This Saturday Feb 23 through Tuesday Feb 26, the United Methodist Church will convene a special called General Conference in St. Louis. The purpose of the conference is to act on the report from the Commission on the Way Forward. The Commission on the Way Forward was formed after delegates at the 2016 General Conference reached an impasse over issues involving the ordination of lesbian and gay persons and whether same sex weddings could be hosted in United Methodist Churches and/or officiated by United Methodist Clergy.
Currently, the United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits ordination for “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and prohibits same sex weddings from taking place on church property or being officiated by United Methodist clergy. The impasse stemmed from the actions of clergy with progressive views who, after years of unsuccessfully trying to change these policies, felt their consciences left them no choice but to openly violate these policies without penalty in some cases and with severe penalties in other cases based on the viewpoints of the clergy’s annual conference and Bishop.
In response, the 2016 General Conference formed the Commission on the Way, a 32 member commission comprised of United Methodist clergy and laity from all over the world with diverse viewpoints representing the traditional, moderate/centrist, and progressive perspectives. The Commission on the Way Forward considered 3 plans: The One Church Plan, The Traditional Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan. Ultimately, the majority of the commission members and the majority of the Council of Bishops expressed support for the One Church Plan. A progressive group of United Methodist clergy has also submitted a plan to the General Conference called The Simple Plan.
Understanding The Plans
The One Church Planacknowledges the disagreement with the UMC over issues of LGBTQ inclusion and allows annuals conferences to decide questions of ordination, local churches to decide whether to host same sex weddings, and pastors to choose whether or not to officiate same sex weddings. It provides protections for pastors and churches of various viewpoints to follow their conscience in these matters.
The (Modified) Traditional Plan strengthens the enforcement of the prohibitions which are already in place and encourages progressive annual conferences and churches to leave the UMC to form other expressions of Methodism. The plan is sometimes referred to as “modified” because of modifications which will be offered in the form of amendments at General Conference to fix constitutional problems in the original legislation.
The Connection Conference Plan creates 3 sub-denominations (traditional, centrist, and progressive), termed “connectional conferences” within the United Methodism. The connectional conferences would set their own standards for ordination and marriage. This plan is unlikely to pass due to the need for constitutional amendments requiring 2/3 of the vote as well as ratification by annual conferences. All other plans require only 50%+1 of the vote.
The Simple Plan takes out all language regarding homosexuality from the Book of the Discipline as well as removing gender specific definitions of marriage. Practically, this would make decision-making on these issues localized without the protections for freedom of conscience found in the One Church Plan.
You can find a more detailed overview of the plans at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties_UGC/learn/documents/GC2019-Plan-comparison.pdf
In recent months, there has also been much talk of whether “gracious exit” plans should be considered which would allow churches who disagree with the UMC stance on homosexuality to leave the denomination while keeping their property and avoiding a cost prohibitive penalty. Several petitions including formulas for such a provision will be considered by the General Conference.
What to Expect At General Conference
How Can I Follow the Work of the General Conference?
How Can I Respond to the Work of the General Conference?
The Judicial Council recently ruled regarding the constitutionality of the three plans for the Way Forward designed by the Commission. Here’s a brief synopsis and some more detailed resources.
What this Means?
The One Church Plan will go to the 2019 General Conference largely intact with three minor adjustments. The Traditional Plan is currently being reworked with the hopes of maintaining its essence while adjusting its structure to become constitutional. There is no way of knowing right now if the revisions to the Traditional will be able to maintain the essence of the plan or whether the revisions will be deemed constitutional or not.
What’s Happening Now?
The debate has begun to shift significantly to focus on the idea of a gracious exit. Expect a more detailed blog on this matter soon.
How can I know more about the details of the Judicial Council Ruling?
Blessings to you and your church,
In the last few months more has become clear about the plans and process for the Way Forward for United Methodist Church that will be debated at the special called General Conference in St. Louis Feb 23-26 of 2019 to deal with the current impasse over LGBTQ inclusion with United Methodism. Here’s a brief update on what we know of the plans, judicial deliberations, legislative process, and political maneuvering as February approaches.
The Commission on the Way Forward at the request of the Council of Bishops produced a reportcomplete with accompanying legislation for the 3 possible plans: the One Church Plan, the Traditionalist Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan.
The Judicial Council ruledthat other United Methodist groups and individuals could submit legislation to the 2019 General Conference. The Commission on the General Conferenceis charged with evaluating the additional legislation to ensure it is within the purpose of the called General Conference. Any other legislation that meets this criteria will be published and submitted for consideration by the General Conference. While most of this legislation is still unknown, one submission called The Simple Plan is already gaining attention.
