UMC Way Forward Plans

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UMC Bishops

July 24, 2018

The Liberal UMC Bishops’ Plan, Part 1: Summary

After numerous delays from others, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has done us all a great service by finally publishing the full legislative details of each of the three plans being forwarded as alternative paths for evaluation at our denomination’s 2019 General Conference, at least in English.

The three plans are named: “the One Church Plan,” “the Connectional Conference Plan,” and “the Traditional Plan.” The full legislation (i.e., petitions to amend specific paragraphs of the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline) for each of these has been posted as Exhibits A, B, and C for an upcoming case for the UMC Judicial Council’s upcoming October session.

The full report of the Commission on a Way Forward, with a general historical overview as well as timelines and narrative summaries for each, is included as Exhibit D.

This full report reveals that the better-known commission members publicly endorsing what they call “the One Church plan” include, among others, Matt Berryman of Chicago (who until recently was the CEO of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which has been the main caucus seeking to liberalize UMC standards on marriage and sexuality), Dave Nuckols of Minnesota (an outspoken member of RMN’s national board of directors), and Brian Adkins of the California-Nevada Conference (a self-described “LGBTQI religious leader” who was ordained in 2016 in what an apparent supporter of this action said was “in direct conflict with the Book of Discipline” and was done as an “an act of ‘ecclesial disobedience’”). It was recently reported that this plan to liberalize our denomination’s sexuality standards is favored by 60 percent of active United Methodist bishops, but that the remaining bishops, especially among non-U.S. bishops constitute a significant group supporting either of the other two plans.

I will have more to say later about the Traditional and Connectional Conference Plans.

But for many weeks and months, we have heard so much vague rhetoric, assumptions, and educated guessing about what the “One Church Plan” (also informally called the Liberalization Plan by some) would and would not do. I have even recently seen some of this plan’s strongest supporters say such things as that it actually “is not a progressive plan.”

But now that we have the actual plan, it is worth highlighting some key ways in which the rhetoric of some of its supporter contrasts with this plan’s actual provisions.

Here are some briefly stated myths and facts about what the authors have called “the One Church Plan”:

 

MYTH: This plan would establish a “local option” on whether or not to celebrate same-sex wedding ceremonies, leaving it up to each regional annual conference to set its own policies. 

FACT: This plan would dramatically change the marriage standards and policies THROUGHOUT the UMC.

 

 

MYTH: This plan would establish a “local option” of letting each annual conference decide whether or not it wanted to accept “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy.

FACT: Not really. 

 

 

MYTH: “The One Church Plan has no impact on conferences outside the U.S. … whose members” support the UMC’s present traditionalist standards on sexuality, as this plan’s narrative summary assures us.

FACT: This plan would indeed impact United Methodism’s central conferences outside of the USA in several rather significant ways. 

 

 

MYTH: “In the One Church Plan, no annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions,” as its architects assure us in their narrative summary (and repeated by liberal Bishop Robert Schnase of Rio Texas).      

FACT: This plan would in several ways coerce traditionalists toward acting contrary to their consciences and faith convictions. 

 

 

MYTH: This plan would include generous space for traditionalists “without disrupting their ministries” and would keep congregational voting “to a minimum,” as the plan’s narrative summary assures us, thus bringing a new level of peace to our denomination’s internal conflicts. 

FACT: This plan would bring us a whole new level of bitter, divisive conflict, disruption to vital ministries, and in the long run this plan, more than any other, would MAXIMIZE divisive votes by congregations.  

 

 

MYTH: The One Church Plan would somehow advance the cause of UNITY among all current United Methodists (it’s right there in the name!) and would greatly extend and expand our ministry in various contexts.

FACT: This Plan is guaranteed to split apart and dramatically restrict the size and impact of the United Methodist Church, in drastic ways from which the denomination would be unlikely to ever recover.

 

 

In the days ahead, I will be attaching hyperlinks to the bolded text above linking to new articles explaining each item in more detail, based on careful analysis of both the legislation and narrative summary for this plan.

But for those readers looking for the bottom line, I will now offer a brief summary of some key facts.

For understanding what this plan would actually do, one must look carefully at how the proposed changes interact with other relevant parts of the Discipline.

