One Church Plan

ELCA: foreshadowing a UMC future?

on October 10, 2018

Carolyn Moore is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She has served the good people of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia for 15 years. She has been married for 32 years to Steve Moore, a high school history teacher. This piece originally appeared on her personal blog. Reposted with permission.

In the United Methodist Church these days, it is all about “the plans.” Three have been recommended by the Commission on a Way Forward. I note them here for reference, with reflections beneath about another denomination’s experience with their version of the One Church Plan:

The Traditionalist Plan: This plan maintains language in the Book of Discipline around issues of human sexuality, and provides a gracious (but as-yet undefined) exit for those who cannot in good conscience abide by that language. Those who support this plan are often accused of being schismatic for their unwillingness to bend on what they would call core theological convictions — convictions written into the Book of Discipline and which traditionalists and progressives alike committed to at their ordination.

The One Church Plan: This plan removes language in the Book of Discipline around issues of human sexuality, leaving it to churches to determine what their guidelines will be on issues like membership, marriage of same-sex couples, or ordination of LGBTQ persons. There is no exit ramp attached to this plan, presumably because it allows churches, members and pastors to choose their theology. The lack of a gracious exit reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to have deeply held convictions about the Bible, holiness, marriage and the nature of discipleship. It requires those convictions to submit to the cause of institutional preservation.

The Connectional Conference Plan: This plan corrals United Methodists into three main “camps” — traditionalist, centrist and progressive. These three camps would share affiliated services while being otherwise autonomous though governed by one Council of Bishops. There is no gracious exist attached to this plan, though it also requires a fundamental shift in understanding about what it means to hold core theological convictions. What the One Church Plan requires of laypersons and clergy, the Connectional Conference Plan requires of bishops, requiring them to set aside personal conviction for the sake of institutional preservation.

The One Church and Connectional Conference Plans — by their lack of exit ramp and the assumption that preservation trumps personal conviction — reveal the depth of our divide in the United Methodist Church, a divide that ought to be respected because it refuses to be minimized. Other denominations have proven the power of this kind of theological divide.

A colleague and friend, Reverend Dave Keener, witnessed this firsthand during the similar crisis in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Reflecting on the eventual division in the ELCA and its similarities to the current crisis in the UMC, Reverend Keener notes that something similar to the One Church Plan (OCP) was adopted by the ELCA in 2009. “The term they used was ‘bound conscience,’” he writes. “The assembly was assured that the theological and biblical positions of traditionalist and progressives alike would be respected. This did not happen.”

Soon after the vote it became clear to the traditionalists that there was in reality only one acceptable position and it wasn’t theirs. Since the the decisions of 2009 the ELCA has intentionally become more progressive and the traditionalists who remain in that denomination have been marginalized (most exited at the height of the crisis, forming the North American Lutheran Church, or NALC).

It may be helpful to take note of what happened within the ELCA in the aftermath of their adoption of a plan similar to the OCP. These reflections come from my Lutheran colleague:

  • Massive loss in membership. In the seven years after the decision to go against the historic teaching of the church the ELCA lost over one million members. They continue to decline but have not released numbers since 2016.
  • Massive loss of income. In the first few years after the vote the ELCA was forced to lay off hundreds of workers and experienced significant decreases in all areas of funding. Their current income for denominational expenses is less than it was in 1987, the year it was organized.
  • Global impact. Many churches in other parts of the world broke off formal ties with the ELCA — especially in Africa and the East.
  • Loss of confessional identity and loyalty.  It was no longer possible for local pastors to recommend that members who were relocating find an ELCA congregation since there was no longer unity in biblical teaching.
  • Theological education. Since the vote the ELCA has slowly purged itself of orthodox seminary professors. They have had to merge two of their seminaries for financial reasons and have removed one seminary president at the urging of progressive advocacy groups.
  • Diversity. One of the battle cries for the ELCA in making their decision was diversity, inclusion and welcoming. Ironically, according to a Pew research study last year the ELCA is now the second least diverse and multicultural denomination in the USA (96% white). The least diverse is the National Baptist Convention which is 99% African American.
  • Theological drift because of lack of accountability. Since the 2009 decision the denomination has continued to drift. With it’s decision the ELCA lost its ability to speak credibly to any issue. In saying that it doesn’t really matter what the Bible clearly states they reduce it to one resource among many and not God’s revelation to His people. Everything becomes a matter of opinion and soon the scripture has no authority for life. Congregations preaching various forms of universalism are becoming more and more common.
  • Generational impactThis article explains how quickly theology can drift in just one generation, once the theological core of a tribe has been removed.
  • Evangelism and discipleship. See point #1 for stats on loss of membership and attendance. As my friend notes, “Once biblical authority and historical teachings are removed, universalism and cheap grace are not far behind” … and neither breeds evangelistic urgency.

