From Traditionalist to Traditional?
Recently, there was a curious name change that happened amidst United Methodist procedures that bears scrutiny. When it comes to references to the “Traditionalist Plan,” here’s the references/timestamps according to the court (legal) documents:
- The AWF presentation of “the Traditionalist Model” was submitted November 2017
- The Council of Bishops meeting in May 2018 called it “The Traditionalist Plan”
- The AWF report finalized May 16 to the General Conference says “Traditionalist” perspectives.
- The statement of clarification by the Executive Committee on May 17 called it “The Traditionalist Plan.”
- The Wespath summary and financial recommendations dated May 2018 calls it “The Traditionalist Plan.”
Since the beginning, and when the plans were approved for submission, whenever the Council of Bishops and the Commission on A Way Forward discussed or approved the plan, it was called the Traditionalist Plan.
But when the Plan was actually submitted by an individual clergy person in June 2018, the name changed, seemingly without Council of Bishops’ authorization, though a name change is noted in their July 8 petition to the Judicial Council. According to court-submitted documents, it was renamed “The Traditional Plan.”
We know the Wesleyan Covenant Association was “in” on the name change because they submitted a modified version of the Traditional Plan and named it as such. The inside track of their knowledge is very easy to discern: they admitted that Commission on A Way Forward member Rev. Thomas Lambrecht co-wrote their legislation, as he was also the clergyperson who submitted the Bishop’s “Traditional Plan” legislation.
Somewhere along the way, someone decided that “Traditionalist” was not the best name for their plan. Given the UMC Bishops did not report a vote to rename the plan, this blog will continue to use the name they voted on.
A Marketing Misstep?
It makes good marketing sense to change the name. “Ist” sounds much harsher (but more honest) than “Traditional.” With only four viable plans before us, caucus groups are making use of many avenues of influence to get people to support their preferred plan.
Unfortunately, marketing is a powerful tool of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and they are incredibly savvy in a variety of ways to manipulate public opinion of their dominant group:
- Grocery Store Marketing Explains the WCA’s Plan of Dissolution
- Selling “Confidence,” the WCA reframes the UMC crisis they created
- The Battle for Middle Methodism Has Begun
But I think this time they made a serious misstep. By renaming it “The Traditional Plan,” they tipped their hand that their supported plan is actually more of the same for The United Methodist Church.
I was wrong
When commenting on the One Church Plan early on, I wrote that it addressed the church as it was:
…from this progressive’s perspective, the OCP is not a progressive plan. It does not move us forward as a denomination—it simply makes official in our polity what our Church currently practices.
When I wrote that, I said the One Church Plan’s allowance of regional diversity just made official what we already were. It was reflective of the church as it was, not a way forward to who we could be.
I was wrong. Upon further inspection, there was another plan that reflected the church as it was, and instead of removing discrimination, it was more of the same condemnation.
More of the same
A little history. Since the first LGBTQ persons came out, Reconciling Ministries Network has a partial list of clergy trials on their website, dating back to Gene Leggett in 1971 before there was even officially language against LGBTQ persons on the books. In every quadrennium since 1996, progressive clergy have been on trial for officiating marriages of their congregants equally, and LGBTQ clergy have been on trial for refusing to divorce their same-gender spouses to keep their jobs. These are a fraction of the actual complaints and (un)just resolutions, many of which conclude without public discussion.
But after every clergy trial, the particular Disciplinary lines under discussion were changed by General Conference. The insertion of “
When you know this history, the vast majority of the Traditionalist Plan becomes clear: it is about plugging the leaks and removing mechanisms that have stopped Traditionalists from defrocking or stopping LGBTQ inclusion. From legislation on just resolutions to minimum penalties, it is about removing the roadblocks to complete lockdown against LGBTQ inclusion.
When it comes to LGBTQ inclusion, each General Conference is less about hopeful ideas for the future and more about fixing the polity of the past. By continuing to tighten the polity, they believe the fewer LGBTQ inclusive United Methodists will slip through their fingers. The Traditionalist Plan is more of the same, part of the failed polity that has led us to the precipice. And we really want more of it?
The only novelty
The only novel (by novel, I mean The Handmaid’s Tale is probably the novel they took it from) or new idea for The UMC under the Traditionalist Plan is around the exiting of congregations and expulsion of progressives and LGBTQ-inclusive moderates/conservatives from The UMC. While Rev. David Livingston has documented the many divergences of the Traditionalist Plan from Wesleyanism and United Methodism (1, 2, 3), overall it is more of the same genre of plugging holes and tightening the thumbscrews.
The only change this time is that Traditionalists have decided they no longer want to live in a church with progressives at all. They’ve gone about as far as they can go, and indeed have stepped up their rhetoric to imply progressives are not Christian at all (which was predicted by Rev. Dr. Jay Williams’ sermon at RMN Convocation last summer).
The endgame of the Traditionalist Plan is not a church structured for mission and ministry. It is a church structured for retribution and expulsion. It has lived this reality for many years, it has led us to this conflict we are in today, and the Traditionalist Plan continues that tradition. Why do we want more of the same?
For decades, the Church has lived out the Traditionalist Plan of constantly playing “whack a mole” against the Holy Spirit’s inclusive efforts of LGBTQ persons. The Traditionalist Plan is more of the same. It is responsible for the state of disarray the Church is in. It has broken our polity and practices to this point. Do we really want to give it more time? Or is it time for something new?
The choice is yours.
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