In the 1970s U.S. military strategists struggled with how to counter Soviet military superiority in Europe. The U.S. and NATO could not match the Soviets in personnel or tanks and ultimately relied on nuclear weapons to deter invasion. But traditional nukes, if used, would destroy much of the country they were meant to defend: West Germany.
So the U.S. developed the neutron bomb, which relied not on fire and velocity but on radiation. Invading Soviet troops would be radiated while German cities and infrastructure would be left largely intact.
Soviets and their proxies denounced the neutron project as the “capitalist bomb” because it would kill people while preserving property. Although West Germany and NATO supported it, the Carter Administration cancelled the neutron bomb.
The so-called One Church Plan before the February 2019 General Conference is United Methodism’s neutron bomb. By localizing the debate about sexuality into almost every local congregation it will decimate churches while preserving the institution and its property, at least for a time.
Almost all the forces of institutional liberalism from declining United Methodism in the U.S. back the One Church Plan that will supposedly preserve denominational unity. Of course, its impact will be the exact opposite.
Each of the other five Mainline Protestant denominations that adopted their version of the One Church Plan over the last two decades suffered schism and accelerated membership loss. For example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost 25% of its members since its 2011 vote overturning its adherence to traditional Christian teaching on marriage in favor of local option. Thousands of congregations have quit Mainline Protestant denominations in favor of new communions or already existing similar denominations that uphold traditional teaching.
But here’s an important point. By overturning United Methodism’s longtime biblical stance on marriage defined as male and female, every local church is opened to internal conflict. The One Church Plan stipulates that local churches may host same sex rites “by a majority vote of a Church Conference to adopt a policy to celebrate same-sex marriage on church property.”
Imagine such a vote at your own church, which very likely has never as a congregation even discussed United Methodism’s nearly 50-year debate over sexuality. Typical United Methodist congregations are not homogenous and include conservatives, moderates and liberals.
So long as same sex marriage policy is determined by the quadrennial General Conference with universal application there was no reason for a local church to confront the controversy. But under the One Church Plan, nearly every one of over 30,000 local churches in United Methodism will have to decide whether to host or reject same sex rites.
A typical local church will vote 60-40, or 55-45. Few will have a strong consensus. No matter how the vote goes, many will be angered and/or disappointed and quit the congregation or stew. The debate will not be confined to sexuality but will, as church fights always do, open up more personal resentments.
Some local churches, especially if small, will be permanently crippled or perhaps even killed. Even larger churches will be hobbled by the debate fallout.
Local churches that have over the decades become “reconciling” i.e. pro-LGBTQ have suffered membership losses greater than the denomination as a whole. And those congregations typically were already very liberal yet still lost members. What will happen when decidedly non-liberal congregations are essentially forced to vote?
Defenders of the One Church Plan insist no local church will be “forced” to vote on same-sex rites, but this claim is disingenuous. By allowing such debate, the One Church Plan guarantees such debates will occur. Almost every local church has some people who will insist on raising it.
The One Church Plan, by relocating the United Methodism’s sexuality debate into the local church, will perform like the neutron bomb. It will technically preserve the denomination and its buildings. But many congregations will be decimated, effectively radiated, whether initially after a vote or through attrition over time.
American institutional United Methodism, led by U.S. liberal bishops, has pushed for some version of the One Church Plan for many years, without success at any General Conference. Institutional United Methodism in America has already disastrously presided over 53 years of continuous annual membership decline, resulting in over 4 million lost members. American institutional United Methodism still identifies with dying American Mainline Protestantism, not with growing global United Methodism or with growing evangelical churches in the U.S.
Unlike other Mainline denominations, United Methodism is global, with over 5 million of its over 12 million members living in Africa or elsewhere. The One Church Plan claims it will not affect growing United Methodism overseas, which is conservative. This claim is silly. United Methodism in Africa and elsewhere, if U.S. United Methodism liberalizes on sexuality, will inevitably separate, either initially or later.
The One Church Plan retains “one church” only in a narrow structural sense. It will, for a time, preserve the denomination and its buildings at least in the U.S. But it will eviscerate thousands of local congregations, inflicting on them what the neutron bomb would have by radiating its human targets.
If the neutron bomb was the “capitalist bomb” by destroying people, not property, then the One Church Plan is the tragic ecclesial equivalent. The General Conference in February 2019 will need to reject it decisively in favor of a more meaningful unity that preserves people and not property.