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,
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.