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!
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.