The Judicial Council will meet Oct 23-26, 2018 to consider constitutional challenges to the One Church Plan and the Traditional Plan. If the Judicial Council finds any part of these plans to be unconstitutional then the plans could be amended significantly or the necessary constitutional amendments could be added to the plans.
There have been increasing calls from some corners of United Methodism for amendments to the trust clause to allow local church a “gracious exit” from the UMC for reasons if conscience regardless of which plan passes at General Conference. (The Trust clause holds that all local church property is held in trust by the Annual Conference thus preventing churches from leaving the denomination with their property unless they pay its value to the annual conference or negotiate other arrangements.) This movement is most prominently supported by a newly formed group called United Methodists for a Gracious Exit.
Now, let’s consider the plans and their details.
The One Church Plan:
· Acknowledges different views of human sexuality within the UMC
· Places the power make decisions regarding how to apply issues of human sexuality to the ordination process within the Annual Conferences, primarily within the Annual Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference.
· Gives local churches the power to decide whether to host same sex weddings on their property and whether to receive an openly LGBTQ pastor into their pulpits.
· Gives clergy the right to decide whether to officiate same sex weddings.
· Requires no constitutional amendments in its current form. It can pass at General Conference with a 50%+1 vote.
The One Church Plan has been endorsed by a majority of the members of the Council of Bishops and a majority of the members of the Commission on the Way Forward. Among United Methodist groups, the One Church plan is supported most prominently by the Uniting Methodists.
The Traditionalist Plan:
· Maintains and strengthens current language identifying homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibiting the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexual persons as well as the celebration of same-sex weddings on church property or officiated by UMC clergy.
· Adds stricter enforcement policies and creates mandatory minimum penalties for clergy who perform same sex weddings. Clergy who have a complaint against them for performing a same sex wedding that goes to a church trial would receive a mandatory minimum penalty of a one year suspension without pay for the first offense and the loss credentials for the second offense. If such a complaint were to be resolved using the Just Resolution process rather than a church trial, then the commitment not to repeat the offense would be a requirement within the resolution.
· Annual Conferences and Bishops would be required to certify that they would uphold the policies regarding human sexuality. Annual Conferences, local churches, and clergy who desire more progressive policies in regards to human sexuality would be encouraged to leave the UMC and join or form other expressions of Methodism.
· Requires no constitutional amendments in its current form. It can pass the General Conference with a 50%+1 vote.
The Traditionalist Plan is supported by a minority of the members of the Council of Bishops and a minority of the members of the Commission on the Way Forward. Among other United Methodist groups, the Traditionalist plan is most prominently supported by the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The Connectional Conference Plan:
· Creates 3 Connectional Conferences (traditionalist, centrist, and progressive). In essence, these connectional conferences serve as sub-denominations within the larger umbrella denomination of United Methodism.
· Jurisdictions, Annual Conferences, and local churches choose their connectional conference.
· Clergy credentials are held within the connectional conferences. Clergy will have the possibility of holding credentials within multiple connectional conferences.
· Is unlikely to pass due to constitutional amendments requiring a 2/3 vote of the General Conference and subsequent ratification by a 2/3 aggregate total vote of the annual conferences and central conferences.
While initially enjoying significant support, enthusiasm for the Connectional Conference has declined as its high level of complexity has become more apparent.
The Simple Plan:
· Goes back to the language of the Discipline in 1968 by taking out all LGBTQ references from the Discipline, thus drawing no distinction between LGBTQ persons and heterosexual persons.
· Would permit very different implicit standards for LGBTQ inclusions in different places within the UMC.
The Simple Plan is supported most strongly by progressive groups who see the One Church Plan as still officially sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ persons. It has been submitted to the General Conference by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus.
I hope you have found this summary helpful to you and your church. My next post will most likely focus on constructive ways to present this information to your church. If you don’t want to wait for the next blog, you can view a recent webinar I conducted on this matter by clicking here.
Blessings to you and church,
For most of the past two years, the Commission on the Way Forward has been working with Council of Bishops to create a plan to overcome the current impasse over LGBTQ inclusion and move the United Methodist Church towards a faithful future.
In late 2017, we learned the Commission and the Council of Bishops were considering three possible options: 1) A Traditionalist Option which would maintain language prohibiting full LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC and would strengthen the ability of the denomination to enforce these prohibitions. 2) A One Church Plan which would allow decisions about LGBTQ inclusion to be made locally in different parts of the world to allow the church throughout the world to minister effectively in very diverse contexts. 3) A Connectional Conference Model (initially referred to as the Multi-Branch Model) that would create 3 sub-denominations (progressive, centrist, and traditionalist) within a larger umbrella denomination known as United Methodism.
