Annual Conference Sessions Weigh In On Possibilities for “A Way Forward”

on August 30, 2018

This May and June, United Methodist annual conferences across the US voted on resolutions related to the possibilities for “A Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church on its debate on human sexuality, with an eye to the 2019 General Conference specially called to resolve such issues. Many specifically spoke on the Council of Bishops’ recommendation of the so-called “One Church Plan” (OCP).

A survey in the North Georgia Conference found 59 percent of clergy and laity combined supported the current Social Principles on sexuality, and that 25 percent would leave the UMC if they were changed. By comparison, only 5 percent would leave if they were not changed. They survey asked whether respondents agreed that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, as the Discipline states, and how they would react if the language was changed.

The options were:
A. I agree. If this language is removed, I would leave the UMC.
B. I agree. If this language is removed, I would remain in the UMC.
C. I disagree. If this language remains, I would remain in the UMC.
D. I disagree. If this language remains, I would leave the UMC.

The combined laity and clergy results were:

  1. 25%
  2. 34%
  3. 36%
  4. 5%

According to one leader in that conference, the timing of the survey and its balancing of the votes of laity and clergy were believed to skew the results in a much more liberal direction, suggesting that those in the pews are far more traditional than their ordained leaders. Even with such skewing, the survey in the numerically largest annual conference in the US, more populous than the entire geographically huge Western Jurisdiction, shows the UMC has a lot more to lose by moving in the direction of the “One Church Plan” than by insisting on traditional biblical values.

In the Upper New York, Peninsula-Delaware, North Alabama, Holston, and Texas conferences, resolutions to call on the 2019 General Conference to liberalize the UMC’s standards on homosexuality were defeated, tabled, or derailed. Similarly, in debating a more broadly worded resolution, the Michigan Conference voted down an amendment to explicitly endorse the “One Church Plan.”  In the liberal-leaning Upper New York Annual Conference, a non-binding resolution encouraging delegates to support the OCP surprisingly failed in a 392-455 vote. In North Alabama, the OCP-style resolution was easily defeated by a vote of 240-412.

In apparent protest of Peninsula-Delaware’s decision, Chelsea Spyres, a candidate for licensing as a local pastor and student at Wesley Theological Seminary announced she was dropping out of the ordination process due to the UMC’s stances on practicing homosexual clergy. After the delegation voted 176-152 to pass a resolution supporting current standards on sexuality, she went to the session floor and gave an extended remark, explaining that she could not in good conscience continue the process if LGBTQ friends or colleagues of hers could not or would have to deceive the church. She later apologized and asked for forgiveness for calling these people her “brothers and sisters” instead of “siblings,” since the former phrase is “exclusive” language.

The liberalizing Texas resolution (found on p.35), which urged the 2019 General Conference to remove the “incompatibility” clause, restrictions on homosexually active clergy, and restrictions on apportionment funding for gay caucuses and groups, failed by a two-to-one margin during their May 27-30 meeting. After the Texas vote, bishops in three other annual conferences prevented votes on similar resolutions by declaring them “out of order.”

However, the Texas Conference failed to pass, by a mere 11 votes, a resolution on “gracious exits,” which would have encouraged the 2019 General Conference to allow any congregation that dissents from the stance on sexuality it decides on to leave with its property, should they choose to do so. A sense coming out of the meeting was that the petition was misunderstood to mean it was asking for congregations to be required to take that kind of difficult vote, instead of simply imploring General Conference to give them the option, leading some to vote against it. After this, similar “gracious exits” resolutions were before three other annual conferences, but were all ruled “out of order” by the bishop before they could be voted on.

The South Georgia Annual Conference also passed a motion calling for General Conference 2019 to uphold traditional standards. IRD board member UM Action Steering Committee member Sara Anderson submitted the South Georgia resolution, which also required that the statement be sent to every head of delegation for distribution to delegates.  The measure passed overwhelmingly, 431 yes to 179 no, even after it had been amended to add stronger language with which some “swing voters” may have been uncomfortable. The full text of that resolution is at the bottom of the page.

