There was much rejoicing in parts of The United Methodist Church this week when the Judicial Council rendered its verdict:
A review of possible plans for the future direction of The United Methodist Church found the One Church Plan to be largely constitutional, said a decision released Oct. 26 by the denomination’s top court.
In Decision 1366 , which was unanimous, the United Methodist Judicial Council found more problems in the Traditional Plan petitions that would need to be addressed before that plan could pass a constitutional test…
The top court’s 87-page decision did point to issues with a number of the 17 petitions in the Traditional Plan and a few of the petitions in the One Church Plan.
But even declared unconstitutional, United Methodists should not let up from their active opposition to the Traditionalist Plan. Because like a hydra, it won’t go away until the last head is struck down.
Decision: Judicial Council
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.
Response: Carrots and Sticks
When it comes to persuasion, people sometimes use the image of encouraging a horse-drawn buggy with carrots and sticks: carrots hung in front of the horse encourage them to move a particular way, whereas pointy sticks can compel behavior.
The purpose of the Traditionalist Plan, as noted before, is to make the UMC so unbearable to LGBTQ inclusion that progressives will leave. The Plan has many sticks to poke at inclusion advocates, as well as a really big carrot dangling out there to encourage groups of churches to form their own Methodist conferences beyond the reach of the sticks (but also without representation or ownership of Methodism going forward). The sticks and the carrots work together.
In this Judicial Council decision, many “sticks” were taken away from the TP (though some remain, see below). And the carrot has gotten a lot smaller—it seems the JC would only allow entire Annual Conferences to secede, which reduces the likelihood of it being embraced. The end result is that there are some really bad stuff left in the Traditionalist Plan, for sure, but the biggest sticks and carrots have been nullified.
So without sticks or carrots, will the Traditionalist Plan still be supportable?
Constitutionality = Irrelevant?
Sadly, facts like “unconstitutionality” won’t stop forces opposed to LGBTQ inclusion from pursuing this final solution anyway.
We live in the era of Trump, so it is valid to assume that many Traditionalists (who often align with Trumpian doctrine and practices) won’t be dissuaded by this verdict. Their vision of a church without progressives and moderates is within reach and they won’t let our own court (even their hand-picked one) stand in the way.
Sadly, the structure of GC2019 emboldens their efforts. The General Conference schedule allows the Traditionalist supporters to continue to support the TP:
- The schedule is to vote on the direction of the UMC on Day 2 (which Plan to perfect?), and then refinements/amendments on Day 3.
- So all supporters have to claim is “we can fix it later” and they can offer full-throated support for it. All that matters is that the progressives leave, not that the plan is actually legal.
Supporting broken ideas worked for Republicans in Congress on tax reform, it worked for our “I Alone Can Fix” President, and given The UMC reflects secular politics in many ways, it will probably work for the Traditionalists too.
Model Legislation for Further Abuse
Finally, and most troubling going forward, is that the way how Judicial Council rendered verdicts on the petitions essentially wrote future legislation that could be used against LGBTQ persons. Even if the TP fails, petitions to General Conference 2020 could quote the TP petitions word-for-word and claim they are constitutional and should be given more weight than other petitions.
The laundry list of dangerous legislation is rather intimidating. The JC upheld the TP’s denial of LGBTQ persons to be eligible to be bishops, despite being duly elected, closing the opening that Bishop Oliveto was elected in. It upheld mandatory minimum trial penalties for LGBTQ-inclusive actions, and limited the ability of Bishops to dismiss complaints. It would allow the refusal of voting on LGBTQ candidates for ministry (that Baltimore Washington conference Bishop recently practiced), and require complaining laity to give consent to just resolutions involving clergy (really? Wow, JC!).
A frustrating outcome by a JC that has many times in the past 30 years overtepped its bounds into writing anti-LGBTQ legislation that did not exist (such as defining homosexuality despite GC’s reluctance in 1996). And now opponents to LGBTQ inclusion have word for word model legislation to submit. (Yes, they know this without me telling them—I was clued into it by their rejoicing on a private Facebook forum).
It’s a dream come true to have several of their most retributive proposals green-lit by the JC, which they otherwise would never have gotten.
This is not a time of sitting back and assuming reason or hospitality will win the day. With everything hanging on one vote, on the last Sunday in February 2019, legal legislation is a distant second to a Traditionalist victory within grasp.
Vigilance must be maintained against the Traditionalist Plan, and conversations must be maintained across the aisles to solidify the narrow margin of support for whatever other Plan you are supporting.
