Comparing GC2019 "Way Forward" Plans

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February 1, 2019

Which GC2019 Plan Brings More “Unity in Diversity” Part 2: OPINION

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:

 

  1. Diversity of Practice
  2. Diversity of Opinion
  3. Diversity in Other 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.

 

  1. 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 [1] be loyal to Christ [2] 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.


22 Responses to Which GC2019 Plan Brings More “Unity in Diversity” Part 2: OPINION

  1. David says:

    The reversal of the UMC’s long-standing resolutions on Roe v. Wade at the last GC shows where things are headed. The conservatives have the majority and there is little future for others. If I were a female UMC clergyperson, I would be very concerned about my future.

    • Brad Pope says:

      Therein lies the issue. Traditional views are held by the majority of UMC congregants (obviously not in some areas) but views of bishops and clergy are very much more progressive. It’s a recipe for inevitable declining membership. Our bishop system offers very little for congregants to do about it other than leave which seems fine with many bishops and ministers.

  2. Daniel says:

    The UMC should have NEVER supported Roe V. Wade in the first place!

    At this point, I’m not convinced most of our Bishops and clergy, especially in the urban areas, even believe in God anymore. This is like a social status club for them. They hate evangelism. They love the academia aspect of theology, and they love more than anything else to order people around and dictate policies.

    Maybe they should take a few minutes to read the Bible and actually believe what it written.

  3. William says:

    If what you say about the overwhelming number of our clergy being in the liberal theological camp here — that’s a bigger problem than this sexual ethics and marriage schism. If a traditional plan is approved, we then leap right into this next problem — a load of preachers who will be unwilling and uninterested in preaching the Good News Gospel and bringing new converts into the church.

    • Daniel says:

      I totally agree. I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen for a long time that we have a much bigger schismatic issue on our hands than how we treat sexuality enforcement. There are ordained clergy right now who are so secular you could not recognize them as a Christian. Look at what has happened to Glide UMC. They even took down all of the crosses in the sanctuary. They are practicing a new agey time religion now, it’s certainly no longer about Jesus Christ.

      Even those liberal congregations and clergy sticking with Christ, they are treating him like a teacher, professor of liberal theology, not the ONE and ONLY Savior of mankind.

      I’m not quite sure when this happened, but it seems like the moderates left the church a long time ago, leaving the UMC with extreme leftists and orthodox church-goers on the right.

      In my opinion, we should probably dissolve the entire UMC now and get it over with. Then we can rebuild as many new denominations and still have some connectional relationships like we do with other churches for missions. The more we prolong this the more bitter and outraged the laity becomes.

      • Scott says:

        William and Daniel are correct. As an LLP I can assure that a large percentage of our elders are very liberal and do not have a traditional view of Jesus or scripture. Even in the south the number of liberal elders will still dominate. At a recent conference based on the sides listening to each other, it was clear that I was the only clergy at the table who held to a clearly traditional viewpoint. The other LLP’s, seemed to be bowing to pressure or remaining silent. However many of the LLP’s I know hold traditional views. The issue is that we have no voice. Even though we will soon be the majority of pastors in the denomination, all the power is vested in the elders on clergy matters. Many of them are graduates that teach a theology that is much closer to Deism than traditional Christianity. No virgin birth, no physical resurrection, no miracles actually performed, no atonement in the blood of Christ, no judgement, no eternal punishment, etc. As a congregation member the first thing I wanted to know about a new minister was where they went to seminary. If they went to Asbury all was good, if they went to Duke or Emory then fitting in with my traditional rural church was very doubtful. They seldom lasted long and the church never grew under them. If you really want to fix the UMC you have to do two things: 1. Get control of the theology being taught at our seminaries so they teach only traditional Christianity and the the professors there are believing Christians, not just academics. 2. Allow the LLP’s have a voice in clergy standards. Allow them to be delegates to jurisdictional and general conference and give us the vote on constitutional amendments. There will soon be a point when the majority of clergy are locals that over half the churches will only have one vote instead of two. This will give control of the church to the larger, urban church, alienating the smaller and rural churches.

        • Paul W. says:

          Thank you! This is the biggest problem for the UMC: Two incompatible and diametrically opposed belief systems both claiming to be Christian.

          • William says:

            And, our liberal bishops are out to first codify this schism by creating two diametrically opposite churches in “one”, and second, bring this full circle to actually having at least the resemblance of one church —- that being a fully LIBERAL one. Now, suppose they accomplish this. What will they have? It certainly will not be a Christian church. They will soon have to start looking for partners in order to survive a while longer since people looking for a Christian church would not be drawn here. A good starting place for them would be the Unitarian Universialist Association. In the meantime, the Wesleyan Covenant Association will have absorbed most traditionalist Methodists and others so as to continue the original Methodist Church in the Wesleyan tradition.

