As the United Methodist Church prepares for the fast-approaching February 2019 special General Conference, there is a lot of talk about which plan submitted to this assembly will do the most to preserve “unity” or allow “unity in diversity.”
I have noted that this can be looked at in three ways:
I earlier addressed how diversity of ministry practice with regard to same-sex unions would fare under the main alternative plans, and how the diversity of practice under the One Church Plan would become increasingly limited.
A related, but separate, question is which major plan would allow for more diversity of opinion or belief.
- Diversity of Opinion
There are important, highly relevant questions about how much diversity of belief our denomination should include on core doctrines.
But for now, I am focusing on different opinions over the presenting question of if we personally agree with traditional biblical teaching that homosexual practice is sinful.
Currently, a majority of United Methodists around the world hold a more traditional view, but there are a number of other United Methodists with a range of more liberal views.
What would happen to this diversity of belief under the various plans?
Probably the possibility that would be most destructive of this sort of unity in diversity would be if the petitions to dissolve the UMC were actually adopted (yes, there is really a submitted, carefully written proposal that would do that), or also perhaps if we had confusion, chaos, and frustration of us delegates leaving St. Louis after literally failing to pass anything. We can expect that either of these results would lead to our denomination splintering into numerous much smaller, more like-minded groups, permanently losing connection with each other.
The results of the Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) could potentially be similar, although with a smaller number of splits, IF this plan ended up eventually bringing us a full denominational split.
Under both the One Church Plan (OCP) and Simple Plan, traditionalist believers would face a new round of impositions that would fundamentally limit their ability to hold onto their BELIEFS, as long as they remained United Methodist.
Can you imagine having a bishop or district superintendent, or a member of a district committee on ministry or conference board of ordained ministry, who as a matter of conscience could not support or encourage any woman in ordained ministry? That simply could not work with our denomination’s commitment to women in ministry (which I and other renewal leaders share). If either the OCP or Simple Plan is adopted, it would become just as unworkable to have traditionalist believers, who could not affirm homosexually active clergy, serve in any of these leadership roles, in the USA as well as some other regions. Indeed, restrictions against female or against homosexually active clergy are often equated by OCP supporters.
So then both the OCP and Simple Plan would soon bring an effective purge of traditional believers from key annual conference leadership positions.
The OCP would also (for the first time ever!) add some new language to the UMC Book of Discipline officially affirming the validity of liberal perspectives on homosexuality as part of what our new ordination candidates would be required to approve (see Questions 12-13 of Discipline ¶336). As a result, some otherwise gifted, talented new clergy would find themselves unable to continue pursuing UMC ordination in good conscience, because of their traditional beliefs.
Furthermore, both the OCP and Simple Plan would impose a fundamentally new situation of offering LEAVING our denomination as the ONLY option to many traditionalist believers who felt that they cannot in good conscience: submit to the authority of a partnered gay bishop, or accept their bishop appointing to their congregation a pastor who was known to perform same-sex unions or have a gay partner, or have their congregation associated with a denomination that publicly affirmed and celebrated same-sex weddings in other congregations in their own local communities.
And even aside from all of this, but the OCP and Simple Plan would impose a major new crisis of conscience upon a great many United Methodist individuals. As lay members, our membership covenant includes our vow “To  be loyal to Christ  through The United Methodist Church” (Discipline ¶218.5). But if the 2019 General Conference changes our policies to transform the denomination to which we pledged ourselves into one that now officially blesses practices that Scripture and our Wesleyan tradition call sinful, and elevates individuals who engage in such practices as moral examples, many would feel an irreconcilable conflict between these two parts of our membership vows.
John Wesley’s famous “On Schism” sermon was indeed generally cautious about church splits, and rightly so, in my humble opinion. But in Part II.7, the father of Methodism also taught that if you could not remain in a denomination “without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands,” according to your beliefs, then “it would then become meet and right, and [your] bounden duty, to separate from it without delay.” This PRECISELY describes the situation into which the OCP would force a great many traditionalist United Methodists.
So both the OCP and Simple Plan would effectively result in the many traditionalist believers leaving our denomination, so that that what was left of the UMC would have less and less diversity of belief in terms of opinions related to homosexuality.
In contrast to the earlier discussion of practice, the Modified Traditional Plan would continue the wide room the UMC currently offers for diversity of opinion.
While the Modified Traditional Plan would strengthen screening for new clergy to ensure their willingness to keep their personal practice within the basic moral boundaries our denomination has already long had in place, it would impose no new requirements of belief upon ordination candidates, or anyone else.
The Modified Traditional Plan would add some new language to ensure that individuals in certain leadership positions would actually follow the standards our Discipline has already expected of them. But in stark contrast to the OCP or Simple Plan, nothing in any version of the Traditional Plan that would require anyone to be “kicked out” of any leadership position solely on the basis of their beliefs.
There are a number of United Methodists who want to see our sexuality standards become more liberal, who work through the proper channels to promote change, but in the meantime serve in leadership positions with integrity, upholding all that out denomination entrusts them with upholding. There is nothing in the Modified Traditional Plan to prevent such persons to continue serving in such leadership positions, as long as they keep their practice in line with the standards we already have.
Similarly, of our more “liberal” United Methodist clergy, a great portion, perhaps the overwhelming majority, are individuals who in terms of their opinions may like to see our sexuality standards change, have been perfectly free to speak about their views, but are not in practice violating these standards in the meantime. The Traditional Plan would not stop such clergy from continuing as they have been.
In other words, don’t believe the hype about the Traditional Plan “kicking out” anyone simply for having liberal beliefs. That’s simply not true.