Day 3 of General Conference began with legislative committee work on the Traditional Plan. Multiple amendments were made to the plan before the plan was passed by a vote of 461 (56%) – 359 (44%). The Traditional Plan still has many amendments which must be adopted to make it constitutional. These amendments will most likely be added to the Traditional Plan when it comes back to the body on the plenary floor.
Following the vote on the Traditional Plan, votes were taken on the Disaffiliation Plans by Taylor and Boyette. The Taylor plan passed by 53% and the Boyette plan passed by 52%, so when these plans come to the plenary floor the delegates will have to choose whether or not to ultimately pass one of the these plans. For more details about these plans, please see yesterday’s blog.
The One Church Plan then came for debate by the legislative committee. After amendments were debated several of which were adopted, The One Church Plan was defeated in the legislative committee with 386 (47%) voting for the One Church Plan and 436 (53%) against it. Most delegates anticipate the One Church Plan will ultimately be brought back to the plenary floor by a minority.
Following rejection of the One Church Plan, there was a motion to have the legislative committee reject all the remaining petitions in mass. The motion passed after being amended to allow debate on The Simple Plan. Though the Simple Plan did not garner much support in the prioritization votes, delegates voted to give it a hearing within the committee as a sign of respect and willingness to listen to the LGBTQI community.
After passionate debate the Simple Plan was ultimately voted down, 323 (40%) for versus 494 (60%) against.
There was a request for the Judicial Council to give a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of all the plans coming before the plenary session Tuesday. This request passed and, most likely, we will hear the decision of the Judicial Council tomorrow morning.
The depth of divisions within our denomination are becoming more and more clear in our votes thus far. As I was reflecting on the difficulty our divisions present, I looked down at my travel Bible on the table beside my book of legislation. Within the pages of the Bible, I found a piece of paper from my time serving as Minister in Residence for a week at Camp Wesley Woods last summer. On that piece of paper were the names of every child at camp that week – which I spent a week studying and trying my best to memorize. Some of those children accepted Christ that week. Many others rededicated their life to Christ.
This piece of paper reminded me that decisions made at this General Conference could have the effect of making children whose names are on that piece of paper feel unwelcome in the UMC. It also reminded me God knows each of our names, the number of hairs on each of our heads and loves each enough even at our worst to die for us – and no decision about a Way Forward for the UMC changes any of that.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Day 2 of General Conference began with worship and a sermon from Bishop Ken Carter asking the delegates to trust God to provide a way for the church to remain united and carry out its mission to make disciples.
A lengthy and informative report was given by the Commission on the Way Forward. The report celebrated the way the Commission members came to love and respect one another in an extraordinarily diverse environment while working together on an extraordinarily difficult task.
During the report of the Commission, the One Church plan was recognized as having the support of the majority of Commission members and the majority of the Council of Bishops. It was presented as a plan that could keep the church together while respecting diversity. The Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditional Plan, however, were presented to the General Conference by members of the commission who supported them strongly.
The Connectional Conference plan was lifted up as a plan which creates the necessary organizational space to maintain unity in mission. The Traditional Plan was presented as a plan that would enable unity in adherence to the Book of Discipline while creating a realistic path for progressive churches and annual conferences to form a new expression of Methodism where they could follow their consciences in relation to LGBTQ inclusion.
A Judicial Council Decision
The General Conference received a report from the Judicial Council sharing the results of Decision #1375 in which the Judicial Council ruled petition 90052 (A Traditional Way Forward with Enhanced Enforcement) was unconstitutional for infringing on the right of annual conferences to vote on clergy credentialing. Petition 90078 (part of the Modified Traditional) was also ruled unconstitutional for violating paragraphs 49&50 of the Discipline by infringing on the rights of the Council of Bishops by creating a Global Episcopacy committee which was proposed to increase the accountability of Bishops.
After quickly implementing the standing rules, the General Conference moved to the work of prioritizing the plans. The votes to prioritize legislation dictate the order in which the legislative committee will consider legislation. Some delegates may well vote for something to get on the agenda to show their support for a certain viewpoint who would be quite reticent about voting for the same legislation in its final form because of concerns for its unintended consequences. Still, the prioritization vote sets the tone and provides momentum for the plans or petitions which receive the highest prioritization.
