Moderate United Methodists Should Support Traditional Plan

on August 22, 2018

At United Methodism’s special General Conference in February 2019, focused exclusively on the church’s teachings about sex, traditionalists from America and globally naturally will support the Traditional Plan. It will reaffirm the church’s orthodox stance about marriage as union of male and female. But self-identified moderates and even moderate progressives should consider it too.

Presumably progressives and most moderates plan to support the so-called One Church Plan. Despite its name, by overturning the church’s teaching in favor of local option, this plan guarantees multiple schisms. Nearly all other Mainline Protestant denominations, when officially liberalizing on sex, initially adopted a similar local option. In each case, hundreds of congregations quit their denomination, accompanied by years of still ongoing litigation, and still mounting membership losses totaling into hundreds of thousands. And of course, optional doesn’t remain optional, as liberals tighten the screws against remaining traditionalists.

For United Methodists, the schism would be larger because our membership is global. There’d be schism within the USA, and between the USA and Africa, plus parts of Asia and Europe. There’d also be schism within local congregations, ultimately forced to confront sexuality issues previously left to the General Conference every four years. Nearly every United Methodist local church is a mix of conservatives, liberals and moderates. Having specifically to choose sides over same sex marriage and actively gay clergy would divide thousands of congregations, crippling or killing many of them. So the end result would hardly be One Church.

Not all progressives support the One Church Plan. Some fault it for not immediately imposing liberal sexuality on the whole church. Some moderates also oppose it for, among other reasons, promoting congregationalism in what’s supposed to be a connectional church.

There’s also the Connectional Church Plan, creating essentially three different churches, each with different sexuality standards, under one denominational umbrella. Because it requires constitutional amendments needing two thirds votes both at General Conference and at annual conferences globally, it has almost no chance of passage. If passed, it would, like the One Church Plan, create division and chaos in local churches, forced suddenly to choose sides. It also would be inherently unstable, as nearly all would understand this plan as merely a transition to a full split into three or more denominations. There would be decades of fighting and uncertainty.

Only the Traditional Plan would avoid most of this chaos by preserving most of the status quo, leaving current sexuality standards in place, and not forcing local churches into potentially lethal divisions. Adamant dissidents from the church’s teaching would be permitted to leave with their church property. The actual number who would leave is probably not large. Less than two percent of USA congregations identify as Reconciling i.e. opposing the church’s official stance. About one third of them are in the Western Jurisdiction, which has only four percent of USA church membership and about two percent of global membership.

The Traditional Plan is the real One Church Plan, by preserving the global church and keeping most of the USA church intact. It protects the vast majority of congregations from divisive debates. It allows dissidents to leave, from the shrinking parts of the church. But most of the church is untouched, and the global membership’s growth can continue, with hopefully an eventual impact on the declining USA church.

Here’s what moderates and moderate liberals should consider. Even if they disagree with United Methodism’s official stance on sexuality, they are better off in an intact, growing global church than in a fragmenting, shrinking USA church aligned exclusively with dying Mainline Protestantism.

Moderates and moderate liberals should also consider that for better or worse United Methodism allows a great deal of freedom. For most of the twentieth century, evangelicals survived as a besieged minority in Methodism, creating their own subculture, largely avoiding the often hostile general church bureaucracy. Likely they can do the same.

Traditionalists likely have sufficient votes to pass the Traditional Plan on their own. But others who recognize the advantages of avoiding mass schism and years of local church conflict should join them. The Traditional Plan like orthodoxy itself offers the only shelter under which there can be relative cohesion, vitality and growth for United Methodism, to the benefit of all.

  1. Comment by Dan W on August 22, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Thank you Mark. This is an excellent summation of the three proposals.

  2. Comment by David on August 22, 2018 at 8:21 am

    The primary cause of “dying Mainline Protestantism” is not religious, but rather having members with birthrates below replacement level. This has been the case for decades and is now being seriously felt.

    It was reported by the Gallup Poll this year that 67% of Americans favor same sex marriage. If the UMC continues to oppose this, it puts itself out of the mainstream to its detriment.

