The results of General Conference have been all over the major newspapers. The Atlantic Magazine’s headline said, ‘Conservative Christians Just Retook the United Methodist Church’. whether we had lost it and whether we have regained, is a question to ponder. Two days after
returning to Virginia from General Conference’s closing has given me some time to let the
smoke clear. Amid shock and a variety of emotions, we are trying to make sense of what just
happened at General Conference. Reflect with me on the following.
What is certain? The One Church Plan (OCP) was defeated (449-374) – every time, and more
than once. It was defeated in the Legislative Committee. It was brought back to the plenary
session by means of a minority report by Rev. Tom Berlin. It was defeated again. GC took
special pains to give LGBTQIA proponents an opportunity to be heard by letting the Simple Plan
come forward. Everyone knew the Simple Plan, which would delete all negative language
regarding homosexuality, would not pass. It did not by a vote of 60.47% to 39.53 %.
The Traditional Plan (TP), going through necessary parliamentary procedures, passed on every vote by adequate margins. On Sunday Feb 24 when all the petitions submitted to GC were ranked by GC in priority according to which they preferred, the Traditional Plan was only second to the Wespath pension petitions. The OCP finished fifth – behind two of the disaffiliation petitions!
The Traditional Plan, with a few friendly amendments, in plenary session on Tuesday passed
438 (53.28%) - 384 (46.72). Warts and all! It will become law January 1, 2020. Indeed, there
are parts of the Traditional Plan that have been pronounced unconstitutional by the Judicial
Council. GC passed it anyway! Flaws and all! The heart of the Plan is still constitutional and
becomes law January 1, 2020.
Primarily, the legislative parts of the TP that dealt with the accountability of bishops was
determined unconstitutional. The legislation that called on Bishops and annual conferences
within a year to declare they would uphold the Book of Discipline or be forced to join another denomination was judged unconstitutional. The Petition intended to fix the TP’s
unconstitutional bugs, the Modified Traditional Plan, was never allowed to see the light of day.
Because the Modified Traditional Plan had implications for the international central conferences, it had to be review by the GC Standing Committee of Central Conferences. The liberal bent of the committee made sure it died in the committee and never was allowed to come to the floor. Nevertheless, the proposed fixes to the TP will be back to GC in 2020.
The fact the Traditional Plan passed is noteworthy. The full-court press of the corporate,
establishment church exerted massive efforts against it. If you remember, the Council of
Bishops was not even going to include the TP in the Commission’s final report as one of the
plans put forward. The Judicial Council ruled it was the Commission not the Council who was
to bring the report to GC and the Commission included the TP in their report. Besides the
Council of Bishops, our UM association of colleges, universities and seminaries, the general
agencies, and activists groups like ‘Mainstream’ and ‘Uniting Methodists’ fronted by Tom
Berlin, Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter all ganged up against it.
Nevertheless, after every obstructionist, parliamentary procedure in Robert’s Rules of order was used – and abused - from a gazillion ‘points of order’ (many that weren’t), to ‘hostile
amendments’ to subvert the intent of the plan, and to declaring oneself a speech ‘for’ when really one was a speech ‘against’, the Traditional Plan weathered the storm and passed! GC voted to send the whole Traditional Plan that passed to the Judicial Council for a third ruling.
WHAT WE KNOW
The Book of Discipline statement regarding homosexuality in ¶ 161 remains and continues to be in effect: ‘The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.’ Bans on same-gender unions remain in force and are reinforced. Clergy cannot officiate and churches cannot host same-sex ceremonies.
Also, the following parts of the TP have already been passed by the Judicial Council(Tuesday February 26) and will be implemented in January 2020.
A stricter definition of ‘self, avowed practicing homosexual’. If one is in a partnered or ‘married’ same-sex relationship, or states publicly they are a practicing homosexual one will be counted a ‘self, avowed practicing homosexual’. This will aid in keeping clergy and Boards of Ordained Ministry accountable.
Bans on same-gender unions are reinforced. Clergy cannot officiate and churches cannot host same-sex ceremonies. Clergy who violate this receive a minimum penalty of one year’s suspension without pay after conviction by a trial court. A second violation is termination of credentials.
Persons nominated by the bishop to serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry (which oversees ordination matters) must certify they will uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline standards. The constitutionality of this one is uncertain.
Persons who are ‘self, avowed practicing homosexuals’ may not be recommended or consecrated by bishop for commissioning, ordination or for the episcopacy.
We have not lessened but strengthened rules. The Wall Street Journal says the TP ‘adds measures to crack down on clergy members who disobey those rules.’