With the conclusion of the work of the commission in May 2018 followed by a statement from the Council of Bishops and an important ruling from the Judicial Council, we now know a lot more about the short-term future of the United Methodist Church than we did just a couple weeks ago.
The Council of Bishops will recommend the One Church plan to the special called General Conference in 2019 and they will submit the accompanying legislation to be included in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) – the official pre-Conference legislative publication of the General Conference - to enact the One Church plan. The Bishops will also include a report detailing their research into the traditionalist plan and the Connectional Conference Model. The details of this report of its accompanying legislation will be published simultaneously in all the official languages of the General Conference no later than early July. So while our current knowledge of the report is admittedly incomplete, here are a few educated guesses about what to expect.
The legislation proposing the One Church Model will highlight the Bishop’s theological discernment that LGBTQ inclusion should not be a church dividing issue. The legislation will most likely eliminate language condemning or affirming same sex romantic relationships and marriages. It’s also highly likely that the legislation will continue to allow the annual conference Boards of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Sessions to determine the requirements for ordination. Regarding same sex marriage, individual pastors would decide whether to officiate wedding ceremonies and local churches would decide whether their buildings would be used for such occasions.
Regarding the traditionalist option, it is likely that the Bishops’ report will highlight the public and expensive conflict that would take place in annual conferences and in the courts if this option were put in place. In regards to the Connectional Conference Model, which in the beginning was the favorite of many United Methodists in theory, the report will most likely note the difficulty of passing the necessary constitutional amendments to implement such an option and the current lack of strong constituent support from any side for this option.
Shortly after the statement from the Council of Bishops, the Judicial Council released a decision that legislation for the special 2019 General Conference would be received from any United Methodist organization, pastor or lay person so long as the legislation was in line with the purpose for the General Conference of helping the United Methodist Church move beyond the current impasse over LGBTQ inclusion.
This means that in addition to the Bishops legislation, other legislation will be submitted to the ADCA in advance of General Conference. In all likelihood this will mean that legislation will be submitted by individuals or groups to propose the traditionalist option, the multi-branch option, and a progressive option which would mandate full LGBTQ inclusion in all United Methodists churches and organizations throughout the world.
If this is the case, then it should be expected that when the One Church approach proposed by the Bishops is placed on the floor of General Conference that those who have submitted legislations calling for other approaches will come to the floor to make a motion to substitute their legislation in place of the One Church plan from the Bishops. The General Conference will then vote on whether to consider the Bishop’s legislation or another option before finally seeking to perfect and pass or defeat whichever option is selected.
In July, we will know a lot of the details that we can only guess at today. Until then, the most important thing any of us can do is work in our local settings to help our people understand the differing points of view within United Methodism, the work of our denomination through the world spreading the Gospel and eliminating suffering and oppression, and the importance of our local churches in our local communities.
Until we know more specifics about the legislation, my next blogs will focus on how to guide the people of our churches into these important conversations and how I have come to see that these conversations really can be moments of building up faith rather than tearing one another down.
Blessings to you all and your churches,
Over the past 6 months, I have personally led or coached numerous churches through helping their people learn about and discuss the way forward for United Methodism using the material provided in Unafraid and Unashamed: Facing the Future of United Methodism. The large majority of these conversations have turned out to be extremely constructive and surprisingly enrichening for the participants. Pastors have reported to me after the conversations their congregations exhibit less anxiety about the future and a greater commitment to their local church.
In a couple instances, however, the conversations have turned into less than helpful debates that have created unnecessary tension between participants. In each case, I’ve tried my best to figure out what makes the difference between a constructive discussion and destructive discussion. Are there any commonalities we can identify between conversations that went well and discussions that turned out to be unhelpful?
Interestingly, I have found one factor that all the unhelpful discussions had in common and it has nothing to do with whether the pastors and churches self-identify as traditionalist, centrist, or progressive. In the unhelpful conversations, the leader of the discussion came across as explicitly trying to convince the group that their opinion regarding LGBTQ inclusion was correct (or in one instance the leader allowed a participant with a similar agenda to dominate the discussion.)
I know right now some of you may be thinking: But how we think about LGBTQ inclusion is important. In fact, it’s crucial to our witness and it has a direct impact on many lives. How can you say we should not have an agenda when it comes to talking with people about it?