    The advantages of being in a “global church” are few. Do you really feel that conservatives in the US South will want to be in a denomination run by Africans? I basically see no good future for the UMC no matter which plan is selected.

  3. Comment by Josh on August 22, 2018 at 10:30 am

    I call bull crap.

    Churches do not just grow by having babies. They grow by proclaiming the Gospel, discipling those who come to believe, and engaging in local and foreign mission work.

    And so what if most Americans prefer allowing same sex marriage? Why don’t you poll them about drug use and premarital sex? You will probably find that the majority is all for legalizing drugs and having sex with whoever you want to whenever you feel like it. If you think that churches are going to grow by telling people what they want to hear, you are living in lala land.

  4. Comment by Bill Ivins on August 22, 2018 at 11:49 am

    David, you’re remarks have no basis in reality or the truth of Scripture. The church is never called to be “mainstream.” The church is called to be holy (cf. I Corinthians 1:2). That means being out of the mainstream and set apart to live according to God’s precepts. Believers are to live in a manner that is distinctly different than the mainstream.

    Being out of the “mainstream” was the historic place of Methodism from its founding. Only at the turn of the turn of the 20th Century did Methodism move into the “mainstream” and now we’re getting sucked into its undertow and drowning in the Progressive mainstream cesspool.

    Does that mean the erudite elites from Harvard and the cocktail party crowd from the Country Club will reject the message of the Cross and the way of holiness? Maybe. But as Paul went on to write in I Corinthians 1, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v. 18).

    We don’t tailor the Gospel and the moral precepts of holiness to accommodate the itching ears who would destroy the church in order to be “mainstream.”

  5. Comment by Fred Richmond on August 22, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    Well stated and exactly correct.

  6. Comment by Ron Doub on August 27, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Well stated ad reasoned. By the Way I’m serving in the South East and have no problem under an African Bishop. I have made 3 trips to Africa and have worked well with African UMs. In fact if I must leave the UMC I would give very serious thought to transferring my orders to the AME Zion

  7. Comment by diaphone64 on January 12, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    Ironically, you’d be more discriminated against in the AME than blacks in the UMC. There is not a single non-black Bishop in the AME, and only 1 or 2 women.

  8. Comment by Mark on August 23, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    “Do you really feel that conservatives in the US South will want to be in a denomination run by Africans?”

    I have to think you don’t know conservatives very well to say this. I’m 49. I’m Southern. Conservative. For a long time, I’ve been hoping the Africans would send missionaries to us, just as we did for them many years ago. We forgot what we taught them. I’d follow their lead in a heartbeat.

  9. Comment by John on September 10, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    When I was in seminary (30+ years ago), there was a student from Africa there and he told us that he had come here to be a missionary and evangelist to our country.

  10. Comment by John W Marsh on September 11, 2018 at 8:06 am

    I concur. I would be open to having a Methodist Church with that affiliation.

  11. Comment by Daniel C Eischen on August 24, 2018 at 10:24 am

    So the majority of Americans favor same gender marriage? So, this means the church should sacrifice Scriptural integrity to line up with culture? I don’t think so. If the church suffers loss so be it. I would rather be in a smaller church that stands for Scripture on this issue than a church that makes this sacrifice for the sake of cultural trends.

  12. Comment by Randy Kiel on August 25, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    Amen to the replies by Josh, Bill Ivins, Fred Richmond, and William.

    Furthermore, speaking as a pastor in the Virginia Annual Conference, one of those “conservatives in the US South” you mention, I feel completely justified in calling you out as a bigot, David! First, I do not know of any United Methodist clergy in my Annual Conference who do not see the benefit of extending Christ’s love worldwide as a part of a global church. Second, we welcome the leadership of our African brothers and sisters (though, apparently you do not). Third, your apparent assumption that all of us in the American South are prejudiced is itself a prejudice, and is no more valid than the belief that all African-Americans love watermelon.

    In conclusion, David, grow up and take your biases elsewhere!

  13. Comment by William on August 22, 2018 at 11:38 am

    AMEN. Either vote for the Traditional Plan or vote for one of the suicide plans.

