Our common polity requires that our life together matches up with our agreed-upon rules—much like how American secular laws have to match up with the Constitution. The United Methodist Church is the same way—but one plan has consistently been outside of the law.
The Plan written outside of the Process
When the Traditional(ist) Plan was first included in the Commission on A Way Forward, the Commission members were very clear that it was different than the other plans. The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conferences Plans were written together at the Commission. The Traditional(ist) Plan was instead written by a small group of Bishops (including SCJ Bishops Scott Jones and Gary Mueller) outside of the AWF process. So it was included in the report, but it was not written by the commission.
When you consider all that follows, we now see that contributed to it being the most legally fraught way forward for The UMC.
Round One: Judicial Council Strikes it down
In Decision 1366, the Judicial Council said the following about the Traditionalist Plan:
- Too Adversarial: “The Council of Bishops was not designed to function as an inquisitional court responsible for enforcing doctrinal purity among its members.“ So the JC struck down many provisions that made the Episcopacy more adversarial than constitutionally conceived.
- Too Fixated on The Gay instead of Overall Upholding of Discipline: “The General Conference…cannot reduce the scope of the board [of Ordained Ministry’s] examination to one aspect only and unfairly single out one particular group of candidates (self-avowed practicing homosexuals) for disqualification.” Many of the doctrinal assent requirements and due process violations were singling out LGBTQ issues, so they were overreaching the JC’s interpretation of fairness (as fair as it can be, I guess, when it comes to discrimination against LGBTQ persons).
- The Heart Is Heartless: The biggest question was how the JC would handle Petition #10, the “heart of the Traditionalist Plan,” that provides a way for churches and annual conferences to leave the denomination that they find too intolerant of LGBTQ persons. The decision is a lot to wade through, but essentially the only thing left in this section is that annual conferences can choose to leave the denomination, but individual clergy and churches cannot in the same way. Which reduces the likelihood of it working (see below).
All in all, of the 17 petitions that constitute the Traditionalist Plan, 8 were constitutional and 9 were not (7 were outright unconstitutional, and 2 had sections declared unconstitutional).
For comparison, there were only three sentences which were declared unconstitutional in the One Church Plan’s petitions, but those were irrelevant to the overall novelty of the “unity in diversity” approach of the OCP.
Round Two: Judicial Council strikes the Substitute Legislation
The response to the legal challenges by the author and by others has been “We can fix it.” One of the ways to fix it is via substitute of another plan called the Modified Traditional Plan that would be an alternative path to parts of the Traditional Plan.
Yesterday, the Bishops requested a ruling on whether the substitute legislation was constitutional. The ruling came back late last night: It is not constitutional. Specifically:
“Absent clear grant of constitutional authority, transfers from one central conference to another central conference and from a jurisdictional conference to a central conference are constitutionally prohibited. The creation of the global episcopacy committee would also blur the lines between the responsibilities of the jurisdictional committees on episcopacy and those of the central conferences.”
The ruling also noted that the Book of Discipline stipulates “that the complaint process against bishops is handled by the jurisdictional conference and the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy.” Placing that responsibility under a global episcopacy committee would be unconstitutional, the council said.
So both the primary legislation and the substitute legislation’s key components have been struck down, all with a common theme: it moves accountability away from peers and towards distant bodies.
At the Good News Breakfast today, the narrative was the same: We will stumble forward and issue ANOTHER substitute legislation later today. Another one that hasn’t been vetted by the Judicial Council. Another one that was written outside of a communal legislative process. Another one written by the same people and the same perspective that believes Accountability is not with peers but with faceless superiors—which is about as anti-Wesleyan as you can get.
Will the delegates tire of the ceaseless pledges and promises that are broken and illegal? Today we will know.
So today we see if people will continue to support the fraught legislation called The Traditional Plan because it feels aligned with their values of law and order, even though it is neither legal or orders our life towards goodness and grace. Let us be in prayer that Reason, Scripture, Tradition, and Experience overwhelm the desire for predatory Methodism to become part of our common life together.
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