May 25, 2018

GOOD NEWS: UMC Judicial Council Allows Alternative Proposals to 2019 General Conference

In an overwhelming, 8-1 decision issued this morning, the United Methodist Church’s “supreme court,” the Judicial Council ruled that “[p]etitions to the special session of the General Conference 2019 may be filed by any organization, clergy member and lay member of the United Methodist Church as long as the business proposed to be transacted in such petition” is within the boundaries of the restricted focus of the 2019 General Conference.

This ruling represents a defeat for liberal bishops who had sought to severely limit, or even altogether prevent, anyone from outside the Council of Bishops from submitting proposals that, in response to our denomination’s tensions over sexual morality and accountability, would represent an alternative “way forward” to the extreme liberalization plan favored by a majority faction within the Council of Bishops.

Some context is worth noting.

Earlier this month, the global UMC Council of Bishops concluded its meeting by deciding that their report to the special 2019 General Conference would “recommend” a plan that would liberalize our church standards on marriage and homosexual practice to better conform to current Western secular culture, but that this report would also “include” two alternative approaches, a “Traditionalist Plan” and a “Connectional Conference Plan.”  Our bishops have left many questions unanswered, such as what exactly would be in what they include about the “Traditionalist Plan.”

Within days, our bishops were publicly disagreeing about what exactly this meant. Liberal American bishops energetically spun this as meaning that the Liberalization Plan would be the only plan submitted to a vote for delegates, while some more orthodox bishops indicated that it meant that all three plans would be potential options on the table.

In a May 12 webinar, Bishop Scott Jones of Texas shared that an initial vote showed that a simple majority of active bishops favored the Liberalization Plan, but that this majority was less than two-thirds, and that there was significant support among the remaining bishops for the other two plans. Bishop Jones reported that then the later motion to pass the final version of the report, “recommending” the Liberalization Plan, while “including” the other two, passed by over 80 percent. Jones explained that this strong super-majority support for the final proposal came from how a number of bishops “perceived it as a compromise that would then send all three plans but recommend the One Church model.” Bishop Gary Mueller of Arkansas made similar comments to the United Methodist News Service.

The Council of Bishops also requested that the Judicial Council to make a declaratory decision about whether or not anyone else could submit petitions to the special 2019 General Conference. The Judicial Council agreed to do this, and met in special session this week to decide this question.

Given the uncertainties of what exactly will be in the Council of Bishops final report to the 2019 General Conference, this case attracted much interest. I filed “friend of the court” briefs arguing for why the Judicial Council should allow other United Methodists to submit alternative proposals. Six others filed briefs on different sides. Mr. Lonnie Brooks of Alaska unofficially posted all of the briefs online here.

I was privileged to participate in oral arguments before the Judicial Council, which were held on Tuesday of this week.

Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area (who until this last Council of Bishops meeting was the Council’s President) and others argued that no petitions beyond the Council of Bishops report should be allowed to be submitted for consideration at the 2019 General Conference. A coalition of annual conference chancellors represented by attorney Thomas Starnes, himself chancellor for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, appeared to argue that any legislative proposal would be out of order for the 2019 General Conference if it would move the UMC in a different direction than the one pushed in the Liberalization Plan. Another key argument of those on the restrictive side was that the right granted by Paragraph 507 of our Book of Discipline to “[a]ny organization, clergy member, or lay member of The United Methodist Church” to petition General Conference is suspended for the 2019 General Conference.

In this ruling the Judicial Council refused to accept any of these arguments. Instead, on the core question, the Council ruled that people outside of a faction of liberal Western bishops can submit alternative proposals to the 2019 General Conference.

This ruling did not go as far as I had asked when I requested some specific outlines of exactly what sorts of petitions would count as being “in harmony with the purpose” of acting upon the Council of Bishops report. But I realize that this part of my argument was always a bit of a long shot, for the context of what the Judicial Council might rule. Instead, the Judicial Council deferred to the General Conference itself to make such determinations, “through its committees, officers and presiders, acting in accordance with The Discipline and the rules and procedures of the General Conference.”

This ruling was essential for moving us towards the “fair, open, and transparent process” for which I pleaded this week.

It is true that even in the worst-case scenario of the Judicial Council ruling against allowing anyone other than the Council of Bishops to petition the 2019 General Conference, delegates with other ideas (such as myself) still could have proposed amendments and substitute motions to introduce alternative proposals at the last minute. But this would have not given all delegates adequate time to carefully read and consider the implications of such alternatives. And given the increasingly international nature of General Conference, it is worth remembering how experience has shown that translations have not always been adequate for ensuring that non-English-speaking delegates understand such last-minute amendments.

