This continues a series examining the proposal to the United Methodist Church’s specially called 2019 General Conference which has been endorsed by a majority of our denomination’s active U.S. bishops and which is being marketed as “the One Church Plan.”
There are other plans submitted to this General Conference, which will be examined later.
The UMC Judicial Council has now published all of the specific legislative proposals of this plan for amending our denomination’s governing Book of Discipline as Exhibit A of a case for its upcoming October session. Meanwhile, a congregation whose senior pastor strongly supports this plan has posted its entirety online, including its official narrative summary.
I am presently highlighting some key contrasts between some of the rhetoric and misunderstandings surrounding this so-called “One Church Plan,” and the actual facts about it that have now been made clear.
If you are just starting or would like to see my summary of the plan and overview of this series, please click here.
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.
Some of the recent marketing for this plan has highlighted how it, in contrast to previous liberalization plans, includes several ostensible protections for the consciences of any traditionalist minority who would remain within the UMC.
But upon review, Pastor Chris Ritter concluded “Many of the measures offering protections are window dressing.”
It is worth noting that not only are these conscience protections woefully insufficient, but also that they are only temporary, subject at any time beginning in 2020 to repeal by a simple-majority vote of an increasingly liberal General Conference.
And none of these protections addresses the fundamental concern for traditionalists of it being contrary to our core faith and conscience to remain loyal to a denomination that would adopt this plan, and thus explicitly authorize practices the Bible calls sinful.
Also, the plan’s narrative summary explicitly recognizes that it would indeed violate traditionalists’ consciences to require us to participate in the ordination of homosexually active clergy or to provide “the financial support of a bishop in a same-sex marriage.” But then this plan does NOT include any legislation to provide any conscience protections on either.
On the first, if the dominant faction of an annual conference’s ordained clergy favors liberalized standards, then United Methodists who believe clergy are biblically obligated to abstain from sexual relations outside of marriage between one man and one woman could not in good conscience support the approval and appointing of candidates who violate no official standard by breaking this traditionalist ethic. So traditionalists would become just as excluded from cabinets, boards of ordained ministry, and district committees on ministry as opponents of women’s ordination are absent from such bodies. This would amount to the systematic removal of traditionalists from conference leadership positions.
Also, this plan would require all future ordination candidates, per ¶336.12, to declare that they “approve of our Church government and polity,” including this plan’s redefinition of marriage and other statements that are theologically problematic for traditionalists. Many traditionalist candidates could not vow this in good conscience. Thus, this plan would significantly filter out traditionalists from the pipeline of new UMC clergy.
Also, while this plan would exempt traditionalist bishops from ordaining homosexually active clergy, it would force traditionalist bishops to appoint them, which would be similarly contrary to such bishops’ consciences.
Also, traditionalist-leaning congregations would have no freedom of conscience to categorically refuse any clergy who perform same-sex unions (as noted).
Nor, as also noted, would traditionalist congregations in liberal-leaning annual conferences, of which there are many, have freedom of conscience to refuse to have any homosexually active clergyperson appointed over them.
Nor would such traditionalist congregations have freedom of conscience to not be forced to submit to the authority of a homosexually active bishop if one was assigned to their area.
Also, this plan explicitly says in a couple of places that bishops and district superintendents cannot force a pastor to perform or not perform a same-sex wedding, and that they cannot force congregations to host or not host such ceremonies. But there is nothing in this plan to prevent bishops or district superintendents from treating pastors punitively in the appointment process (something they already have great power to do) if they do disagree with the decision made.
Furthermore, it is worth noting some of the odd logic behind these (very limited) protections. Some bishops, particularly in the Western Jurisdiction, have recently been blatantly violating parts of the Discipline they see as unjustly restricting full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Proponents of the “One Church Plan” are effectively saying that this covenant-breaking behavior of bishops should be rewarded by liberalizing our denomination’s definition of marriage, removing the restrictions on same-sex weddings, and allowing annual conferences to ordain homosexually active clergy. Now some who cheered the violations of our current standards because they see these standards as unjustly contrary to LGBTQ inclusion are decrying these proposed conscience protections as unjustly contrary to LGBTQ inclusion. How does this provide a firm basis to TRUST that the very same bishops now violating parts of the Discipline they see as unjustly LGBTQ-exclusive would suddenly shift to strictly obeying the proposed conscience protections if they also see these protections as unjustly LGBTQ-exclusive?
Also, in this plan, traditionalists in every part of the UMC around the world would seem to lose any right to object to accepting and submitting to the leadership of homosexually active bishops and other homosexually active clergy who would serve as heads of general denominational agencies and in other denomination-wide leadership positions. And in many cases, traditionalists from every part of the UMC would be forced to pay apportionments that funded these officials’ salaries.
Finally, the majority faction of the Council of Bishops made a choice to exclude from this plan any sort of “gracious exit” option for traditionalist congregations and regions who cannot in good conscience remain in a denomination that adopted this plan. This means that by our church law as revised, any traditionalist congregation that could not in good conscience remain in the UMC, given such a dramatic change in the terms of what it would mean to be United Methodist, would lose all right to its property. This plan would empower liberal factions in annual conference to selfishly seize the property of such congregations to their own benefit, and cause deep financial devastation on such congregations.
So contrary to the assurances of Bishop Schnase and others, this plan would effectively use property as a graceless club to attempt to compel traditionalist congregations to pay all of the above-noted costs of remaining UMC, no matter how much this would mean acting directly contrary to their core convictions.
(Note: An earlier version of this article attributed the lack of “gracious exits” in the One Church Plan to a choice on the part of “the architects of this [One Church] Plan. But I have since learned that this was not quite accurate. I have since been informed that the majority of the members of the Commission on a Way Forward were in favor of including gracious exit provisions in this plan, but that the Council of Bishops prevented them from doing so. I regret the misunderstanding.)