Conference, the section titled “The Nurturing Community” has a subsection devoted to “Human Sexuality.” There we read,

“We affirm human sexuality as a sacred gift and acknowledge that sexual intimacy contributes to fostering the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of individuals and to nurturing healthy sexual relationships that are grounded in love, care, and respect.” The next section states, “Within the church, we affirm marriage as a sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith [adult man and woman of consenting age or two adult persons of consenting age][1] into union with one another and into a deeper relationship with God and the religious community.”

This issue often highlights related questions such as: What is the role of experience in biblical interpretation (see Book of Discipline 105)? What in scripture is “time-bound” to a particular culture and what should transcend culture and time? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding interpretation within the community of believers?

Additional Resources

(The following resources are not an endorsement of any viewpoint. Rather, these are some of many potential resources that could benefit those looking for more information or to broaden perspectives.)

Article about the removal of the restrictive language:

Articles from General Conference:

Revised Social Principles:


[1] As of this writing, the final version has not been released. The parentheses will change to commas. Please check the links below for any potential updates.

Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.

Contact Us for Help

View staff by program area to ask for additional assistance.



* indicates required

This is a bi-monthly email where you’ll receive the highest quality resources to support your disciple-making process. Everything from Helpful Articles, New Webinar Series and Podcasts, Discounted Teaching Series, and so much more!

Please confirm that you want to receive email from us.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please read our Privacy Policy page.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.