It’s true, how the United Methodist Church addresses LGBTQ inclusion will impact millions of lives and it is crucial to our witness. However, when we invite our congregations to talk about the future of United Methodism and they discern that our invitation contains within it a hidden agenda to get them to think more like us about LGBTQ inclusion, they feel threatened and defensive.
I’m not saying it’s not important to share how we feel about LGBTQ inclusion and even try to persuade others to do the same. There are settings where that is exactly what needs to be done. I am just saying the place to do it is not in a conversation about the most faithful path forward for the United Methodist Church given the different viewpoints on LGBTQ inclusion within it.
Every single United Methodist Church will have and needs to have conversations about the future of United Methodist and LGBTQ inclusion. The question is will these conversations take place prayerfully in the church building or heatedly in the church parking lot.
Instead of going into such conversations trying to convince others to think like you, go in trying to help each participant understand how others who love Jesus and love people could think differently than they do. Take your que from the full version of the serenity prayer which encourages us to “take, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have.” When it comes to talking about the future, let’s discuss our beloved and imperfect UMC as it is not as we would have it if we ruled the world. Focus on understanding the various perspectives of sincere disciples within our denomination and then help your congregation ask: "Given our varying viewpoints and the mission of our church, what is the most faithful way to move forward?"
I think you will find when you approach a conversation from this angle the participants will be more likely to truly engage the issues because they do not feel the need to constantly defend their current position. You might be interested to know that a few participants in discussions based on Unafraid and Unashamed have changed their opinions about LGBTQ inclusion after the discussion which I found quite surprising since I had rarely if ever seen individual opinions shift in numerous church and clergy conversations solely about human sexuality over the years. I can’t tell you everyone who shifted their opinion shifted in the exact same manner, but I can tell you they all felt they were able to find a deeper sense that their opinion about the issue stemmed from their faith rather than simply the dominant culture views of their locality.
These results remind me of something a wise mentor said to me a couple decades ago: “The more you try to control others, the less you influence them. The more you try to understand others, the more you influence them.”
In writing Unafraid and Unashamed, I attempted to be brutally honest about the future choices facing our denomination and unrelentingly honest and charitable in my representation of the differing viewpoints within the UMC. I did this because I have found the best way to place ourselves in the path of God’s miraculous power is to be brutally honest about our current path and unceasingly loving to those in our lives. Perhaps if we can help our people have wholly honest and kind conversations about the way for the UMC, we will place ourselves in a position to discern God’s holy way forward for the UMC.
Your people will be having these conversations no matter what happens. You can allow these conversations to happen haphazardly with misinformation or you can proactively help shepherd your church through the issues of our day and age just as faithful leaders have done in previous eras.
In my next post, I’ll focus more on why our churches need their leaders to help lead these conversations.
For now, please accept my sincere wishes for a happy new year and blessings to you and your churches!
Recently, the Commission on a Way Forward presented an interim report to the Council of Bishops in which they shared their preliminary proposals. In a news release, the Council of Bishops reported they received three different options from the commission.
Proposal #1 – Maintain the current language in the Book of Discipline and strengthen accountability procedures.
Proposal #2 – Remove language forbidding ordination and marriage based on sexual preference from the Book of Discipline. Allow churches and conferences to work out their response to questions regarding LGBTQ inclusion in their local context. (Similar previous proposals have often been referred to as “The Local Option”.)
Proposal #3 – Create a system where 2 or perhaps 3 denominations with different standards regarding LGBTQ inclusion operate and share ministry together under the larger umbrella of United Methodism. In essence this plan would create 2 or 3 sub-denominations within one larger denomination.
Here’s what we know and what we don’t know from the Bishops Report.
I hope you find this blog helpful as you discern how to prepare the people of your congregation for the debate over the future of United Methodism. In my next blog, I will be writing about the best practices for leading a fruitful conversation about the future of the United Methodism and a few of common mistakes leaders make which prevent the conversation from being constructive.
Blessings to you and your church,
Have you been pondering how to initiate conversations about the way forward for United Methodism in your congregation?
As you know, I wrote Unafraid and Unashamed in the hopes of providing churches with a resource to guide these conversations in an honest, constructive and faith-filled manner. In my last blog, I provided suggestions for creating a timeline for these conversations. In this post, I want to share how to structure these conversations based on the time and setting available to you.
If you have 4-8 weeks available for your study, I recommend downloading the free leader’s guide and teaching one or two chapters per week as dictated by your schedule. The leader’s guide is a great tool written by Rev. Glenna Manning, an ordained United Methodist Deacon who combines an insightful theological perspective with keen insights into teaching theory gained from decades working in the public-school system.
