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: 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 divisive conflict, disruption to vital ministries, and — in the long run — this plan, more than any other, would MAXIMIZE divisive votes by congregations.
This plan would transfer many of the bitter sexuality conflicts seen at General Conference to multiple central conferences and annual conferences.
At first glance, the provision to allow congregations to host same-sex unions as long as these congregations vote to adopt a policy allowing them may seem relatively modest to some observers. But given the differences of opinion in most U.S. congregations, getting the whole membership together to debate and vote on whether to allow homosexual weddings would get very destructively divisive, emotional, and angry in many cases, with great risk of causing lasting strains on personal relationships within the local faith community. And the way this plan mandates that such policies only be adopted by simple “majority vote” – rather than the “consensus” claimed in a promotional video for this plan – would make things all the more difficult and divisive for congregations that lack an overwhelming consensus.
Over time, more and more United Methodist congregations and pastors would be asked to host and perform same-sex weddings. And the General Conference would have passed the buck, forcing those at the local level to make a choice. And any media mentions of a lone traditionalist United Methodist congregation declining to host a same-sex wedding may spark outrage and targeted activism from increasingly emboldened and intolerant liberal activists in the denomination.
This is a long-term recipe for every congregation eventually having to take a divisive vote on same-sex unions, and for increasing pressure and marginalization to be brought against pastors and congregations who do not wish to perform them.
As for disruptions to local ministries, the fact of the matter is that we have already had more than enough as a result of the relatively scattered instances of disobedience to our Discipline’s sexuality policies.
While preparing this article, I gave a social-media invitation for traditionalist United Methodists to tell me if their own congregation had faced negative impacts and disruption from members learning about other United Methodists violating these current standards. Within a few hours, over three dozen shared that they had, including some heart-breaking stories.
Adopting this plan would open the floodgates to greatly increasing the number of United Methodists performing same-sex weddings or coming out as homosexually active clergy, with a corresponding increase in the harm and disruption on congregations.
And what about traditionalist congregations in which people felt that they could not in good conscience remain United Methodist?
Amidst all of our predictions, there is very little mystery to this one. We have already seen exactly what happens when other denominations (at least among those, like the UMC, in which congregations do not formally own their properties) adopt policies similar to the so-called “One Church Plan.” A significant number of traditionalist congregations try to leave. But officials of the newly liberalize denomination refuse to amicably part ways, but instead systematically sue these congregations in civil courts to try to take their properties away, even if the denomination does not have any immediate ministry use for it, in blatant violation of 1 Corinthians 6.
According to one detailed measurement, by 2015, the Episcopal Church had spent over $60 million suing its traditionalist former congregations. This does not count how much this denomination has spent suing churches since then, or the legal fees these departing congregations have had to pay. Given how our denomination is many times larger, one would expect the harm and costs of resultant legal battles to be correspondingly much more widespread.
MYTH: The One Church Plan would 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.
Again, amidst all of the predictions, there is really not too much mystery here. We have already seen what happens when other denominations liberalize their standards on marriage and ordination along similar lines as this plan.
Every single time a denomination with at least a million U.S. members has changed its standards on marriage and ordination along the lines proposed in the so-called “One Church Plan” this has led to a significant schism with the formation of a new breakaway denomination, increased membership losses in congregations that remained, devastating financial losses, and long-term, dramatic decline in the denomination’s overall membership from which it never bounced back.
This data is a matter of public record.
Last month, a survey was taken during the 2018 session of our denomination’s largest U.S. annual conference, North Georgia, and found that 25 percent said they would leave our denomination if General Conference removed the Discipline’s statement that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” while only five percent said they would leave if it were not removed. I was told by a leader in that conference that since the voting members were evenly split between laity and clergy, while the latter tend to be much more liberal, these results skew the reality about how a much larger number of United Methodists there would leave if we removed this stance while a much smaller number would leave if we maintained orthodox standards.
It is also worth noting that by imposing same-sex unions in every U.S. annual conference and other provisions, the so-called “One Church Plan” would be far more dramatic than simply removing this one sentence. It would also even be far more liberal than the Episcopal Church’s 2003 decision to effectively affirm a true “local option” for homosexually active clergy and bishops, which was enough to cause a major split. So we could expect that the UMC would split to an even greater extent if we adopt the “One Church Plan.”
If I as a delegate were approaching the 2019 General Conference with the sole goal – even to the exclusion of other goals like biblical faithfulness, contextual diversity, short-term protection of certain ministries within my annual conference, etc. – of keeping as many current United Methodists as possible united together in “one church,” then what is called “the One Church Plan” would, out of all the plans, be seem the most destructive of that goal, despite the misleading name.
The other two main plans (the Traditionalist and Connectional Conference Plans) would maintain a greater degree of connection among current United Methodists, but in very different ways, according to these other two plans’ differing priorities.