It’s important the Methodists understand the issues at play in the Covenantal Unity Plan (CUP) that came out this week. As your one-stop shop for unity/schism plans within the United Methodist Church, read on for informed analysis.
Who wrote the CUP Plan?
It’s usually a bad sign when a Methodist group has no names behind it, and in this case, has paid to hide the website identifying data. Previous examples of this kind of secrecy are:
- PlanB in 2012 refused to name their originators at first. Their resulting proposal PlanUMC ended up being declared unconstitutional.
- The 80 schismatic clergy have never been named (my interpretation: out of fear of not being elected to General Conference).
So whenever a proposal comes out without names behind it, we should be wary. I know Traditionalists react badly to being asked questions of “who wrote this,” but really: hiding identity while calling for more accountability is an odd combination.
That’s not to say that CUP is not without identification of its origins. Proposals 5&6 were originally written by Rev. Dr. Bill Arnold of Asbury Theological Seminary. Proposal 1 was originally written in the A&W plan by Dr. Arnold and Rev. Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary. Given that theawplan.org both hosts the broken cup logo and redirects to the CUP plan, it’s probably safe to assume of its origins or at least influence.
Regardless, there are three categories that the CUP Proposals fall into:
1. Tightening the Thumbscrews: Judicial Reform
We’ll start out easy. The first two Proposals articulate reforms of the judicial process that takes place whenever someone is brought up on charges. These are not neutral reforms: 9 times out of 10, they relate to a minister who has officiated a same-gender wedding or has identified themselves as lesbian or gay.
- Proposal #1 requires that the person making the complaint is party to the just resolution phase. This has been a sticking point of Dr. Arnold, featured in previous HX coverage here, who claims it is not a just resolution without agreement by the person making the complaint. What this means is that the complainant takes the power away from the reconciliation process and can force any complaint to go to a retributive process (clergy trial). Currently, the complainant (who may not live in the accused’s ministry area) does not have to consent to the reconciliation aspects just resolution, and thus cannot force a trial.
- Proposal #2 requires that the just resolution process include an apology and commitment to not officiate weddings anymore. *Shrug* No opinion.
This first Proposals reframes the just resolution process as retributive rather than reconciliatory. And the following two Proposals make it even more so.
2. Flattening Covenant Accountability
This is the key error in the Proposals. The clergy covenant is practiced between members of an annual conference , and the episcopal covenant is practiced between members of a college (jurisdiction) of bishops. However, two of the proposals expand these Covenants to ensure greater ability for retributive actions.
- Proposal #3 removes the accountability process for a complaint against a Bishop away from their jurisdiction and into the hands of the global UMC. It gives numerous powers to the Interjurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy, which previously was charged with transfers of Bishops to serve vacancies or to recommend reductions in numbers of bishops when jurisdictions’ populations shift. Practically, this means laity or non-Bishop clergy (as chairs of ICE) would be in charge of handling complaints against Bishops–a sharp violation of our practice of peer accountability in the UMC (clergy are accountable to other regional clergy, bishops are accountable to other bishops).
- Proposal #4 mandates a minimum sentence whenever an individual officiates a same-gender wedding. By moving accountability out of the hands of the annual conference, they deny the ability of the annual conference to hold their clergy accountable and force the resolution to be retributive rather than restorative. Little wonder: Rev. Amy DeLong’s trial in Wisconsin led to a restorative process that articulated the clergy covenant needed to be practiced before it could be a punishment, and we are all bettered by it.
Both of these proposals place accountability outside of their appropriate spheres. By moving clergy accountability away from the annual conference’s discernment, and moving episcopal accountability away from colleagues to laity, these very proposals violate the covenant to which we have previously agreed. Not even the Holy Spirit can overcome a Book of Discipline minimum sentence–are we sure that’s what we want?
3. Get Out of Covenant Free Card
The final two proposals give legislative backing to allow churches and people to leave the UMC with their money and property intact. But all is not what it seems:
- Proposal #5 seemingly proposes a process whereby a progressive local church can leave the UMC for more LGBT-friendly pastures. However, the key line is this: “it is in irreconcilable conflict for reasons of conscience with the provisions of The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline.” While this seems like it is for progressives to leave, it can also be read that the UMC’s provisions are not sufficient to keep LGBT inclusion from the UMC. The very first church trial that results in an acquittal or just resolution will be a trigger that the megachurch and local pastor-presided churches can point to in order to leave scot-free. We warned about this with the A&W Plan in 2014, and it continues to apply to the CUP plan.
- Proposal #6 ensures someone who leaves the UMC does not lose their pension. This is redundant: our pensions are already vested in this way. *Shrug* No opinion.
As I’ve written before, we are talking big BIG money here. In 2013, the Top 100 megachurches contributing $46 million dollars in apportionments (church tithes), and having a combined property value of $2.57 billion dollars (billion!). Any ability for a church to defeat the Trust Clause and no longer give a church tithe or risk losing that much money…well, it’s a huge incentive to leave the UMC, regardless of ideology.
As you can see, there’s much to be troubled by in the CUP plan.
- The goalposts are being moved regarding who the clergy covenant is between and for.
- The judicial processes are being moved to replicate secular society’s retributive system. Caesar’s way is better?
- And the incentives to exit the UMC for megachurches and churches served by local pastors are increased a thousandfold.
Even a Bible Belt annual conference rejected some of these proposals when they came up for a vote in Kentucky earlier in 2015.
My hope is that General Conference 2016 held this coming May in Portland, Oregon, also rejects these proposals and maintains the clergy covenant and the judicial processes to continue to be led by the Spirit and not by spite.
- Sound off in the comments below or on social media.
- Seek out folks who endorse the Proposal (zoom in and recenter the endorsement map over your home state) and send them a copy of this document for their further discernment. The short URL is: hackingchristianity.net/?p=8082
- Share this document whenever you see folks discussing the CUP plan on social media or email. The short URL is: hackingchristianity.net/?p=8082
Thoughts? Thanks for reading.