But what if you don’t have enough time to follow the leader’s guide through each chapter?
Let’s say you have only 3 sessions to teach the class and there is no way you can work through all the material in that time. I have already taught several three session classes myself on the book and here’s my recommendation.
Week 1 – Focus on chapters 1&2. These chapters provide a history of the debate with United Methodism around LGBTQ inclusion and charitable respectful articulations of the traditionalist, centrist, and progressive viewpoints.
Week 2 – Focus on chapter 5. This chapter looks at all the other challenges the United Methodist church must face to minister effectively in a rapidly changing culture outside of LGBTQ inclusion. It concludes by inviting participants to reflect honestly on whether the denomination can face these challenges within its current structure and to consider how their local church can best reach out to its changing community.
Week 3 – Focus on chapters 7&8. These chapters help participants calmly and faithfully consider what to do if they feel differently from their local church or denomination about LGBTQ inclusion and the importance of working with Christians of various perspective on the issues we all agree on.
Okay, now let’s consider what to do if you do not have the luxury of multiple sessions. What if you only have one 50-minute session? Can you still discuss these complex issues in less than an hour? Yes, you can. Here’s how:
Minutes 0-5 – Discuss the “About This Guide” section and pray the “Opening Prayer” from page 2 of the leader’s guide. This will help establish an honest and respectful atmosphere for your session.
Minutes 5-20 – Focus on chapter 1 and the history of the debate within the UMC. Without knowing the history, it is very hard to make sense of the present and very easy to become disillusioned.
Minutes 20-35 – Focus on chapter 2 and understanding the different viewpoints within United Methodism. Without understanding why sincere Christians might see things different, it is hard to engage in constructive conversations about the future of the church.
Minutes 35-45 – Focus on chapters 7&8. Spend just a few minutes discussing 2 questions with the class: 1) What should you do when your opinion is in the minority within your faith community? 2) Where can Christians of different perspectives on LGBTQ inclusion work together to bless the world and spread the Gospel?
Minutes 45-50 – Q & A.
Be prepared for participants to ask you to provide more classes. I have received this request at every presentation I have made about this topic. Your church members know this is a big deal and they want to be ready to face it with honest informed perspectives.
What to do if you have another class format not covered in this post? Email me at email@example.com. I’m always happy to brainstorm with you about the right set up for your context.
By the way, if you have been waiting to order copies of Unafraid and Unashamed for your church this may be the best week to do it. Throughout this Cyber Monday week, my publisher is offering discounts of 30% on all orders of 5 or more books using the coupon code CMBULK on purchases made through marketsquarebooks.com. Individual copies can be purchased at a 20% discount using the code CMW2017.
Blessings to you and your church,
When I talk to fellow pastors about a Way Forward for United Methodism, the most common question I hear is: “When should I begin talking to my congregation about a Way Forward?”
Some congregations have already picked a side. Some congregations have stayed up to date on all the denominational happenings. But it seems most pastors have been patiently waiting for the right time to prepare their congregations for the possibility of significant changes to United Methodism as we know it.
It’s understandable for many pastors to be waiting. They want to have as much accurate information as possible and they do not want to unnecessarily interject anxiety into the life of their congregation. So, generally when I have gotten the question about the right time to talk to your congregation about the way forward, it has been difficult to answer.
Thankfully, the new statement by the Council of Bishops about the way forward offers a timeline that helps answer the question of when to talk to your congregation. In their statement, the Bishops say they are exploring 3 options for the Way Forward (we’ll discuss those options in more detail in future posts) and they say that the Commission on a Way Forward will give their final report to the Council of Bishops in May 2018.
Here’s what we can infer from that tidbit of info:
How do we take this information and turn it into a timeline for constructively talking to our congregations about the Way Forward? Here’s my basic recommendations. (As always, you may need to adjust it for your local context.)
I realize this suggested timeline may not be right for everyone. I have been working with numerous churches recently to discover the best timeline and most constructive format for these important conversations in their local settings. If you need help discerning the timeline for your congregation, please feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to help you find the right timeline for your context.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll share options for how to structure these classes and what we have learned from the 3 options presented in the recent statement by the Council of Bishops.
Blessings to you and your church,
Wil Cantrell serves as the Associate Pastor of Concord United Methodist Church in Farragut, TN. Wil’s driving passion is to help people live an authentic life while experiencing a real growing faith in Jesus Christ. Previously, he served as the associate pastor at Middlebrook Pike UMC and as the pastor of Lebanon Memorial UMC (Lebanon, VA) before coming to Concord UMC in July 2015.