I believe it is still very strong and will be very difficult to beat. Don’t let up.
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If the 800+ delegates vote against our bishops and the best work of the Commission on a Way Forward and vote in the Traditionalist Plan, I will not be able in good conscience to stay in the UMC. It will be a sad day as I have led 7 Disciple classes, taught dozens of Sunday School classes, participated in our conference’s Leadership UMC Course, attended 7 Annual Comferences, 5 as a delegate, followed my wife’s ministry through a MDiv from Candler and 7 years of ministry, written and spoke on Methodist matters many times. I have been deeply invested in Methodism for 28 years. Giving all this up will be difficult. But I cannot abide the hateful, judgmental, exclusive, fundamentalist beliefs set forth in the Traditionalist Plan.
I will be gone if the One Church Plan is adopted. And this after being a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist for 65 years. My reasoning: It pushes the denomination even further from its Methodist/Wesleyan heritage which includes the concept of we are all connected. But we cannot be connected just because we say so. We have to be connected by beliefs we have in common–something the United Methodist Church has not possessed for the better part of a century. I can respect the fact that you believe differently from me. I just don’t need to be part of a church that has become so mired down in theological plurality it no longer has anything in particular to say. The One Church Plan would put me in the position of at least appearing to endorse and support something I most definitely do not agree with: Christianity of the Methodist/Wesleyan persuasion is a theological free for all in which everybody is free to decide for themselves what they believe about God, ourselves and the church. Life would get much simpler if you would grasp the reality that the real do or die issue for the United Methodist Church is most definitely NOT disagreements over sexuality but the myriad of theological differences that lead progressives and traditionals to completely different understandings of sexuality. The disagreement over sexuality is only a presenting issue and there are already two more that surfaced after GC2016: the decision to terminate the church’s relationship with the RCRC and how we relate to Israel. Therein lies a second good reason to abandon the United Methodist Church if the One Church Plan is adopted: There will be absolutely no reason to hang around and try to live with a solution that is really not a solution.
Great reply. I agree
William Preston, Sr
Great reply. Totally agree.
2 Timothy 4:3
Thomas A. Conley
This discussion is so one sided that the point is missed. The traditionalist are not the ones going to exit the church. They will remain. It will be the mass exodus of the conservatives that should have the total church alarmed. For thirty years this conversation has been going on. A few points may have problems….that makes it also flawed. The BOD which are the rules of the church have been ignored to the point that it has made the church lawless. I have been a part of the church 50 years and I am grieving about our future.
Are you sure that the most serious threat to the [not very] United Methodist Church isn’t this absurd legalism? While the world falls into chaos people argue about “legal nuances” of this or that. Really? Who will stick with that WHATEVER is decided in February? I’m a little embarrassed for you if bright, articulate clergy think this is the best they can do.
My first thought upon reading about the decisions is that GC2019 will now spend all of it’s time trying to “fix” the TP is the way time has been wasted at previous GC’s on other minority plans. It creates a false equivalency between the plan affirmed by the Commission on a Way Forward and Council of Bishops and the appendix plan by and unidentified group of authors.
Now we may see movement for “the best of both” that could water down or even poison the One Church Plan
And the WCA lurking, waiting, to declare independence.
“The JC upheld the TP’s denial of LGBTQ persons to be eligible to be bishops, despite being duly elected, closing the opening that Bishop Oliveto was elected in. It upheld mandatory minimum trial penalties for LGBTQ-inclusive actions, and limited the ability of Bishops to dismiss complaints. It would allow the refusal of voting on LGBTQ candidates for ministry (that Baltimore Washington conference Bishop recently practiced), and require complaining laity to give consent to just resolutions involving clergy (really? Wow, JC!).”
You do realize that ordaining practicing LGBTQ persons is not allowed by our Book of Discipline, right Jeremy? That means they can’t be bishops either. Of course this legislation was upheld by the JC. This has been the case for more than 45 years. The only reason the traditionalists (we are not fundamentalists) have proposed the Traditional Plan is because the church has become lawless. The progressives have created this situation by their widespread disobedience.
Guess what Sean, if you go on the internet you’ll see that the Bishops did not work hard on or even finish working on The Tradition plan because they were so involved on working on the other 2. Actually just one, the One Church Plan. Start investigating this and you will see. They have ALREADY made their decision
based on the Council of Bishops recommendations.
I’m a little confuse Jeremy.
