The Traditional Plan breaks 200 years of Wesleyan Accountability—unsure what is “traditional” about it! But there’s active hope to restore Wesleyan Accountability to The United Methodist Church.
Accountability was part and parcel to early Methodism. Originally, accountability for John Wesley was a small group that you confessed your sins to and that held you accountable to fixing them, face to face. The penalties for a lack of accountability were dealt with by John Wesley himself.
Dr. Kevin Watson, my fellow Oklahoman, writes in his book The Class Meeting on page 118 about this “band meeting”:
The key activity of the band meeting was the confession of any sins that had been committed in the past week, including the ways that people had been tempted to sin. The purpose of these groups was to bring sin into the light, to express repentance of these sins, to encourage one another to move from sin toward God and holiness by the grace of God. Band meetings were an intense form of accountability and required deep vulnerability.
This was required of early Methodists. In fact, Wesley wrote in his sermon “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” to:
Never omit meeting your Class or Band; never absent yourself from any public meeting. These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens, or tends to weaken, our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community.
When John Wesley was alive, accountability was autocratic. He reportedly expelled 64 members of the Newcastle society for various reasons, including one for being tardy and 29 for “lightness and carelessness.”
Band meeting and class meetings were for holding one another accountable, face-to-face. Violations were dealt with by Wesley himself, but otherwise helping people overcome their sins was done by neighbors and fellow locals.
So what happened when John Wesley died? What did accountability look like after autocracy?
The 1798 “Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church” (Wesley died in 1791) states (copied from Watson, The Class Meeting, page 28):
“What shall we do with these members of society, who willfully and repeatedly neglect to meet their class?
Answer: 1. Let the elder, deacon, or one of the preachers visit them, whenever it is practical, and explain to them the consequence if they continue to neglect, viz. Exclusion.
2. If they do not amend, let him who has the charge of the circuit exclude them in the society; shewing that they are laid aside for a breach of our rules of discipline and not for immoral conduct.
So accountability in the Wesleyan tradition became a step removed from the band or class meeting, but still a leader who lived in their community, or a preacher on horseback in their circuit. It was still face-to-face and still local no matter how big Methodism became.
Today, Wesleyan Accountability in The United Methodist Church is segmented by region: annual (regional) conferences hold their own clergy accountable. The Bishop over that region is in charge of complaints, the Board of Ordained Ministry is in charge of involuntary leaves, any trials would have annual conference peers as the jury, and even if a clergy serves outside of their region, their home conference is in charge of them.
Wesleyan accountability, when it outlived and outgrew Wesley, continued to be face-to-face and determined by peers. Even accountability for bishops has been segmented by region, thanks to the Southern conferences demanding accountability (and appointments) reside in their jurisdictions, to ensure they did not receive uppity Northern bishops. Face to face and with clear geographic boundaries.
Traditional Plan ends 200 years of Wesleyan Accountability
So that’s the history and the tradition we’ve inherited for over two centuries. But all that comes to a screeching halt on January 1, 2020, when the Traditional Plan goes into effect in The United Methodist Church.
That is because the Traditional Plan violates Wesleyan accountability in two places:
- Mandatory minimums: first, clergy who are charged and convicted in a trial of any action surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusion are forced, forced, to be removed from ministry for a year, without pay, for the first offense, and driven to the outer darkness for the second offense. No longer is accountability to be determined by the locals—it is fixed and required, removing the authority of the local region to determine accountability.
- Faceless complainant: second, the powers of the complainant have been enhanced, including being able to force a trial or deny just resolution. While this seems empowering to victims of sexual misconduct, the reality is that the trial systems are used primarily for anti-LGBTQ+ inclusive actions. So a distant complainant, who does not live or may not even know a clergyperson can force a trial and a complaint process from afar and not a victim of harm at all.
These accountability measures force annual conferences and jurisdictions to process complaints from outside of their annual conference, by persons who may or may not have been harmed directly by LGBTQ+ inclusion, or even know the person they are complaining about.
We see a early version of the Traditional Plan in Iowa right now with the way how a Complainant (IRD staffer John Lomperis who lives in…Oregon) is doggedly forcing the complaint process to go to trial rather than be dismissed or resolved as in previous complaints against the Rev. Anna Blaedel. What is happening in Iowa will happen everywhere January 1st.