It should also be noted here that several petitions did not come before the legislative committee because they affected Central Conferences (conferences outside the United States) and by the Discipline thereby must be referred to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The Standing Committee has not yet report back on these petitions, so the list below of prioritization should be considered somewhat incomplete. Some of the individual petitions from the Traditional Plan and The One Church plan were among those petitions sent to the Standing Committee.
The top 5 plans or petitions receiving votes for prioritization were:
Other results of special interest include: The Simple Plan received the 8thhighest priority with 153 votes (19%). The Connectional Conference Plan was the 15thhighest priority with 102 votes (12%).
The Wespath Recommendation deals with two petitions: 1) Churches wanting to leave the denomination would need to pay (at least, but not limited to) their share of their annual conferences unfunded pension liability as calculated using commercial annuity rates (a very conservative growth estimate which would have the effect of greatly increasing pension liability calculations). 2) Pastors withdrawing from the denomination would have their defined benefit accounts converting to personal investment accounts based on a calculation of the current value of the current projected value of the future defined benefits they have earned.
You can learn more about the Traditional and Plan and the One Church plan at http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties_UGC/learn/documents/GC2019-Plan-comparison.pdf.
The Disaffiliation petitions focus on means whereby churches wishing to withdraw from the United Methodist denomination could do so without being held to the standard of the trust clause (which states that local churches hold their property in trust for their annual conference meaning churches withdrawing for the denomination would have to leave without their property or repay the annual conference for the value of their property).
The Taylor petition allows disaffiliation from the UMC with a two-thirds vote of a church conference after a 90-day period of study and discernment without being held accountable to the trust clause if they leave due to disagreements with the denomination over the practice of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual unions.
The Boyette petition allows for disaffiliation with a 55% vote of the church’s professing members or a two-thirds vote at a charge conference without being held accountable to trust clause if the church cites irreconcilable differences with the doctrines and teachings in the Book of Discipline. This petition also requires churches to pay their unfunded pension liability to the annual conference.
Legislative Committee Work
Once the General Conference moved into legislative committee session, the Wespath petition were passed with 95% of the vote. The conference then moved into a time of worship followed by adjournment for the evening. It is expected the General Conference will begin its work on Monday morning by considering the Traditional Plan in legislative committee. (For more on the role of the legislative committee, please see yesterday’s blog.)
What Does This Mean?
The Traditional Plan has the most momentum right now though, as noted earlier, garnering over 50% of the vote is much easier in a priority vote than in a vote for final passage.
The One Church may pick up additional support from a few delegates who voted solely for The Simple Plan in the prioritization vote who will now begin to support One Church due to its higher feasibility. There is also the matter of what to think about the perspectives of at least 3-4% of delegates who voted for both the Traditional Plan and the One Church plan to receive high priority. No one quite knows where their votes will land, if anywhere, when it comes time for final passage.
Were There Any Protests?
There was a rather mild protest by progressive advocates after the results of the prioritization voting were read. The protest involved chanting from the back of the arena. The protest did not interrupt the work of the General Conference which continued on schedule. It is understandable for LGBTQ United Methodists and progressive advocates to feel quite hurt by the vote and feel the need to express their hurt. Several moderate delegates, however, commented to me the protest did not sit well with them.
What Are My Priorities
I have been asked often how I will vote during this General Conference. I always respond by saying that a delegate’s voting record at the General Conference is secret for good reason. We want delegates to vote their conscience without fear of retribution. So, though I often choose to share my perspectives with you in an effort to be transparent, I would ask that you not expect the same from all other delegates and that you would refrain from pressuring any delegate to tell you how they voted.
I have been honest throughout the process of seeking a Way Forward for the UMC that I desire to see a UMC where we recognize there are compassionate, intelligent, Bible-Believing, Jesus-Loving United Methodists who are quite traditional and compassionate, intelligent, Bible-Believing, Jesus-Loving United Methodists who are very progressive in their beliefs about LGBTQ inclusion in the church. I know this because many of those on both sides of this divide have offered me Christ and mentored me in the faith. (If you are wondering how I can believe Jesus-Loving, Bible Believing Christians can disagree about LGBTQ inclusion in the church, please click hereto read a chapter from my recent book, Unafraid and Unashamed, which addresses this question directly.)
