The Connectional Table (CT) is one of our denomination’s most prominent leadership bodies. It has submitted several high-profile petitions to General Conference.
As my fellow elected delegates to General Conference evaluate the petitions this group has submitted and considers requests for its representatives to meet with different delegations to promote the agenda of the majority of CT members, here are a few facts we should bear in mind:
1. The Connectional Table is NOT representative of our church as a whole.
As I have noted earlier, the Connectional Table is explicitly structured to systematically under-represent African United Methodists (now home to some 39 percent of UMC members but only 6 percent of CT voting members) while over-representing the very liberal Western Jurisdiction (home to less than 3 percent of UMC members but 17 percent of CT voting members) and Europeans.
CT representatives have recently paid lip service to vaguely having better geographic representation. But the facts remain that they could have very easily submitted legislation to this General Conference to correct the under-representation of Africans, but chose not to do so. Instead they have actually submitted petitions (#60815 and 60817) “to maintain the basic structure” which marginalizes Africans for at least another four years, countering other proposals to make the CT more representative.
2. It is simply dishonest to label the CT’s petitions to liberalize our teachings and standards on sexual morality a “local option,” a “third way,” or a “compromise.”
The overall agenda of the CT’s several sexuality petitions – allow annual conferences to ordain openly homosexually active clergy, delete the prohibition of same-sex unions, and delete church teachings that marriage is only between a man and a woman (aside from one uncontestable statement of objective historic fact) and that homosexual practice is inherently “incompatible with Christian teaching” – is essentially the same as the petitions promoted for years by folk in the homosexuality-affirming “reconciling” caucus movement. The CT petition to remove homosexual practice and performing same-sex unions from the list of offenses for which UMC clergy can be charged and disciplined (Petition #60763) is word-for-word identical to the same petition the liberal caucuses have long tried, while its petition to change our church’s definition of marriage (#60784) is the exact same as the one being submitted by the reconciling-movement-dominated California-Nevada Conference.
This would be like if my wife wanted to go out to dinner at the Middle Eastern restaurant, and I wanted to go to the Bar-B-Q joint, and so after a while I proposed we go to the same Bar-B-Q place I had been pushing all along and called that a “compromise.”
And don’t be fooled – the CT plan is not a “local option.” The petition on ordination standards makes some rather unconvincing hints about letting conservative annual conferences keep their own separate, traditionalist disciplinary standards if they wanted to, but if we had such a dramatic change in church law, the Judicial Council would likely strike down any real attempt of traditionalist annual conferences to bar openly homosexually active ordination candidates on that basis alone.
In any case, the CT’s petitions on both chargeable offenses and our present ban on same-sex unions would apply to every annual conference. CT leaders sometimes even admit that these petitions would broadly “end church trials over homosexuality,” period. So if the CT plan was adopted and any United Methodist minister in any annual conference in the world, no matter how traditionalist the conference leadership was, were to make a public show of performing a same-sex union or “coming out” as being homosexually active, there would be no clear basis in church law on which to discipline him or her.
Thus the CT would force every UMC annual conference to accept homosexually active clergy and church blessings of same-sex unions, and any conservative members who objected could just leave the UMC.
So put things another way, while the UMC has been debating whether to basically follow the liberalizing example of the Episcopal Church on sexual morality or stick with a more traditionalist orientation, the CT’s so-called “compromise” would actually impose on the UMC an even more liberal sexuality policy than the one that has split the Episcopal Church apart. Because under the CT’s so-called “Third Way,” no annual conference would be able to stop clergy from blessing same-sex unions or “coming out” as homosexually active, as some of the Episcopal Church’s few traditionalist dioceses have been allowed to do.
The complaints of some Love Prevails activists about the CT petitions not going far enough amount to rather unconvincing crocodile tears, while making clear that no amount of pandering can ever appease the LGBTQ “reconciling” movement.
3. Under its current leadership, the Connectional Table has often chosen to act more like a caucus group of only a liberal, European/American faction of the UMC, rather than a representative group of our whole church.
This is especially the case when the CT majority chose to go out of its way to spend so much of its time and energies to adopt and promote petitions to liberalize our standards on sexuality, an agenda only favored by a minority faction.
Measured by comparing time and petitions directly devoted to other topics, the CT has apparently made liberalizing our church’s teaching and policies on sexual morality its #1 priority.
This divisive direction is not limited to sexuality. Under the chairmanship of Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota area, the CT leadership set the tone for the 2013-2016 quadrennium by having its first meeting feature harshly ad hominem attacks on the majority of United Methodists who had voted down the plan to segregate Africans away from a U.S.-only central conference (a plan voted down by 95 percent of African annual conference members), and now continues to promote a revised version of this already twice-defeated plan to set up a U.S.-only central conference.
4. Supporting the Connectional Table’s petitions amounts to rewarding and encouraging the strident, Golden-Rule-denying tactics of Amy DeLong’s “Love Prevails” protest group.
It is worth reviewing how the CT came to put aside its normal business to decide to promote these petitions on homosexuality for this General Conference:
Loud protesters from Love Prevails, a self-described “radical sexual liberationist” protest group led by Amy DeLong interrupted CT meetings on multiple occasions to inject their agenda, often in very off-topic ways. When one Love Prevails activist angrily demanded more pandering at the CT’s spring 2014 meeting, Bishop Ough chose to invite sympathetic CT members to respond. This led to all business being set aside for the CT to rush through a motion to submit and commit the CT to the Love Prevails agenda of liberalizing our sexuality standards. A fuller report on that meeting is here. Later decisions about the precise petitions to submit to General Conference were simply a matter of filling in the details of a direction that had already been decided.