The Traditional Plan may be more like Wesley in that it is capricious and autocratic. But it isn’t Wesleyan in the way how Wesley’s church has lived out accountability and “watching over one another in love” for 200 years. It is broken. And it will take all of us to fix it.
Breaking the Chain
There’s two ways to break this unjust chain of accountability and restore Wesleyan accountability to The United Methodist Church. And they are both being led by the Western Jurisdiction, whose small size and region has forced collegiality and local accountability much more than larger regions.
First, Bishops must pledge to not process complaints related to LGBTQ+ inclusion. Starting with Bishop Schol in New Jersey, the Bishops in the Western Jurisdiction have also pledged to not process complaints of this nature. By removing the broken ability of faceless accountability, the bishops can keep accountability local and face-to-face, just as Wesley intended. If all the Northern bishops joined the Western ones, that would put an incredible swath of United Methodism back under Wesleyan face-to-face accountability again.
Second, we must support legislative efforts to remove anti-LGBTQ+ polity and repeal the Traditional Plan. Legislation like All Belong accomplishes this well. All Belong seeks to both remove harmful anti-gay language and add a mandate to work on overcoming exclusions and oppressions that are harmful to LGBTQ+ persons and the church. All Belong seeks to restore appropriate Wesleyan accountability. Recent changes from GC2019 reduce the function of the connection by prioritizing excluding LGBTQ persons and allowing faceless distant people to do it. Support legislation (whatever Plan or bundle it is you support) that reverses this ability.
In a United Methodist Church without antigay polity and prosecution overreach, we could have a robust debate over whether complainant elevation is appropriate. That would be fine. But in a system sick with sin over prosecution overreach and ecclesial harassment of LGBTQ+ inclusion, such elevation is broken and should be reversed by the 2020 General Conference. No debate.
Full disclosure: After the All Belong group discerned the content and divided up the submissions, on their behalf I submitted the petitions that dealt specifically with accountability process reversals of the Traditional Plan for consideration by the 2020 General Conference.
Please call your bishop and encourage them to refuse to process complaints, and call your delegate and encourage them to support the All Belong petitions which will collectively remove anti-LGBTQ+ language and restore Wesleyan accountability.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.
FYI, unless he moved recently, Lomperis lives in Chicago, not Oregon.
Still not Iowa, for what it’s worth.
Furthermore, the WCA released their preliminary Doctrines and Discipline – and for clergy (including Bishops), there doesn’t seem to be any kind of Wesleyan accountability built in.
So Jeremy, in cases where a local person lodges a formal complaint against a clergy member violating the BoD statutes, it is not a “nameless, faceless complaint”, and thus it fits the “genuine” Wesleyan accountability measure that you praise. However, you state that such an instance would still be unacceptable to you. C’mon Jeremy, just admit it, what you do is simply deny Wesleyan acts of accountability, not support them.
Your contradictions defeat your own arguments. You simply wrap your opinion in a barrage of different gobbledygook in each of your postings in order to sound literate and legitimate. What you really succeed at is just expressing your same old-same old and tired opinion under a different cloak that is easily laid bare.
Put down the keypad and instead serve the homeless in your community; we’ll all be better off.
Dave, nowhere do I say “nameless” complaint, because obviously such a person would be named. And the emphasis on faces is because of the example above of a disconnected person who has never met nor was harmed by Rev. Anna Blaedel who nonetheless has forced a church trial. It’s clear you created a caricature, which did not resemble my argument at all, so of course it felt easy and good to burn it down—it was of your own creation and imagination.
The thing about Wesleyan accountability is that it is local and contextual, as Wesley intended it. The acts of confession, confrontation, reconciliation are part and parcel to Methodism, but they come with a cost: uniformity. We are not the same people everywhere, and neither should our punishments and violations be. We are a unity of connected accountability circles, and that is how we have always been.
To your last point, which was unnecessary, thankfully, my church serves 300 breakfasts to Persons experiencing homelessness each Sunday and does advocacy and services during the week. My heart is in my local church, Dave. My head is here in cyberspace helping people think through who Methodism is and ought to be.