A Disaffiliation Plan did pass. There were three disaffiliation petitions offered. The Taylor petition had priority and came to the floor. The Taylor petition encumbered churches desiring to leave with institutional rigmarole and hoops so that a church in the end might not finally be able to leave. Delegate Beth Ann Cook offered a modified disaffiliation petition as a substitute for the Taylor petition which struck out many of the ‘hoops’. This modified petition surprised the presiding bishop when it passed 51.85% to 48.15%! Whether or not in this new form it is constitutional will be decided by the Judicial Council late April.
What a splash of a witness The United Methodist Church made this week to America and the world! I am savoring the thought of those major newspaper headlines! It may be an awakening moment. In the news cultures’ surge left, it gets thumped: what’s up with the second largest American Protestant denomination rejecting same-sex unions and ordination? What a triumph to remain faithful to Scripture in such a day as this! Through Christ, the trend has been bucked! This mainline denomination has not capitulated to the culture. To say ‘no’ to homosexuality is to say ‘yes’ to something better. In the midst of the complying culture, one church has the fresh boldness to say something different: maybe homosexual relationships, marriage and ordination are not the answer.
Seeds sown for Jesus by nameless missionaries in foreign lands a hundred and fifty years and since have grown up to bless and help us. The marketing of the church, often by liberals, as a global body is real. We are now a global church. It’s for real. It was no more evident than at General Conference. Where, outside of the United Nations, does one see 800 delegates putting on headsets to hear from a Russian Methodist or a French speaking African? The internationals could not have handled themselves better. Many of the speakers on the floor for the TP were internationals and they never spoke or engaged in discourteous remarks or behavior. African Dr. Jerry Kulah’s instruction at breakfast I have not forgotten, ‘It is better to be separated in truth than united in error’. Praise God for them! We owe them a huge amount of gratitude. When I was with them, I felt some embarrassment. I have a lot. They are brothers and sisters in Jesus getting on with a lot less.
LGBTQIA persons associated with the UM church are dispirited and feeling rejected. What they most want, affirmation of their sin, was not forthcoming. They will not believe us, but we say to them we know some of what you are going through. We are in this with you. I know this will sound pejorative but I am going to say it anyway. I was not affirmed as a sinner either. We know what it’s like to not have our sin affirmed. Join the club. We were as serious in our sin as anybody else. We know how hard it is to say, ‘Hey, what I’ve been doing for years is wrong. I can no longer pretend it is not.’ Come contritely to Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior, the Lover of your soul. He forgives and accepts through faith. He will bring you through. Jesus’ affirmation which comes through faith in Him is the ultimate affirmation to be sought.
The General Conference’s decision keeps us in solidarity with the biblical witness for over three thousand years and the historic, Christian teaching believed at all times and in all places by all Christians. We are in lock-step with many other denominations and the largest, world Christian bodies the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox.
GC intensified and magnified the division of our church body over theology, Scripture, morality and ethics. We have learned how OCP supporters really feel about us traditionalists. We are persons who ‘hurt’, ‘wound’, ‘hate’, ‘judge’, ‘condemn’, and ‘sicken’ the world like ‘viruses’ (it was actually said from the stage the TP would sicken the world, like a virus). Strangely, the rhetoric of the OCP supporters has painted the TP supporters as the brazen sinners and the LGBTQIA community as the righteous. The discourse over the three days was so disparaging from the OCP supporters toward TP supporters, TP supporter Oklahoma attorney Cara Nicklas asked the GC the poignant question, ‘If I am so unloving, why do you want to be in church with me?’ I am wondering if what we are going through will force people to conclude we cannot live together and we must part company? Jesus said, ‘I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter again her mother…’ The intensification of division is regrettable but could lead to resolution by bringing persons to recognition of their existential separation.
GC outed centrists. As a result of GC, centrists are all in, or all out. Adam Hamilton and Tom Berlin are out. Fence sitting is now left to pigeons.
GC outed the OCP. We have learned what would have been the case should the OCP have passed. Traditionalists in an OCP environment would have found slim respect, little sympathy and no validation of their viewpoint.
President of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Carter, was quoted in the news after GC, ‘There is still work to be done…We have much to do in trying to be more loving and gracious toward each other.’ This is an expression of non-acceptance of the will of GC. He was saying we have work to do to convert the hateful and unloving traditionalists to acceptance of LGBTQIA behavior. I wanted to hear Bishop Carter say that, while he was of a different mind than GC, as its executive officer he would implement to the best of his ability its mandate.
People are already considering GC 2020. There will be 26 more African delegates and 24 less US delegates. Fixes to the TP and increased episcopal and annual conference accountability will be addressed in 2020.
What if God blesses faithfulness to Him and renews this ole church?