As documented by United Methodist News Service, myself, and Love Prevails itself, the tactics this group has used with the Connectional Table and General Conference include relying on raw physical force to loudly shut down meetings, demanding submission to their agenda, preventing any of the church’s other business from getting done, and openly threatening to forcibly shut down General Conference meetings to prevent duly elected delegates from voting on petitions they dislike on sexuality, and also on abortion. No wonder even United Methodists significantly more liberal than myself on homosexuality have nicknamed this group, “Love Bullies.”
Common sense says that rewarding certain behaviors encourages more of the same. Thus, support for the CT’s petitions on sexuality, among other things, would serve to reward Love Prevails tactics and encourage such tactics to be a more common means of effective decision-making in what would be left of our denomination.
5. The CT has chosen to uniquely privilege certain voices, while ignoring and disregarding others.
During UMC agency meetings, observers (like myself) with no official role understandably do not have a right to speak without invitation. But this quadrennium, the CT leadership has uniquely privileged Love Prevails by making an exception only for them, and in the process marginalizing duly elected CT members who are less liberal.
At the aforementioned April 2014 meeting, the CT majority, in a rather brutal political power play, rammed through the motion committing themselves to opposing traditional biblical teaching on homosexual practice, rudely disregarding pleas from more orthodox CT members (and even from a liberal European director who favored the presenting cause but did not think the CT was the proper body to promote it) to take a more consensus-building approach. The majority rushed through the motion without first hearing from any United Methodists from Africa or Eastern Europe. (Before this key decision, the CT heard had from only one Filipino—not the Filipino CT member—who presented a far more liberal perspective than the dominant traditionalist perspective of the Philippines Central Conference.)
While the CT had subsequent discussion and decisions, these amounted to little more than ironing out the details of precisely how to advance their already-decided explicit goal in the April 2014 motion of, in the words of that motion, “parallel paths through dialogue and e-mendment of the Discipline to fully include LGBTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church.”
It is true that right before the CT’s final vote on sending its liberalization petitions to General Conference, they invited brief testimony from representatives of Good News as well as Love Prevails who were in the room. But inviting them to speak was a last-minute invitation that came after that beginning of that meeting, and only occurred long after the CT had already formally committed itself to the broad goal of LGBTQ “inclusion.”
Last year, CT organized a Twitter chat by partnering with “Dream UMC,” a social-media outgrowth of the liberal caucus movement whose leaders have at times been openly antagonistic towards some less liberal United Methodists trying to respectfully participate. Dream UMC’s three leaders are a transgender activist, the often strident social-media director for the main liberal caucuses at the last General Conference, and a passionate abortion defender who loudly told fellow delegates at the last General Conference that Jesus was NOT her king. The CT has avoided similar partnership with any equivalently evangelical-led group.
In 2014, the CT engaged in efforts, which ultimately didn’t go very far, to have some dialogue with unofficial UMC caucus groups from across the theological spectrum. But while the CT was rather expansive in inviting a range of caucuses opposed to the UMC’s official standards on sexual morality, the CT chose to be rather limited in its invitations to the conservative side, excluding from the invitation list UMAction (which at that point had shown far more engaged interest in the work of the CT than any other caucus group) and Lifewatch (aka, the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality).
When politely asked for the reasons for our exclusion, UMAction was informed that they were twofold: that we were “primarily a news service organization” and that we were somehow not United Methodist enough.
On the first, while we certainly have a website on which we report news (like almost every invited caucus), our self-understanding is that we are primarily an advocacy caucus for conservative, orthodox United Methodists, like others.
As for the second, it is not clear why UMAction is not United Methodist enough, as a ministry directed by this United Methodist (who is now an elected General Conference delegate), accountable to its own Steering Committee and Advisory Board entirely composed of United Methodist clergy and laity, and supported by the donations of faithful United Methodists. On the other hand, Love Prevails evidently meets the CT’s standards for being sufficiently United Methodist, even though this group’s stated mission includes promoting disregard of the UMC Book of Discipline, disrupting UMC denominational meetings, and recruiting people to stop supporting, attending, or even praying for United Methodist congregations not on board with the Love Prevails agenda.
In September 2014, I sent Bishop Ough a private email respectfully requesting that UMAction be included in future such dialogue opportunities. At the Council of Bishops’ meeting that November, Bishop Ough acknowledged receiving my message and said he would get back to me. Fifteen months later, I am still waiting. In contrast, Bishop Ough found time for plenty of back-and-forth correspondence with Love Prevails.
No explanation was provided to Lifewatch for their exclusion.
Now the CT majority faction is seeking opportunities to meet with delegations for the sake of promoting its petitions, whose goals they rushed to support while refusing to listen to others.
I hope that any delegations considering inviting representatives from the CT or any like-minded factional caucus (like the Reconciling Ministries Network or Love Prevails) for a meeting would only do so if there was at least fair and equal time offered to representatives of more orthodox United Methodist caucus groups.