My hope for you, Dave, is that you are building something in your offline life (Like me), because it seems you are only interested in tearing people down online.
Blessings on your week.
Don’t bother Dave. Rev. Jeremy said faceless complainant whereas the whole world knows John Lomperis made the complaint and doesn’t mind anyone knowing he did it. Traditionalists are very much harmed by Anna Blaedel and the person wrongfully being given a bishop’s salary in The Mountain West and other clergy and bishops and bureaucrats running general agencies who turn a blind eye to the oaths they took to uphold our Book of Discipline and fight it openly while collecting their salaries rather than resigning out of conscientious objection to the Discipline. And Rev. Jeremy criticizing you for tearing people down online is the height of hypocrisy since he spends most of his time tearing down traditionalists, the WCA and every other organization with which he disagrees.
So don’t waste your breath. You are not going to convince him and he is not going to persuade us. It will all be over soon. After 2020 General Conference, either we will have a separation (prayerfully amicable) or Traditionalist congregations will vote with their feet and their giving and move on, shaking the dust from their sandals as form a new but Traditional expression of Wesleyan Christian faith.
Hey Jeremy, I deliver food to the poor from a conservative church to inner city school children. I am fully content that I build people up, not tear them down. Glad you do the same at your church.
Your response ignored my point, which is that in no case would you accept a complaint against a clergy member if that complaint dealt with violation of the “practicing homosexual” statute. You advocate disregarding such complaints in all cases, meaning you would do so even if it was issued by a person in that clergy member’s congregation.
You demonize Traditionalists because you say they disregard the historic definition of accountability, while at the same time you would disregard a case where accountability would meet the exact historic criteria you claim to affirm. Again, the same old opinion (ridiculing Traditionalists) but you try to divert attention from your repetition by embellishing it with new instances and arguments that you yourself destroy. What you build in your online life is nothing but vacant houses of cards.
I challenge you to cogently refute the hypocrisy in your posting that I have pointed out.
P.S. Proximity is not necessary for someone else to be harmed by someone else. A swastika painted on a synagogue in New York harms Jews in California. Similarly, the effort you put into your blog to defeat Traditionalists you have never met proves that you feel they are harming you. The days of the circuit rider are long gone; influence and harm has gone electronic and global. Don’t be such a Traditionalist, Jeremy!
Jeremy somebody missed the point that face to face accountability is meant more for constructive upbuilding of fellow sinners under redemption of Christ’s love in the small group setting. The original experience and collective system/expression of Wesleyan accountability. A pity.
Face-to face accountability and constructive dialog in a small group.
Exactly how the Indianapolis plan was developed, and guess what, Jeremy doesn’t accept it. What a pity.
Oh, and it seems that the GC2019 was a face-to-face meeting, I’m sure you accept that outcome, right?
So, is it possible that local peers can decide to join in sin together and not hold one another accountable? Is that at all a possibility? And if they should decide to do that, how else is there to hold them accountable except that someone from outside their local peer group step in and bring more forceful measures? This all stems from the lack of individuals wanting to name sin and hold one another accountable for it. It began with issues of heterosexual promiscuity and has now degenerated into all forms of sexual activity. These are things that are very far from Christian. It would be best for people to just admit they don’t want to be saved from sin, and therefore don’t want Jesus as their King. Resistance to the Bible and the Discipline is just plain rebellion. But I imagine people who think this way picture Jesus more a rebel than a King, so it fits fairly well with their so called theology. Shame on us all for letting this get here.
I was unaware that there was a faction in the UMC promoting heterosexual promiscuity before the argument over LGBT inclusion heated up. I’m aware that some of the more radical UM’s have started discussing polygamy (although mostly it’s in the nature of ‘the African Methodists tolerate polygamy but won’t tolerate homosexuality’, which is an argument with its own problems), but that’s seemed to be a relatively new thing, and so far hasn’t seemed to catch on much.
Or were you referring to something else?
In the “Your Turn” section you mention reaching out to one’s Bishop and delegate. I assume the best way to learn who your delegate is would be asking one’s minister. But, just in case is there another way to look up one’s delegate?
Conference delegates to GC should be listed on your Annual Conference website.
Tasty Fresh Bacon