While some have described this plan as a “local option,” this plan would actually go much further than what that phrase may suggest. It would REQUIRE every UMC annual conference to accept same-sex weddings, which goes further than the liberal policies that split the Episcopal Church in 2003.

It would liberalize the definition of marriage and other relevant official teachings for United Methodists everywhere in the world.

It would make removing the ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy” the default position of every United Methodist annual conference around the world, and the burden for adopting regional exceptions would be imposed entirely on traditionalists.

This plan would regionalize and localize the most emotionally bitter fights of General Conference to instead take place at central conference meetings, annual conference clergy sessions, and eventually every U.S. congregation.

It would largely disenfranchise U.S. lay members of our denomination on major decisions. Laypeople (with few exceptions) would be prevented from having any binding authority to participate in regional decisions about whether or not our respective annual conferences will accept the new liberalized ordination standards. As for our congregations, they could forbid same-sex weddings on the church property, but they could not prevent their pastors from performing such ceremonies off-site or refuse to accept openly partnered gay pastors.

If the goal is truly to “let everyone decide what is best for their own context,” then shouldn’t lay people be an integral, non-marginal part of making such major decisions about United Methodism’s mission and ministry in their context? Not if this plan passes.

This plan would also exclude licensed local pastors and associate clergy members of annual conferences – who represent a major portion of active pastors in many regions – from being involved in each conference’s decisions about sexual-morality standards for our clergy.

Despite the misleading “One Church Plan” name, this plan, more than any other, is most guaranteed to split our denomination apart, with massive membership losses around the world, the results of which could drastically deplete finances available for ministry in the UMC’s overseas central conferences.

There would be a temporary allowance for central conferences to continue to have more traditionalist marriage and ordination policies in their own context, but this allowance would be on shaky ground, and potentially could be canceled with ease.

There are some provisions designed to protect the consciences of traditionalist Americans who remained within the UMC, but these have some rather major gaps. This plan would still force traditionalist-leaning annual conferences to pay the salary support of an openly homosexually partnered bishop (despite explicitly recognizing that this violates the conscience of traditionalist believers), force all United Methodists around the world to accept the authority of other partnered homosexual clergy who would lead denomination-wide leadership bodies, and force traditionalist congregations in some areas to accept and submit to the authority of a homosexually partnered bishop.

This plan also offers no olive branches whatsoever of respect, grace, or amicable treatment toward congregations in which the members overwhelmingly felt they could not remain in a denomination with these new standards. This plan follows the same pattern that has led to the ugly spectacles in other denominations of bitter, costly, and deeply wounding battles in secular courts over the physical property of departing traditionalist congregations.

At times, the narrative summary of this plan offers a rosier picture, with lots of language of how bishops and other relevant officials could or might or might not handle some of the specific concerns noted above in less damaging or adversarial ways. And if this plan passed, we can expect that in some local cases, things might be handled in relatively nicer, more amicable ways than the worst-case scenarios. But the actual legislation for the plan lacks actual processes to protect against such problems and abuses.

In the absence of this plan offering a clear roadmap for handling some of the inevitable conflicts that would arise, our strongest predictors are examining the patterns of behavior we have already observed in our bishops, especially our most liberal U.S. bishops, and in reviewing what similarly placed officials in other denominations did after they adopted something similar to this Liberalization Plan.

Between now and February 2019, we can expect to hear a lot of spin and rhetoric from this plan’s supporters portraying this plan as much less liberal and less risky than what I have noted above.

Some of this is reminiscent of how a few years ago, the liberal caucus Love Prevails made a show of nominally opposing the Connectional Table majority faction’s proposal to roll back our denomination’s restrictions on same-sex weddings and partnered gay clergy, and this being used to claim that the plan was not really liberal but some new “Third Way,” but then after this plan failed, and there was no more need to claim it was somehow a compromise, one of the most prominent Love Prevails activists admitted that she actually supported that plan.

I encourage all United Methodists to follow the links, get the facts for yourself, and contact the General Conference delegates from your annual conference to make sure they understand the true nature of this plan.