We owe it to ourselves and the thirteen million who call themselves United Methodist to learn from our brothers and sisters in other tribes who have may have tried too hard to hold together what isn’t theologically compatible. May God give us both grace and humility to go where he leads and to refuse the spirit of fear.

  1. Comment by Mike on October 10, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Why not just stick to God’s plan, which says that the only sex approved by God is between a man and a woman within the bond of marriage? Those who can’t live with that can just go somewhere else to push their perversion.

  2. Comment by Parker Wayland on October 13, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Amen! God has stated His position in Scripture. All the discussion we can do will not improve on that.

  3. Comment by David on October 10, 2018 at 10:21 am

    “We know that theatres are immoral, that dances are indecent and, that there is an immense amount of social immorality, Commercialized amusement debauches everything. Dancing has ceased to be aesthetic and has become acrobatic and athletic. The theaters are vile in that they breath the smell of sex.” So spoke a Methodist leader a hundred years ago. Also on the prohibited list were attending circuses, tobacco use, and drinking alcohol (despite biblical injunctions to the contrary). Women were required to “listen in silence” and not be members of the clergy. It is likely television and radio would be on the black list had they existed then. The Ocean Grove (NJ) camp meeting went so far as to ban the reading of novels and the use of chewing gum because it resembled chewing tobacco.

    So what happened to change all this in 1924? One was that “sister denominations” had relaxed their codes and the other was that young people saw nothing wrong with these activities. The 1920s period following WWI was a time of social disillusionment and church membership was in serious decline. Churches were seen to lag behind society in moral development and that their claims to biblical authority were hypocritical. We find ourselves in a similar situation today. Whatever the resolution will be, it will likely hasten the decades long decline in membership.

  4. Comment by Brian Wagner on October 10, 2018 at 10:43 am

    “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”

    1 Corinthians 10:23

  5. Comment by Paula on October 26, 2018 at 11:00 am


  6. Comment by diaphone64 on October 10, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    So why doesn’t your “tolerance” allow me to marry more than one woman? Adam, Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon all had multiple wives; so it’s more biblical than LGBT “marriage”.

  7. Comment by David on October 10, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Because modern people generally reject biblical teachings on this and slavery and genocide. We have moved beyond this.

  8. Comment by Loren Golden on October 10, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    “Modern people generally rejected biblical teachings. … We have moved beyond this.”
    A fitting epitaph for Mainline Protestantism.

  9. Comment by Dykes Lynn Pruitt on October 18, 2018 at 6:22 am

    As a reader and not a theologian, let me offer a thought. David, the prohibitions you mention are non-Biblical, non-traditional and short-lived. They were a product of their time, a fad so to speak. On the other hand, the church’s teaching on marriage has been around for millennia, and has been the tradition of every society at all times. I believe that our current infatuation with LGBT+ promotion has much in common with your example of the fads of the early 20th century: it is novel, it springs from current societal fads, it is non-Biblical and non-traditional and, I believe, it will be relatively short-lived. The generations that come will wonder why we embraced a behavior that did so much damage to the individuals involved and to society. And the answer will be that our generation decided that we knew more than God.

