UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.
Rev. Teddy Ray is the founding pastor of the Offerings Community of First United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY, where he also serves as the Pastor of New Communities and Leadership Development. This article first appeared on his blog, and is reposted with permission.
As we prepare for a Special General Conference next month, a majority of the UMC’s Bishops are supporting the “One Church Plan” (OCP). However, the plan’s theological claims directly contradict what our Bishops tell us the plan will do. If the OCP comes to a vote, we need to ask some questions about what exactly is being voted on and what precedents we’re setting for future votes.
An important question for Bishops supporting the OCP: Do you support the plan’s stated Theological Foundations, or do you support its proposed disciplinary changes?
And an important question for delegates to ask: Will a vote for the plan’s disciplinary changes be considered an acceptance of its theological foundations?
These are important questions because the One Church Plan’s stated Theological Foundations and the described effects of the plan are mutually contradictory.1
The One Church Plan’s effects, as described
On a website developed by a group of Bishops to promote the OCP, they try to allay the fears of anyone who affirms and upholds the church’s historic teaching regarding marriage and human sexuality:
No annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions. The plan grants space for traditionalists to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past with explicit disciplinary assurances that no pastor or church shall be compelled to perform ministries that represent a conflict of conscience.
This has been a key to what the OCP says it is about. “I’m okay. You’re okay.” It’s at the heart of why supporters have tried to promote this plan as one that preserves the UMC’s unity.2
The problem: The Theological Foundations for the plan directly undermine the notion that every Annual Conference should be able to make these decisions for itself.
The One Church Plan’s Theology, if implemented
Take a look at the key theological rationale for the plan, as noted in its “Theological & Biblical Foundations” section.
We are aware that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) persons exist in every nation and every culture in the world, with varying degrees of openness, acceptance, and freedom […] There are, and have been, LGBTQ persons serving at all levels of leadership in the UMC, as laity and clergy. Currently they suffer as they are unable to live into God’s calling on their lives to ordination or to lay leadership.”
This section makes plain the first concern of the OCP: “LGBTQ persons suffer when they are unable to be ordained.” 3
Where is this suffering taking place? “LGBTQ persons exist in every nation and every culture in the world.”
What should we do about it?
The very next paragraph of the plan makes it plain:
The UMC Social Principles state that all people are persons of sacred worth. This calls us to honor the human dignity of all persons and we believe that it is the calling of the church to be about the eradication of all forms of suffering. It is our sacred obligation to work to end suffering everywhere, that all might be free.4 We do this in order to live into our calling to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
At the heart of the OCP’s theological foundations, we find the church’s “sacred obligation to work to end suffering everywhere.”
If the supporters of this plan truly believe (a) LGBTQ persons suffer when they cannot be ordained, and (b) the church has a sacred obligation to work to end suffering everywhere, then they can only conclude that they have a sacred obligation to ensure ordination of LGBTQ persons everywhere.
Why would someone who believes the above support the OCP? After all, this is the only plan before our General Conference that would limit ordination of LGBTQ people by geography.5 It seems to me that you can only believe this plan’s theology and support its actual changes if you see it as a first step.
Should this plan pass our General Conference, I expect it to be used in the near future as support for mandated ordination of people in sexually‐active same sex relationships everywhere. The OCP’s own theological foundations would be used as support. There would be a call to carry the theological foundations we’ve already affirmed to their only rational conclusions. And without the many conservatives who will have inevitably left, that should be a vote that passes easily.
Questions for Delegates and our Bishops
For delegates who will choose to support the OCP, will your vote in favor be to support its theological foundations, or only its disciplinary changes? How can you ensure that an endorsement of this plan’s disciplinary changes is not an implicit endorsement of its theological foundations?
For our Bishops supporting this plan, do you support its theological foundations, which would make it your sacred obligation to work for LGBTQ ordination everywhere?
Bishops, you have pastors who will not perform same‐sex weddings. Ken Carter, as the President of the Council of Bishops, you will preside over annual conferences who will not ordain people in sexually active same‐sex relationships. Do you believe that those pastors and Annual Conferences are causing suffering? Do you believe it is the sacred obligation of the church to end that suffering?
Bishops Ken Carter, Cynthia Fierro Harvey, and Sue Haupert‐Johnson, as signing supporters of the OCP, how can you assure traditionalist pastors and annual conferences that you will protect their freedom to continue causing the suffering you say must end? The theology you espouse and the assurances you give to traditionalists are inconsistent. Which should we believe?
The One Church Plan lacks fundamental integrity. Its drafters and supporters have either overlooked this or must look to it as a first step on the way to more significant change.
- I detailed this previously in a longer article that approached it from a different angle and also discussed other issues. I thought it worth a different focus here.
- This is a false claim. It’s difficult to believe that those making the claim really believe it. Many churches and pastors have made it clear that they could not remain in the UMC in good conscience if this plan passes.
- An important note that I hate relegating to the footnotes and may expand in a later piece: I strongly disagree with how this language is used and what it suggests. The UMC does not prohibit ordination for LGBTQ persons. It prohibits ordination for anyone who is in a sexually active same‐sex relationship. Celibate people of any sexual orientation may be ordained in the UMC, along with people living in fidelity in a monogamous heterosexual relationship. These are bounds not based on sexual orientation but based on our theological understanding of God’s design for sexual intercourse. When you read “LGBTQ persons” throughout, please note my disclaimer here.
- A minor objection I decided not to spend more time on: Is the church’s calling truly to eradicate all forms of suffering? We are called to administer true justice and show mercy and compassion to one another. I am not sure this is the same as “eradicating all forms of suffering.”
- The Connectional Conferences Plan limits by ideology within the denomination, but not by geography. The Traditional Plan limits by denomination, by affording the option to create a new Methodist denomination, unlimited by geography, that would ordain LGBTQ people.