In contrast to the disobedience promoted by liberal officials and conferences, Mississippi passed a resolution committing to obeying the Discipline’s standards on sexuality.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Annual Conference passed a resolution calling for University Senate to invite the seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, a conservative school affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, to apply to be approved for UMC ordinations, overcoming strong liberal objections stemming from that denomination’s conservative approach to homosexuality.

In the Arkansas and North Texas conferences, neither liberal nor conservative resolutions were passed. In North Texas, competing resolutions calling for GC2019 to make traditionalist or liberalizing decisions were both tabled because human sexuality issues were not on the agenda because their leadership wanted General Conference to act first.

In Arkansas, a resolution calling on GC2019 to uphold traditionalist standards on sexuality was defeated by a slim 272-308 vote, and an opposing petition that would have affirmed blessing homosexual practice failed so overwhelmingly that no count was needed.

The Virginia Annual Conference passed a resolution affirming unity and “rejecting schism.” But this was best characterized as a “feel good” gesture with little weigh because of how broad and unspecific it was. Liberals and conservatives made competing attempts to amend this resolution to explicitly endorse the “One Church Plan” or to support a traditionalist stance, but both were voted down.

In the Memphis Conference, a resolution “to reaffirm the traditional Christian view of marriage” was voted down. Reportedly, one big factor to the defeat of this resolution was it being worded in such a way that some saw voting “yes” as meaning they categorically opposed any remarriage after divorce, as it contained language on the Biblical definition of marriage as “lifelong.”

Outside of the Western Jurisdiction, only the New York, Baltimore-Washington, and Northern Illinois annual conferences have been reported as passing resolutions explicitly calling for General Conference 2019 to liberalize the UMC’s standards on marriage and ordination. For all three, this was largely a reaffirmation of their calls to liberalize church standards on sexuality through the removal of language in the Discipline. New York Conference also held new elections for GC2019, so that now 7 of their 16 special General Conference delegates self-identify as LGBTQ.

Baltimore-Washington passed a resolution to endorse the “One Church Plan” by a vote of 310-233. However, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling upheld the Disicpline, despite her strong liberal views, by ruling that two individuals approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry were not eligible because they are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” both having admitted to being married to someone of the same gender.

Read the entire South Georgia resolution affirming traditional values below:

Resolution Approved by the 2018 Annual Conference Session June 5, 2018

WHEREAS, the official Book of Discipline of our United Methodist Church teaches that “sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (¶161G), requires our clergy to pledge to abstain from any sexual relations outside of marriage between one man and one woman (¶304.2-3), and forbids our congregations from hosting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” (¶341.6); and

WHEREAS, these official United Methodist standards have already been extensively debated throughout our denomination and at every General Conference for many years, and every General Conference has consistently rejected attempts to make these standards more permissive; and

WHEREAS, these standards are consistent with our understanding of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, 2,000 years of consistent historical Christian teaching, and the global, ecumenical consensus of most Christian churches around the world today; and

WHEREAS, we can hold firmly to these biblical standards while at the same time remaining compassionate and loving toward our friends, relatives, and fellow church members who may self-identify as being part of the LGBTQ community; and

WHEREAS, there has recently been significant tension within our denomination related to some United Methodists personally disagreeing with the standards above, and United Methodist clergy in some regions publicly breaking these rules; and

WHEREAS, those set apart for ordained ministry within our church should be men and women of integrity who can be trusted to keep their word; and

WHEREAS, when United Methodist ministers choose to openly betray their vows to live according to our church’s standards, it harms the church, compromises our witness, and erodes trust between United Methodists; and WHEREAS, the specially called 2019 General Conference will address some of these tensions, and may consider a number of relevant proposals, including strengthening accountability to these standards in our Discipline or alternatively removing these standards; and

WHEREAS, when other large denominations have changed their similar standards related to marriage and ordination, this has led to negative consequences such as large membership losses and, in some cases, the ugly spectacle of former fellow church members fighting each other in secular courts in costly, drawn-out battles related to ownership of church property; and