30 Responses to The Liberal UMC Bishops’ Plan, Part 1: Summary

  1. David Livingston says:

    John, I’ve had private conversations with some of the more outspoken progressive leaders of the church and I can assure you that they do not view the One Church Plan as a “progressive” plan. Reading your article linked above, I think a better interpretation of Sue Laurie’s comments is a recognition that a truly progressive plan cannot possibly pass so the CT plan would cause less harm (in her eyes) than the status quo. The same might apply today. The progressive option that is being presented is The Simple Plan (that simply removes language).

  2. Andrew Maxwell says:

    Thanks for sharing this information!

  3. Pat says:

    May God Almighty intervene and protect His Plan for Human Sexuality and Have Mercy on the United Methodist Church!

  4. Paul Reed says:

    this will gut the UMC

    • John Smith says:

      Any of the plans are going to have a dramatic impact on the UMC. Having let this fester for decades there is no easy or painless way to address the problem.

  5. Brian Wagner says:

    I already feel conflicted wether or not my family should leave the UMC, and if they change their stance on homosexuality, I’ll have no choice but to take our family somewhere else, as sad as that would be. And there are millions of UMC members who feel the same way

    • Margaret Cox says:

      After reading this article, as a black, female, United Methodist I am glad that “liberal” folk were willing to speak out to free my black ancestors from the shackles of slavery. Then even more “liberal” folk spoke out on my behalf against discrimination, segregation and my treatment as a second-class citizen. Then as a woman, even more “liberal” folk spoke up to give me the right to vote, or be ordained as clergy etc. There is still much work left to be done on the above. So let’s direct our energies there, and not create another group, like our bothers and sisters in the LBGTQ community, that we can discriminate against, segregate, and treat as second-class citizens.

    • Nancy Blackwell says:

      I totally agree with Brian Wagner, sadly. I love our church, but if they to change our bylaws so as not to represent biblical values, I would be forced to find another church. I pray for knowledge and wisdom for our members, that they would definitely not chose the “One Church Plan”.

  6. Brian Wagner says:

    I already feel conflicted about wether my family should leave the UMC for more bible following churches, and if the UMC changes their official stance on homosexuality, then I’ll have no choice but to leave, as sad as that would be

  7. Wes says:

    myth: john lomperis knows what a fact is.

    fact: he does not.

  8. Mark Fuerstenau says:

    Fact: I have served under both Bishop Ough and Bishop Palmer. They are both dedicated and faithful Christians and United Methodists. They have demonstrated an unwavering faithfulness to Jesus and to the United Methodist Church and its mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ to transform our world. Any recommendations they bring forward will be thoroughly vetted through holy conferencing. I trust them implicitly to lead our church in the direction God wants it to go. I was born a Christian and a United Methodist and I will remain one until I have breathed my last breath. Our church has always made decisions using the process of holy conferencing. Sometimes it takes us a while to get where God wants us, but we eventually get there. It is a system that, while it isn’t perfect, has stood the test of time. We all stand before God not as a church, but rather to be held accountable each for his or her own thoughts and actions. I’m not going anywhere. I hope the majority of our church members agree to let the system work. We are stronger together. Fear not!

    • John Smith says:

      What you have put forth is a testimonial to persons. You have not addressed the specific points of the plan or criticisms of it. Again, can you point out factual errors in the analysis?

  9. Daniel Gangler says:

    Just because the IRD calls something myth doesn’t make it a myth and does make it a point of view that might not be acceptable to the IRD. The IRD will gladly tell you what I believe, but they really don’t know. IRD just thinks it’s infallible. It ain’t and is the most disruptive force in The UMC.

    • John Smith says:

      Quite true, most appeals to authority usually have a flaw as do ad hominem attacks. So can you point out exactly where the analysis by IRD is in error? Where they have incorrectly reported the proposed changes? Or is your criticism simply you don’t like IRD?

  10. Jesus said, “The gates of hell shall not stand against the church.” It sounds to me as if we have opened the gates of the church to evil instead of evangelizing the lost. If this “one church” plan is adopted, the only result will be you will discover that there are more Biblical Methodists than you thought.

  11. Mark Flynn says:

    It is indeed a myth that this plan would establish a “local option” by which each annual conference could determine whether it would ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Just read the Book of Discipline and the proposed legislation. The legislation would allow the clergy executive session to make the decision. The Discipline makes it clear that the conference membership is half clergy and half lay.

