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.