  10. Comment by April User on October 18, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Thank you for distinguishing between biblical guidance and cultural and sub cultural sensitivities.

  11. Comment by Mike MacKenzie on October 23, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    Your comment implies that because in the past elements of the Methodist church we wrong to categorize too many innocuous or merely questionable activities as absolutely sinful — when there was no clear scriptural support for such a position — and that they eventually relaxed those dictates and became more permissive, that the solution to our present crisis is the same, to become more permissive. That does not follow. That implies that the most correct position is the most permissive and libertine. This it not necessarily true and it is certainly not supported by scripture. Simply because leaders in the past forbade drinking all alcohol and chewing gum, and we all (mostly) now believe they were wrong on those points, does not mean that those who are convinced that homosexual relationships are (still) sinful and not to be supported by the church and not to be allowed within the leadership of the church are also incorrect.

  12. Comment by William on October 10, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    Jesus has the last word. I’ll stay with him on this.

  13. Comment by Scott on October 16, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    This verse! It’s as if Christ tripled down! He Himself quoting earlier scripture, than emphatically restating it in the context of our New Covenant. Nothing has changed here, he’s saying to us all. There are a number of ambiguous sentiments in the Bible we can debate, but it’s as if Christ is saying: this is Not. One. Of. Them.

  14. Comment by Samuel Armbrester on October 11, 2018 at 9:29 am

    God loves all..If you love Him back…follow the rules…Nothing else be said…Amen…SamA

  15. Comment by Loren Golden on October 12, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    You are quite mistaken, sir.  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I Jn. 4.9-10)  And again, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 2.16; see also Rom. 3.28, Eph. 2.8-9)
    So then, God’s love toward us is not in any way conditioned by whether we love Him in return, nor is it conditioned by whether we “follow the rules”.

  16. Comment by Skipper on October 13, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    You make a good point that God’s love is not conditional. But he said “God loves all” without any condition. The condition was that if you love God, you will want to follow the rules. That sounds reasonable. Jesus said “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” in John 14:15.

    I would say as Christians, we love God and want to live by God’s values, not to make us Christian, but because having accepted Christ and placed our faith in Christ, we want to honor Him in the way we live.

  17. Comment by Skipper on October 13, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    We certainly hope the ELCA is not foreshadowing our future in the UMC. By condoning behavior the Bible describes as immoral in so many places, it has become something that is neither Evangelical nor Lutheran.

    The “Obey the rules Plan” is finally coming to the table and is what the majority has wanted all along. That would mean restoring Methodist values. If a person has accepted Christ and has placed their faith in Christ, they really should want to honor Him in the way they live.

  18. Comment by John Donaldson on October 18, 2018 at 4:50 am

    The Traditionalist Plan fails to take in account the depths of the divide— listen, we have at least one openly gay Bishop! It is too late to say non traditionalist should leave. It is time for s full out divide, I’m for the amiable divorce plan.

  19. Comment by John Donaldson on October 18, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    By the way, it is there, I sent it in.

  20. Comment by ivonne Mercado on October 18, 2018 at 10:23 am

    The Bible says: in the last days, all that can be shaken will be shaken. The only one remaining will be Christ and his truth. it is sad to be a witness to the decomposition of established assemblies, that is what they are. The real church of God, bought by his redemptive Blood, will not perish. not all who says I am Christian really is. Do not be deceived or even worry. God reigns forever and ever more. Look up and be faithful to him. Amen

  21. Comment by Judy on October 18, 2018 at 10:42 am

    All the denominations are being tested – case in point Episcopal vs. Anglican. Like the ECLA, the Anglicans have established the ACNA – Anglican Church of North America. The causes of division are always the same. We as Anglicans are called “breakaways” for the same reasons that drew members of the ECLA and Methodist to leave. Question is…who moved? Is God gathering His people together at this moment in time? Choose whom you will serve – I would rather be a sheep than a goat when the judgement comes!