This ruling paves the way for allowing alternative proposals to be submitted months ahead of the February 2019 General Conference, and then duly printed and translated to give delegates around the world plenty of time to carefully read and consider them in advance.

Regardless of one’s position on particular issues, this ruling is a clear win for promoting a fair, open, transparent, non-manipulative, and globally inclusive process for the very important 2019 General Conference.


29 Responses to GOOD NEWS: UMC Judicial Council Allows Alternative Proposals to 2019 General Conference

  1. William says:

    These UMC bishops are fully exposed as frauds and deceivers. They pretend to be our leaders while this ruling clearly defines them as enemies of the UMC because they were trying to rig the 2019 General Conference in order to strong arm and/or manipulate their proposal through. Let’s just hope that this will turn into a real wake up call across the church and result in a significant backlash against these corrupt liberal forces in the church and result in a major repudiation of their tactics and agenda in St Louis next February.

    • C says:

      Well said!

    • Rev. Richard Rushing says:

      Amen! Let us ‘RUSH’ into Jesus. We need Lord Jesus to consume our hearts and lead us to holiness. We run to You!

    • Dennis says:

      Why can’t we just have a vote every local church regarding this issue? Actually there is no issue? Why are we even wasting our time by discussing this? All I know that GOD did not make a mistake by creating Man and “ Woman! GOD is Love but GOD is also a Judge.

      GOD bless us All!!

  2. shiphrah puah says:

    I would love to see a return to Christ’s teaching in the UMC. I have missed the hymns and the fellowship, but will not return to a church that is in heresy.

  3. Michael Young says:

    Could someone explain to me what part of the bishop’s “plan” is the leadership we requested of them 2 years ago???
    This current “proposal” sounds more like lets throw everything we can conceive of against the wall and see what sticks.

  4. Sandra Campbell says:

    My Great Grandfather Rev. WB Hughes was a Methodist Minister for many years. Approximately 45 years ago, the subject of the homosexual lifestyle and the acceptance within the Methodist church( Conference) was brought up by my mother. “ What are your thoughts Grandaddy,” she asked? His reply, “Charlotte, you don’t vote on sin!” End of subject!!!!

  5. C says:

    There is only one way forward: The so-called “Traditionalist” plan, which is simply what being a true Christian is. I wholeheartedly agree with William above that the Bishops were trying to rig the 2019 General Conference. Rigging is deception and we know who rules deception.

  6. Walter Pryor says:

    God is now polarizing the World into only two groups.
    Those who support and love God and all others. Seems judgemental? Seems cruel? But God is almost finished with the Church Age and will soon unleash His wrath upon the World.
    God, it seems to me, is separating and hardening the two sides. One reason is to force people to make the choice between God or the World. Another reason is to identify those who will be in the rapture.

  7. Skipper says:

    Wonder news! Now the General Conference can remove those false minters and bishops who preach and practice sexual perversion, if it chooses to do so in February. Let us pray for a return to God’s Statues for the United Methodist Church.

  8. Paul W. says:

    I doubt the liberal CoB is going to just roll over on this one. Sadly, I think the next round of this fight is about to start when the liberal GC committee begins deciding that all competing petitions are invalid since they aren’t “in harmony” with the Bishop’s plan.

    • Scott says:

      The committee’s of the GC will decide what is in harmony with the call. The COB does not have that option. This will be done by the same group of delegates that almost split the church in 2016. Our fate is in their hands and I will trust them over any COB. Hopefully UM action, WCA, Good News, Confessing Mvmt, etc have used the last three years to conceptualize a true solution to the problem and they can file a plan that everyone can agree to. Hopefully someone from the other side will decide to work with them and come up with a sane plan for us to go our separate ways in peace. This is what should have been done all along instead of trying to come up with a way of marrying people with irreconcilable differences into one denomination, for ever to be at war. The only thing the rest of us to do is pray for God to lead us to a peaceful solution.

      • Paul W. says:

        I hope you are right, but having read the briefs, watched the proceedings, and read the ruling, I don’t think it is anywhere near as clear as we would hope it would be.

        There is a Committee on General Conference that makes the rules and runs GC. My fear, based on the proceedings, is that this liberal group, which is closely tied to the CoB, will appoint the GC Committee on Referrals who will simply rule all competing petitions to be “not in harmony”.