  14. Comment by David on August 22, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    I did not mean to imply that churches should base their doctrines on popularity. However, if you choose to adopt those that many think are immortal, you cannot whine about declining membership. Most people today reject the Bible’s teaching on slavery which was frequently quoted in the past.

  15. Comment by William on August 23, 2018 at 9:17 am

    The Bible did not endorse slavery, just describe it as one of those human conditions at that point in the history of fallen man. Paul stated that all classes, groups, including slaves are equal in the sight of God. Even slaves in Paul’s day were Christians or part of The Way and worshiped with everyone else. Paul advocated freeing slaves. John Wesley was an adamant opponent of the slavery of his time. The Bible has always been misused to justify evil things, another condition of fallen man. Incidentally, slavery continues in the 21st century in its various contemporary forms.

  16. Comment by Josh on August 23, 2018 at 9:54 am

    No, the Bible does not endorse slavery. Description does not equal prescription.

    There are a lot of great studies that outline why that the Bible does not prescribe slavery but the easiest way is to simply go back to the creation story in Genesis and hear the message that we are all created in the image of God. A common inference from that core truth is that one image should not enslave another.

    There is also the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is core to Judeo/Christian ethics. How can we love our neighbor but then hold them as slaves? It doesn’t work.

  17. Comment by David on August 23, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    “Slaves, obey your masters”?

  18. Comment by Josh on August 24, 2018 at 10:15 am

    You ever read “Philemon”?

    As for “slaves obey your masters” . . . you might ought to read the rest of the verse and understand why Paul says this to this particular group of people. It is not to perpetuate the evil of slavery. It is, by the behavior of the “slaves,” to bring honor to the One that they truly serve. And maybe, just maybe the “slave’s” master would come to bow their heads and hearts to Christ. And if the head of the household came to know Christ, and actually starting to seek to obey the Law of Love, then guess what would eventually happen? The END of slavery in that house.

    What would you want Paul to do . . . go and lead a rally against slavery? Geez loueez man, you’ve got to understand things in context. That fundamentalist interpretation style just won’t work.

  19. Comment by Linda Rosenblum on August 24, 2018 at 11:02 am

    In Matthew 5 Jesus says that we should not resist one who would do evil to us but rather pray for those that persecute us. If someone strikes us on one cheek, we should offer the second cheek as well. When Paul says for slaves to obey their masters, it is an example of how Christian slaves should treat those who would do evil to them, just like Jesus instructs in Matthew 5.

  20. Comment by Dawn on August 24, 2018 at 10:01 am

    I agree, David. We are not following the culture, or making the moral stand we are because it is “popular.” We are standing for LGBTQ equality because it is morally right to do so; to continue to discriminate against them, especially with so much knowledge now of the deep spiritual harm it causes, is deeply sinful. People are risking their lives and ministries to stand for what is right. Thankfully, the secular world has come to see this, too…and so yes, when the traditionalist church takes a stand for what is obviously immoral — as they do far, far too often — they can hardly whine about declining membership.

  21. Comment by diaphone64 on January 12, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Why do you stop at Q for equality? Why are not ALL sexual orientations and preferences deserving of “equality”? Fratrisexuals, necrosexuals, omnisexuals, pansexuals, pedosexuals, polysexuals, zoosexuals, etc.? And why does the OCP continue the bigotry of limiting marriage to only two people?

  22. Comment by Kevin on August 24, 2018 at 11:45 am

    I am unclear about just what exactly is a Moderate Methodist?
    a. One who doesn’t care one way or the other
    b. One who is misinformed about scripture
    c. One who has his head in the sand and wants all the arguing to go away
    d. One who is simply waiting it all out and will go with the flow

    I view all the above with a small measure of contempt. Probably shouldn’t do that but can’t help myself.

  23. Comment by William on August 24, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    The Connectional Conference Plan is a multiple choice church approach. (1) One church that believes the Bible, (2) a second church that doesn’t know what to believe, and (3) a third church that just flat out doesn’t believe the Bible. I guess moderates would mostly end up in the second church. Each type church could have its own designated door color of some sort of distinguishing building feature so some poor soul doesn’t wonder into the wrong place on Sunday morning.