  22. Comment by Roger on October 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Since the progressives in the UMC want this change, why don’t they just move onto another denomination that already supports it? It seems the ELCA is looking for members and I’m sure leaders as well.

  23. Comment by Ron on October 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    The Traditional plan is Methodism as historically defined. Anything else is a hyphenated Methodism: redefined- Methodism; American-Methodism; …etc.

    A couple quotes from the article.
    The Book of Discipline … provides a GRACIOUS (but as-yet undefined) EXIT for those who cannot in good conscience abide by that language.” and “… convictions as written into the Book of Discipline and which TRADITIONALIST and PROGRESSIVES alike COMMITTED to at their ordination.” (Accent added)

    It should be a simple conclusion. If the commitment was not sincere and/or the commitment is no longer held then a gracious exit would seem appropriate, especially if the commitment was insincere.

    There are many denominations that accept the Non-Methodist Discipline standards and their doors are open wide. If the Methodist Church is to die, let it die as the Methodist Church and not some hybrid. Let’s not reduce the Methodist Tradition to the concept that Whatever tickles your thought processes at the moment and congregational size.

  24. Comment by Ezekiel37 on October 19, 2018 at 11:34 am

    I grew up in the United Brethren/United Methodist church. I was in third grade when my neighbor friends said they were Baptist. This awareness was troubling. A lifetime of reading God’s Word has caused me to ask many questions (Holy Spirit promptings?) as to what I believe and why. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can share my testimony of what I have learned on my journey. The New Testament is full of warnings of being misled by the Enemy and Man’s wisdom. Error has been knocking on the door of The Church since the beginning. Nearly two thousand years later there are thousands of variations of what Christians claim to be the best understanding of the Bible! I discovered that much error came from the authoritative “church fathers”. For example, I wondered where anti-Semitism entered Christian beliefs and discovered that writings appeared about 100AD, starting with Ignatius Bishop of Antioch. Do not just take my word, do your own research. You should find the anti-Semitism trail only increasing as time increases. Consider where Martin Luther and John Calvin, two prominent Reformers, stand on the issue of Jews and Salvation. An additional error entered in about the same time and that would be spiritual and allegorical hermeneutics. Together these errors have impacted Theology and doctrine for nearly 2000 years and has caused much division in The Church. Although God’s Word is very clear, culture and social behaviors are also severely impacting The Church. Are Christians still reading God’s Word? Are justifications and excuses being made for the narrowness of The Way [of the Christian]?

    The following prayer helps me in my quest for Truth:
    Father in Heaven, I thank you for giving your son Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price for our sin and allowing Him to be raised up 3 days later to conquer death so we may live with you forever. Thank you for leaving the Holy Spirit to live in us as our Guide and Teacher leading us to the Truth, the Word of God. Lord, our God, I pray that the Holy Spirit will filter out all the centuries of man’s bias and wisdom as it divides Believers and tickles our ears leading us away from the Truth and Your Will.

  25. Comment by Rebecca on October 21, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    So you are saying Luther and Calvin and the Reformation were errors? And what do you mean by justifications and excuses being made for the narrowness of the way?

  26. Comment by Lee D. Cary on February 20, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    In general, the hierarchy (Bishops) and bureaucracy (Boards & Agencies – e.g., note the pro-OCP lean of the UM News) of the UMC are pro-LGBTQ agenda.

    If some variation of the Traditional Church Plan passes, there will likely be demonstrations of outrage (loud wailing and gnashing-of-teeth) from the OCP advocates. But don’t expect that the debate will end there.

    In 2020, it will re-surface in some form. And then in 2024, etc…along with a push toward an affirmation of “women’s reproductive rights” that sanctions late term abortions.

    Progressives never surrender, nor admit defeat. It took Congress via the Twenty-first Amendment to overturn their social engineering experiment that was Prohibition (1920-1933).

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