    • Tom says:

      That’s been the biggest sticking point I’ve had about the UMC – the leadership and the people in the pews are generally on opposite sides of the spectrum, and the average lay person has absolutely no clue.

  4. David says:

    Having studied church interiors for other research, I find that Methodist churches did not use crosses until about the 1920s-1930s. This follows the tradition of the Church of England which evolved into the present “high church” only in the second half of the 1800s. “To a good protestant of 1830 the least suggestion of symbolism—a cross on a gable or on a prayer book—was rank popery. All forms of ritual were equally suspect.”—Kenneth Clark in “The Gothic Revival.” Methodist churches tended to be the pulpit centered meetinghouse until the same period when the use of the altar centered “church” became popular. Methodist clergy did not adopt robes until the 1940s-1950s. I recall a Methodist Bishop berating the Ocean Grove NJ Auditorium for not having a cross. These simply were not in use in 1894 when the 6,000 seat place was built. A memorial cross was placed on the exterior at the end of WWII. The summer camp meeting choir donated the present interior cross.

    • Daniel says:

      Except those aren’t the reasons they took down the crosses, rather they wanted to be more “inclusive” by denying our Lord and Savior.

  5. Wayne says:

    The great Bible teacher David Pawson said it best, “the church follows the world downhill just 15 years behind”.

  6. David says:

    I happened to visit Glide for a concert back in 1988. Even then, the interior “decorations” struck me as rather odd for a church.

  7. David says:

    There is an interesting website with info on UMC membership:

    Pew Forum 2014 survey of UMC members: belief in God with absolute certainty 71%; religion is very important 61%; weekly church attendance 44%; religion as guidance for right or wrong 37%, common sense 47%; Bible is word of God and should be taken literally 27%; belief in heaven 85%, hell 64%; Republican 54%, Democrat 35%; favors smaller government with fewer services 67%; government aid to the poor does more harm than good 54%; abortion should be legal in most cases 58%; gays should be accepted 60%; favor same sex marriage 49%; accept natural evolution 22%, God directed evolution 34%.

    • Daniel says:

      Wow, so nearly a quarter of self-indentified Methodists don’t believe in God! I’d say that number is unbelievable, but there are practicing clergy who treat God like a myth from the pulpit while prescribing government secular solutions to every problem, along with some medically never-necessary narcotics or marijuana.

      This is our brave New world, where the idea of family is denigrated in favor of hyper-individualism until that “individualism” collides with liberal orthodoxy, then it must be extinguished.

      We have a much larger debate on our hands than human sexuality. We don’t even seem to practice the same religion.

  8. David says:

    Oh, the use of crosses at the Glide UMC was ended in 1967 by the pastor of the church.

    • Daniel says:

      Glide is no longer a Christian Church, so perhaps they’re not a good example.

    • William says:

      At that time, had a marker been put down and they had of been dismissed from the denomination — we likely would not be at this sorry place now. My guess, they were kept for their appointments $$$$.

  9. “….or also perhaps if we had confusion, chaos, and frustration of us delegates leaving St. Louis after literally failing to pass anything……” If the GC2019 delegates get led into another trap to avoid a vote to end this conflict, kicking it down the road once again to GC2020 or beyond, I (and I suspect many others) will be walking away that day. Done. No more waiting. For the second year my family has designated its giving to limit the use of the tithe for things which we could not support (including episcopal salaries of heretics and leaders who have failed the church). Now, as advised by Wesley himself, 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.” The time for my family’s decision is upon us with this GC2019 outcome.

    • Steve Guess says:

      Amen Ms Byrd. My family is at the same juncture. Unity without belief in Jesus Christ our risen Savior and Lord is not unity.

  10. Melany Edge says:

    If you believe your quote from John Wesley above, then why are you still in the UMC? As you pay your apportionment money to the UMC you are helping to fund things that are against the Word of God. How can you possibly rationalize this?

  11. John Smith says:

    Why does everyone discuss the plans in terms of its impact on unity? Is unity the purpose of the church? Is unity the goal of the church? And when unity is discussed why is it always in terms of its impact on membership and increase/decline of congregations? Is the measure of success for a church/denomination/congregation its size both in terms of numbers and budget? How far astray has the UMC gone that this is the conversation?

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