  12. John Cassidy says:

    The Episcopal church started down the same path. Soon they were inviting Muslims and Hindus to celebrate Holy Communion. Neither of those religions believe Jesus to be the son of God. Indeed, they have been responsible for burning homes and slaughtering Christians over seas. Then one church began communion for dogs. Another had the women pose top less for a calendar (nipples were covered). The point is not the book of discipline, but whether Jesus is a King and His edicts are found in the bible. He himself tells us to speak to an unrepentant sinner one on one. If they continue to openly sin, bring several to speak to them. If it continues, throw them out of the congregation. Harsh words I know, but God’s wisdom is not ours.

  13. Martha Arizpe says:

    To Margaret Cox:
    It is indeed unfortunate that you somehow felt it necessary to disclose your ethnicity and gender, as neither is relevant to the issue at hand. The items facing the UMC are Biblical, not political, issues. And they must be decided according to the Word of God, not the preferences of man.

  14. Walt Haralson says:

    I have attended the United Methodist Church since I was a small child. After around 60 years of membership I find myself angry at this plan to radically change the church I have called home all these years.

    I cannot and will not support this plan. I will vote with my feet and leave the Methodist Church if it is passed.

  15. Brian S. Deryck Sr. says:

    As a United Methodist Church member for over 50 years and a past Conference Delegate, I will say that I will withdraw my membership if there is ANY change to what God has declared in regards to what is sinful! Relating to “mankind” determining one’s sexuality and the sin nature of sexual actions, NO ONE is to employ THEIR choice of that sin nature without the consequences as put forth in Discipline of the U. M. C.. What HE created shall not be altered!. All too often I have witnessed men and women knowingly choose to defy God’s guidance as to our citizenship in His flock! God’s word is absolute and shall endure FOREVER! May God’s blessings be upon these words and this correspondence.

  16. Gary says:

    I see proposed “plan” as an aggressive move for progressives to push their agenda down the throats of their traditional brethren. This “plan” is not anchored in Scripture; it is subjective, self-seeking, and sinful. I hear a lot of folks talking about the grace and mercy of God, and thanks be to God for such! But it was God, through the apostle Paul, who also said, “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
    Many of the Corinthian brethren were involved in the sins Paul named in this passage. But, by the grace and power of God, they were washed…sanctified (set apart)…and justified by the power of the blood of Christ!
    If I could live however I wished and still be faithful to God, I would do so. But my sinful nature does not mesh with holy Scripture. And neither does homosexuality no matter how is is proposed.

  17. Penelope Stutzman says:

    This liberal plan will destroy the Methodist Church. We have seen other denominations go down this path to their demise. If the liberals want to write the rules they should form their own denomination according to their beliefs. They should quit trying to change the Bible and the Methodist Church to fit what they want it to say or be..

  18. Which kingdom do you belong , theirs no ecumenical, only between right or wrong , we base our belief on the Bible , what kind of conscience do you have, don’t ignore Righteousness in exchange of human desires. But to please God.

  19. Jerry Jones says:

    I’m a Southern Baptist pastor and have been for about 35 years. Our Denomination has undergone an attack by these same Liberals trying to destroy our core beliefs, just as they are trying to do with our country and the world. We must understand their TRUE purpose which never changes. “When you’ve done all you can do, Simply Stand”…. NEVER give up or in !!! Fact: Most snakes trying to get in something, if they can get their head in , the body has little problem following !

  20. Sue Neff says:

    I am so sad. I love my Methodist Church. But not the changes some people want to make. If you do not like the Methodist church go somewhere else, start your own church. DO NOT change this one! God be with us all.

  21. Carl Saunders says:

    I was Baptized and received into the Methodist Church August 4, 1946 I have seen many changes, yet have held fast to Scripture and personal worship of God, witnessing to many and encouraging the making of Disciples through Christian example. The rule of thumb is always”chose whom you will serve.” I will wait and see what the UMC choses. The bottom line is the panic of dollars which is equated to numbers of members since the Church has become a very large, top heavy business. having many financial entities, from insurance, retirement, lending, etc. The old “Follow the Money” phrase applies to the UMC. I still intend to Worship and follow scriptures. BTW, I am also a sinner living under Grace. I hope be able to support the “Church of Jesus The Christ!” Until death.

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