In its ruling on the One Church Plan, Judicial Council pointed out that the principle of connectionalism in The United Methodist Church “permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographic, social and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage and human sexuality.”
So technically reading this particular statement are regional and local churches in the United Methodist Church who have dissented from the book of discipline on issues of human sexuality already living in the spirit of these words? ”differentiation on account of geographic, social and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage and human sexuality”
The reality is folks in churches( over 1k) and annual conferences are not going to go backwards on their commitments for justice tor LGBTQ in the church. Regardless s of what happens in Saint Louis. Lets be honest, technically the church has already split. There are 2 churches in one body. If I’m looking for a UM church I just go to this link; https://rmnetwork.org/find-a-reconciling-community/ Creating the Reconciling Ministries Network was a gift from God
Rev. Mark Charlton
Our denomination is schizoid as it stands. We state in the BOD that homosexuals are persons of sacred worth, then we condemn them for living out their God-given sexuality (“contrary to Christian teaching”.)
The One Church Plan has flaws. It does not address how ACs that don’t ordain LBGTQ candidates for ministry will deal with transfers of ordained LBGTQ pastors from other ACs. How about reconciling churches that find themselves in ACs that don’t ordain such pastors?
There will be an exit from the UMC of Traditionalist churches and clergy, if not entire ACs, if the One Church Plan is adopted. That grieves me. It would make the United Methodist Church an oxymoron.
I think the One Church plan should and will be adopted. If not, God’s will through the Holy Spirit will become evident as we part ways. Acts 5:38-39 tells of the Jewish teacher Gamaliel warning the council that Peter and the Apostles might be doing God’s will: “So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”
I have been raised in the Methodist/United Methodist church for over sixty years as the son of an ordained pastor. The teachings from scripture as well as from John Wesley are clear and substantive. An abyss has developed in our faith created by humankind and not by God. We, as His children, can either choose to follow His way or to stray from the path. The argument now facing us in regards to the LYBTYQ community has already resulted in a divided, rather than a united church family. No decision on this matter can render unification. Traditionalists belief in the sanctity of God and His teachings. Liberalism is the antithesis of traditionalism. Like oil and water, the two cannot be mixed into one solution. Methodism, as defined by Wesley, has clearly already died. After the symposium in February of 2019, we will undoubtedly have a Traditional United Methodist Church and a Liberal United Methodist Church as we do now. God has already been overthrown in America, which is actually a blessing as it reaffirms that the second coming of Christ has gained more momentum. God will remain the final judge on all matters. As a “Christian”, one must choose between the two polar opposites and allow Him the final judgement. For me, this is an easy decision as I allow God to lead me to follow His will and not my own.
Whether or not the United Methodist Church dissolves tomorrow, Christianity will still be alive. My faith doesn’t hinge on whether a bunch of useless extreme left-wing “ministry” boards lose funding. Even more frustrating than the gay marriage debate to me are the ceaseless extreme leftist press releases coming out of the United Methodist Church that essentially follow Democrat Party talking points, as if they speak for all of us. I’m so over it. The faster this denomination dissolves, the better. The current bureaucracy is only hindering our making disciples of Jesus Christ. I’ve met multiple UMC pastors and leaders who don’t even believe in the Resurrection. They don’t believe Jesus died for our sins. They believe he was a wise teacher. This is why we should break up, one side aren’t even Christian anymore.
By definition, can a liberally minded person follow the teachings of God?
When traditions, of which God as the trinity is one, are cast aside by the followers of Satan, what do you truly expect?
As for me, I can only continue to belong to an organized religion that meets my understanding of what God demands of us. Whether that be in the United or Untied Methodist Church remains to be determined.
“Jesus answered: The greatest commandment is this–You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength. The second is like it–You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
All the rest of our human wrangling & fighting & plotting & planning is just details. Most of our local churches will simply continue to be who they are: loving servant witnesses of Christ’s love in their own communities. Can we please turn al of this negative energy into LOVE?
LBTQ have been complaining for years via Discipline Disobedience attempting to Change a Discipline they ignore already. This will continue AFTER Feb 2019 because they could have departed already.
This infection has been coming down from bishops who are supposed to protect the flocks instead of letting them be ravaged. The bishops are the modern Pharisee Religious Careerists with a few sprinkled in who understand,like Nicodemus, what is going on.
God will not be mocked & look the other way at stiff-necked abomination blasphemy male-male sex within the clergy, a sick perversion of His creation.