        Note that the ruling provided no guidance on the meaning of the term “in harmony” and assigned responsibility for resolving this to “[GC’s] committees, officers and presiders, acting in accordance with The Discipline and the rules and procedures of the General Conference”. This gives the liberal Committee on GC very broad latitude.

  9. B L Eckles says:

    The COB should be invalid because they are not in harmony with GOD’S plan!

  10. Billy A. says:

    The most encouraging “take away” from the CoB’s actions (trying to limit proposals to General Conference 2019) is their efforts are tantamount to them publicly admitting the battle (to abandon biblical authority on the subject of human sexuality) is already lost.

    Numbers don’t lie. The CoB majority may be liberal, but the UMC is not. Without beurocratic manipulation, deception and a thumb-on-the-scales of justice the liberal faction of the UMC can’t win. They know it. Now we know it for sure.

  11. John Smith says:

    I’m still curious about the mechanics for the upcoming GC. What does it take to win? 50.1%? or whichever gains a plurality? If no one option takes the majority is there a run off between the top 2, 3, ?? What happens if no plan gets the necessary votes?

    Not that the CoB or liberal delegates would ever stoop to manipulation or deceptive tactics but it would seem to be easy to split the opposition to the Bishops with multiple traditional proposals and end up with a runoff between a very liberal plan that makes the CoB’s “One Church” look like it came from the hand of John Knox and the One Church plan. The CoB is obviously in ramrod mode and herding its favorite plan what is the opposing plan and who herds the cats favoring it?

    In the joy over being able to put forth proposals don’t forget this also allows the “progressives” to put forth ones as well as many there think the One Church plan is a reactionary, oppressive document that, at best, is a small step in the right direction.

  12. Scott says:

    Normal order would apply. A resolution would be brought before the floor of the conference, amendments proposed and voted on and at the end the resolution would be voted on. If passed it is church law, if not then it is over with. We do not have a run off for the best two resolutions. If all resolutions are voted down then we have nothing accomplished and everyone goes home. The GC does not need to pass anything which would punt the issue to GC2020. That is a distinct possibility but it would be a shame. We need to end this thing once and for all.

    • John Smith says:

      Thank you. A further question, is 50% sufficient or are there constitutional questions involved that would require “super-majorities” like 2/3rds or 3/4ths assent?

      • Scott says:

        It depends if they are changing a part of the constitution or a part of the BOD that is not in the constitution, such as the prohibition against gay ordination. If it is a non constitutional issue from the BOD then a 50% +1 at GC would decide the issue. If changes in the constitution were needed then the majority of the GC (again 50+1) would have to pass the motion and then it would require a 2/3 majority of all the delegates world wide to pass the motion and change the constitution. It is a very high bar to change the constitution.

  13. Jim says:

    My wife and resigned our UMC membership last fall. The church we entered in 2003 no longer resembled the same in 2017. It morphed into a mainline experience heavy on social justice homilies with minimal teaching of scripture. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was the absolute straddling on the fence regarding the issue of homosexuality. When 1/2 those in attendance defend the lifestyle in the name of love, while excusing away the writings of the Apostle Paul, you know you are on very shaky ground. If you can relate to this, if you see these signs in your UMC experience, I humbly encourage you to put the longstanding tradition and personal connections aside and exit this atmosphere. We are now in a church that is teaching the scripture in an expository fashion.

    “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” ROM: 10:17

  14. William says:

    What about a traditionalists proposal build off the definition of marriage that Jesus affirmed as God’s created order that’s recorded in Matthew 19 and Mark 10?

    Scripture clearly points out that Christian marriage is the only place for sexual relations, thus relegating all other sexual relations to the sinful practice of sexual immorality — which is incomparable with Christian teachings. Thus, the practice of homosexuality can be dropped and replaced with the practice of sexual immorality. This eliminates the focus on only one form of sexual immorality, the practice of homosexuality, and becomes inclusive of all practices of sexual immorality. All statements in the BOD on marriage, sexual ethics, and ordination standards could be built off these fundamental truths, with Christian marriage as the foundation.

  15. Bruce Willis says:

    I’m going to keep saying this.
    The council of Bishops and a good deal of the other bishops and a good majority of ordained elders including district superintendents are liberal progressives. Make no mistake the cob will do everything they can to achieve their one church agenda. Their agenda is simple it’s all about the ABC’s of Christianity. Attendance buildings and cash which is what I personally believe is the driving force behind the one church plan. One church is about maintaining the status quo. In other words
    “MONEY”. The biblical ABC’s are attitudes believers and commitment. Not about money. These liberal progressive bishops know that if each side goes it’s own way the liberal progressives won’t survive. Money money money money.
    As a former llp in the UMC most of the reports I filled out for the conference every year centered on attendance buildings and cash. The cob has learned nothing from seeing the decline in other denominations that secularized their sexual ethics
    Once a church starts down this slippery slope it is incredibly difficult to claw your way back up.
    I for one have had enough of a lack of biblical leadership in the UMC.

