In a final vote, delegates at United Methodism’s governing General Conference rejected the One Church Plan heavily pushed by most USA bishops to overturn the church’s definition of marriage as husband and wife. It would have compelled local churches to choose their own marriage definition, localizing to tens of thousands of congregations an issue always reserved by General Conference.
The final defeat of the One Church Plan, in the form of a minority report, was 55% to 45%. Yesterday the plan was defeated in legislative committee.
Delegates are convened in St Louis for this specially called General Conference to adjudicate the church’s teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. Unlike most other historically liberal USA Mainline Protestant denominations, United Methodism teaches sex is exclusively for husband and wife.
Over the last two decades, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have liberalized their marriage teaching. Schisms and accelerated membership losses followed.
Uniquely among Mainline Protestants, United Methodism is growing but only because of its overseas membership. The church has over 12.5 million members, 6.8 million of whom are in America, the rest mostly in Africa. United Methodism in Africa grows by several hundred thousand members annually, while the USA church loses almost 100,000 annually. