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,
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.