  16. Bruce Willis says:

    I’m going to keep saying this.
    The council of Bishops and a good deal of the other bishops and a good majority of ordained elders including district superintendents are liberal progressives. Make no mistake the cob will do everything they can to achieve their one church agenda. Their agenda is si ample it’s all about the ABC’s of Christianity. Attendance buildings and cash which is what I personally believe is the driving force behind the one church plan. One church is about maintaining the status quo. In other words
    “MONEY”. The biblical ABC’s are attitudes believers and commitment. Not about money. These liberal progressive bishops know that if each side goes it’s own way the liberal progressives won’t survive. Money money money money.
    As a former llp in the UMC most of the reports I filled out for the conference every year centered on attendance buildings and cash. The cob has learned nothing from seeing the decline in other denominations that secularized their sexual ethics
    Once a church starts down this slippery slope it is incredibly difficult to claw your way back up.
    I for one have had enough of a lack of biblical leadership in the UMC.

  17. John Smith says:

    As I understand it, one concern I have about the One Church plan is protection for the dissenting, traditional, churches in the future. When the Methodist and EUB merged the EUB was assured that infant baptism would not be be required of elders of the EUB persuasion. Now, just a few decades later that protection is gone. Nothing formal was required to make the change, it was simply enforced. What is to prevent this from happening under the new plan from “If you disagree with gay marriage you nor your church will be required to participate.” to “Failure to obey will result in stripping your status and the church will take whichever Elder we put in to correct the misanthropes who refuse to embrace the future.”?

  18. Steve Thomas says:

    John Wesley would not tolerate even the discussion of condoning what scripture refers to a fornication. In the Wesley Quadralateral the first two tests are scripture followed tradition. Thanks to the Judicial Council for seeing through the shenanigans of the COB and their design to manipulate the process. The Word says that God does not change in spite of what our openly gay bishop believes the “since Jesus could change his mind on these issues why can’t we. My quotes may not be totally correct but read the recent article about the withdrawal of Oakland UMC in the Baltimore – DC conference. God is good and His will be done .

  19. Doug Osborne says:

    I attended a meeting in Delaware Ohio and made the following comment to those wanting change to our discipline.

    I strongly believe in freedom of religion however when you approach me and tell me that I need to change my beliefs, you have then taken away my freedom of religion by trying to impose yours on me.
    You have the freedom to create your own denomination to support you beliefs but you don’t have the right to destroy mine.

  20. Bob says:

    My wife and I belonged to a conservative UMC in the front range area of CO. (Yes, there was actually a conservative UMC – probably the last bastion). The pastor there was adamant about keeping politics out of the pulpit and projected that eventually the church would split down conservative/liberal lines. When that pastor was transferred, they didn’t pair him with any other church in the conference; he was sent to another state to serve a congregation that would never have accepted someone pushing the liberal agenda. (We are, by the way, in the conference that eventually ordained Bishop Oliveto). The next pastor assigned to us was barely in the door when the liberal buttons started being pushed. Starting with the premise that the Bible is not the ultimate authority, but only another “tool” in our repertoire of resources (pastor’s own words). I asked this pastor where he got the authority to come in and change the direction of the church. Reply: “When I was ordained, I promised allegiance to the UMC, so whatever they they send me to do, I do.” Hello? I thought ordination meant declaring allegiance to GOD. That church is now 2 pastors further down the road, but that particular pastor caused a huge amount of damage before his leaving. When the admin. asst. retired, the call was put out for a replacement. I know for a fact that 4 church members applied; only one was interviewed (practicing lesbian) and was promptly hired, the other interviews cancelled. There was still $400k debt on a church expansion; a capital campaign committee was selected (conservatives – they are the ones who fund the church) and was successful. As it really dawned on people what was happening (we SO don’t want to admit that the fox is in the henhouse), the church started bleeding conservatives. From 350 – 400 in attendance on any given Sunday down to 200 now. It was terribly difficult to walk away from a church family. We go back from time to time for a memorial service or anniversary reception. It has gotten easier (though still sad), because most of “our family” is gone.

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