  24. Comment by John W Marsh on September 11, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Perfect description of some Moderate Methodists I know. I think the result of mushy teachings trying to avoid offending anyone..

  25. Comment by Rich Davis on August 24, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    We must be true to the Word of God. To do anything else will bring God’s judgement. In the beginning the Christian church changed the immoral culture, and must not let an immoral culture change the church now.
    We are here to spread scriptural holiness. It is why we are here.

  26. Comment by Scott Carter on August 24, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    The shot at the “conservatives in the US south” up above is condescending and demonstrably false. The ‘south’ is not only supportive of African leadership they are rejoicing and praising God for African leadership.

  27. Comment by William on August 25, 2018 at 9:38 am

    It should be noted that progressives have been maneuvering, plotting for some time now to diminish the voting strength of the African delegates to General Conference, even trying to blame colonialism for their traditional view of Scripture. Progressives just make up stuff, repeat group think sound bites, and declare it the truth while declaring themselves full of brotherly love, inclusive, open minded, and, oh yes, superior in their theological positions.

  28. Comment by Bill on August 26, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    The Traditional Plan calls for a much greater degree of accountability to the language of the Discipline. My hope is that if that plan passes that Moderates and Liberal/Progressives will not be allowed to hang on and continue to propogate false doctrine in Churches and seminaries. If that doesn’t happen, in a few short years we will have the same situation we have now. Though it sounds drastic, those that disagree should be forced to leave. It is time to part ways definitively and not allow any of the cancer to remain and spread. The Traditional Plan has a generous Exit Plan for those with other convictions and they should take it or be made to leave.

  29. Comment by Gifford Tompkins on August 27, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    I agree with “Bill says”: The minority view-One church Plan- would have orthodox traditional Methodists forced to stay in a divided church (or leave minus their church property). Allowing (requiring) the minority liberal/progressives to leave with their property is more than generous. Good riddance!

  30. Comment by Neil McTavish on August 27, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Our UMC church just passed a resolution to be included in the Reconciling Ministries Network directory yesterday. What do you forecast would happen to the validity of these votes and their respective congregations if the Traditional Plan wins?

  31. Comment by Byrom on August 27, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    I tend to agree with what Bill says about the Traditional Plan, which is the one I favor. However, I’m not sure that those who disagree will leave peacefully and without turmoil. The road ahead for us Methodists is fraught with peril, whichever way one believes. The bishop of my annual conference has been holding a series of discussions in each of our districts to talk about the issues and plans facing the special 2019 General Conference. He has been very fair and balanced, and has mentioned, in response to questions, about the possibility of no plan being approved, or an unknown fourth plan being introduced, and the possibility that the regular 2020 General Conference could undo whatever is done in 2019. I’ve read the book “Are We Really Better Together? by Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton. Their arguments make a lot of sense. As for me, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been exploring ECO: Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians as a potential option. If we ever needed to heed the words of the Korean Creed about the work of the Holy Spirit, it is now: “…God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength.

  32. Comment by Rob on September 23, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Our DS held a meeting this week to formally introduce this issue to lay representatives of of congregations in our district. We were briefed on this in Sunday School this morning. I cannot believe that the majority of grass roots Methodists would favor the One Church Plan. Are there vehicles available for individual church members to voice their support of the Traditional plan?

  33. Comment by Becky Bechtel on February 3, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    None of the plans seem perfect to me. I do believe in a loving God and that God loves LGBTQ people, right along with the rest of us. Given that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage, that issue has been taken out of our hands. However, the church still has to decide whether they want to marry same sex couples and if they want to ordain LGBTQ clergy. I feel like I don’t have enough information about what the downside would be of marrying these couples and ordaining LGBTQ’s. A good question is, how has this worked for the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches? The saddest part of all of this is that I believe the real emphasis should be on bringing others to Jesus Christ and making him your Lord and Savior. All of this discussion seems to be about everything but this principle.

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