I desire for there to be a United Methodist Church were the diverse views of my mentors are honored, respected and protected. For this reason, I resonate with many of the ideas expressed in the One Church Plan which strongly guards freedom of conscience. I resonate with some of the ideas of expressed in the Simple Plan which questions why the church must take a stance on issues which compassionate, intelligent, Jesus-Loving, Bible Believing Christians can disagree on. I also resonate with some of our current standards which allow for diversity in practice, if not in theory. I cannot support The (Modified) Traditional Plan which establishes one perspective as the law of the land and encourages those with other perspectives to act against their consciences or leave the denomination.
I understand your perspective on United Methodism may not match my perspective. If not, I hope you know you still have my respect and love. And I hope you will find my articulation of the actions of General Conference to be fair and thoughtful.
If you are an LGBTQ person reading this blog, please know you are a beloved child of God not an issue merely to be debated.
If you are a concerned United Methodist of whatever perspective who simply wants to the church learn how to love the people Christ loved the way Christ loved them, please continue to pray Christ will work in, through, above, beyond and if need be in spite of us and our sacred, yet imperfect way of doing church together.
Blessings to all!
Day 1 of the General Conference began with 7 hours of worship, prayer and fasting.
Beginning with Prayers and Praises
The day focused on surrendering and submitting to God. Bishops led prayer from the stage and delegates took time to gather with one another for discussion and prayer.
Prayers were offered from each area of the world. Representatives of Europe and Asia celebrated churches bringing together youth from Ukraine and Russia to help bring peace among two conflicted cultures. They celebrated the way United Methodist Churches were welcoming migrants coming to Europe from all over the world and helping start new churches. They asked for prayer for the churches in Russia where new governmental restrictions severely limit the ability of churches to share the Gospel in their communities.
Churches from Africa celebrated new churches starting with almost no budget and trusting God to provide. They prayed for God’s strength for the church to remain united and continue its work in Africa in the areas of combatting preventable diseases and promoting women’s education and empowerment.
Churches from the United States asked for prayer for discrimination affecting migrants and African Americans. There was also a time of prayer for LGBTQ persons in the room and throughout the UMC.
UMC churches from the Philippines and Southeast Asia prayed for an end to violence against women, extrajudicial killings, terrorism and economic stagnation forcing many of their church members to seek employment in other countries to provide for their families.
The hours of prayer and worship concluded with a communion service and a scripture reading about the day of Pentecost from the book of Acts.
It was a beautiful morning to hear so many different languages and see so many diverse people praying for God’s will for our lives and the life of the church.
The business portion of the conference started in the late afternoon with a review of the plans and organization for the legislative portion of the conference which will begin in earnest tomorrow. For the first time the General Conference is employing a professional parliamentarian to help guide the chairperson and Bishops as they preside. Delegates were given significant training in the rules of order by the parliamentarian.
What to Expect Tomorrow
Sunday, after an opening worship service, the General Conference will prioritize legislation and elect officers for committee work. Expect to see votes designed to judge the priority which should be given to differing pieces of legislation. This will provide a bellwether for which plans and petitions have the most chance of eventual passage. The conference will also elect officers to preside over the legislative committee work on Monday.
Due to the rules of General Conference all legislation must go before a legislative committee before initially coming to the plenary floor. Due the focused nature of this General Conference there will only be one legislative committee comprised of all the delegates on Monday. Then anything the delegates pass in committee on Monday will go to the plenary floor on Tuesday for final approval or defeat.
Since there is only one committee, there only be one chairperson, one vice chair, and one secretary elected as officers. There will be significant discussion among delegates about how to elect officers who can be trusted to be impartial, efficient and able to oversee the committee in such a way that all delegates have equal opportunity to be involved in the deliberations of the committee.
How People Are Feeling
Throughout the morning of prayer and worship a feeling of anxiety and foreboding gradually gave way to a warm feeling of fellowship and shared hopes. There are still many fears, but our hope is that the peace which comes from prayer will help us speak the truth to one another in love rather than resentment or hate.
Some delegates fear a church that would adopt policies out of line with their understanding of scripture which would cause them to feel the need to leave the denomination. Others fear a denomination which no longer recognizes their call to ministry and where the calls of many other LGBTQ persons are ignored. Parents fear a church where their LGBTQ children do not feel entirely welcome. And many share the fear that a divided church would no longer be able to carry on all the ministries we celebrated and prayed for today. Pastors fear conflicts within their local churches and the possibility of struggling to provide for their families if church budgets are detrimentally affected.
And everyone hopes and prays God will moves us forward to a faithful future.
Please join us in these hopes and prayers.
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?
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.