WHEREAS, it can be valuable for the delegates of our global, connectional church to also hear the concerns of our annual conference;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the South Georgia Annual Conference hereby expresses our hope that the 2019 General Conference will affirm the present standards of our Discipline, with added accountability for punitive actions if the present standards of our Discipline are not adhered to and found to be blatantly violated within or outside the conference in which the violation occurs. This would restore integrity to our covenant, as the “way forward” that would be the most faithful to Scripture and our Wesleyan tradition, the most effective for our mission, and the most helpful for maintaining unity among the greatest number of current United Methodists as possible; and

WHERAS, the 2019 General Conference will affirm the present standards of our Discipline with added accountability for punitive actions if the present standards of our Discipline are not adhered to and found to be blatantly violated within or outside the conference in which the violation occurs. This would restore integrity; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we direct the Secretary of our Annual Conference, within the next 60 days, to transmit a copy of the full text of this resolution along with the vote to the head of the General Conference delegation for every other annual conference, along with a request for this resolution to be shared with the other members of their respective delegations.

  1. Comment by Bradley Pope on August 30, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    I am in the N Ga conf & leadership (bishops and pastors) definitely do not share the laity’s sentiments. It’s interesting to watch because leadership really does not realize how wide the schism is which is somewhere between insulting and sadly disconnected. While the survey is admittedly interesting, is it too idealistic to wish that they were all just interested in pleasing an audience of One? We can’t poll our way into Godly decisions.

  2. Comment by Loren Golden on August 30, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    Famed sociologist Peter Berger once remarked, “India is the most religious country in the world, Sweden is the most secular country in the world, and America is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes.”  This is also true of the so-called “Mainline” Protestant denominations (ECUSA, PCUSA, ELCA, UMC, UCC, ABC, & Disciples), where you have an entrenched bureaucracy of functioning unbelievers, who pay lip service to the Lord Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture, but who, like the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin before them, would be loathe to surrender their own authority to Him and His inerrant Word.  In their efforts to compromise “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) to the prevailing winds of popular opinion (II Tim. 4.3-4), they have become a cautionary tale of how not to promote Christianity, proving by their words and deeds that which the Lord Jesus said long ago, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6.24)  You cannot serve both God and a humanistic metanarrative.

  3. Comment by Dan W on September 1, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Loren I love your comment, but I don’t believe the leadership of the UMC are phony hypocrites. UMC leaders, like leaders of other huge organizations, are out of touch with their base, the people in the pews. I agree they are putting their faith in the wrong things – professors, politicians, lobbyists, and consultants. They have forgotten to put their faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

  4. Comment by Reynolds on August 30, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    If the traditional plan passes, then you can start to get rid of some of these Bishops

  5. Comment by Loren Golden on August 31, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Don’t count on it.  They are entrenched in power (see above), and they will fight tooth and nail to hold onto it.  Thinking they are agents of change, “reforming” the Church of Jesus Christ to save it from “irrelevancy”, they are, in fact, agents of erosion dedicated to conforming the Church to the ways of the world, contrary to the warnings of Scripture (Rom. 12.1-2, I Cor. 1.20-25, Jas. 4.4, I Jn. 2.15-17), oblivious to the fact that the product of their efforts is profoundly irrelevant.  And they have as their ally the laws of gravity, for it is far easier to tear down a structure than it is to build one up; that is, to make the Church more like the kingdom of man than the Kingdom of God.  After all, it is no accident that the Apostle Paul enjoins us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the UPWARD call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3.14, emphasis added), a call that requires unswerving dedication, hard work, and sacrifice to work against the natural, sinful impulses of the human heart.

    As for “these bishops”, they—like all ecclesiastical bureaucrats—profit handsomely by holding the office of overseer over a larger body than they do over a smaller body.  If the traditional plan passes, then you can expect “these bishops” to work even harder to keep “Progressives” and “Traditionalists” together in the same dysfunctional, strife-ridden denomination.  If they cannot defeat the traditional plan, they will work to find loopholes in it, to allow “Progressives” to continue practicing their work of eroding the UMC’s trust in the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles (Eph. 2.20).  If they cannot find loopholes, they will invent some where they do not exist, and/or they will increasingly sanction acts of ecclesiastical disobedience in the name of “justice” (for that is how they perceive their efforts), thus circumventing discipline in the UMC and ultimately leading to the same sort of schism that has torn apart the other so-called “Mainline” Protestant denominations.

