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.
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