  6. Comment by Penny on September 12, 2018 at 10:35 am

    I hope you are mistaken, Loren, about what will happen of the Traditionalists win out, but I fear you are right.

  7. Comment by Daniel Jackson on September 13, 2018 at 9:58 am

    I believe Penny is spot on. One of the reasons we left the UMC after 15+ years of faithful service. Just consider how broken the denomination is….you are actually having a debate about the acceptance of behavior that is clearly defined in the Bible as contrary to God’s design and wishes. I repeat, you are actually having a debate about this issue. I will forever have a love for the UMC and what it meant to my family, but the current entity will have to be burned down before you can build it up.

  8. Comment by Skipper on September 12, 2018 at 11:43 am

    The Majority of United Methodists want one simple little plan.
    It’s the Obey The Rules Plan. Several such plans should be coming on October 8 when the rest of the plans are to be released. We need to pick the best Obey the Rules Plan and all get behind it.

  9. Comment by John Smith on September 14, 2018 at 6:38 am

    They are all “Obey the Rules” plans; the question is what are the rules, who makes them, who interprets them and what to do with those that disagree. At the end of the day remember Bishops cover bishops. With no mechanism to police the bishops, even if they lose the vote, they will not have lost the battle.

  10. Comment by Skipper on September 17, 2018 at 9:51 pm

    My point is the present rules (about the same at the bishop’s commission Traditional Plan) are not being obeyed. So we just need legislation to make everyone obey the rules. It is presently easy to ignore the rules in many places. These new plans are to be released soon – on October 8, so help is on the way, but the plans must be scrutinized. A good plan still must be passed by the General Conference in February.

  11. Comment by John Smith on September 18, 2018 at 6:16 am

    There are already mechanisms in place to enforce the rules. There is no will to use them among the elders and bishops. New legislation, new enforcement rules, cannot make everybody obey; no legislation can make people obey. New rules will be just as easy to ignore as the old ones until people are given the choice of (real) punishment for breaking the rules or leaving the UMC. Until the Bishops are willing to have the BOD apply to them and be enforced its all just a bureaucratic paper exercise. Whichever side wins needs to be willing to start cashiering Bishops and Elders. I believe the Progressives have the will and determination to do so. Past experience shows their opponents do not. So if a conservative plan wins nothing is likely to change. The Progressive/Liberal wing will retrench and start again and the conservatives will say “How can we in Christian charity punish someone for honestly held beliefs no matter how heretical?”

  12. Comment by Skipper on September 18, 2018 at 10:41 am

    How can we punish someone who honestly believes heretical ideas? Spare the rod and spoil the child . The Children of Israel had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

  13. Comment by John Smith on September 14, 2018 at 6:33 am

    I would recommend this article:
    to show the end stage of the liberal path. I would also point out that the UMC is in full communion with the ELCA.

  14. Comment by Skipper on September 17, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    I get your point on the bishops and we sure don’t want to wind up like the ELCA. That report shows how they treat their youth – Unbelievable! They just don’t think God will ever hold them accountable for what they teach youth, but God does things in His own time. He keeps track of mistreatment of His lambs too. Each little lamb. The Bible says it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!

  15. Comment by John Smith on September 18, 2018 at 6:19 am

    The ECLA and a large chunk of the UMC isn’t really concerned about god, whoever she or they or it is, if there is a god or an afterlife or something other than universal love that covers everything for everybody or whatever feels right to the individual as long as ….

  16. Comment by Skipper on September 18, 2018 at 10:49 am

    John, How about contacting the ELCA in your area to see if churches and pastors are aware of the First Things article you mentioned, “ELCA Hits Bottom” with all it’s corrupting of youth at youth rallies? You know, confusing someone’s mind may be to worst thing you can do to another human being – the most unloving thing. Do they know this is happening to their youth?
    Sexual confusion can be so hard to recover from. To encourage them to stay in it seems incomprehensible.

  17. Comment by John Smith on September 19, 2018 at 6:10 am

    I can’t get the people in the UMC, whom I see on a regular basis, to pay attention to what’s going on in the conference or what Methodists believe (theological and social) how am I going to get the ECLA to pay attention?

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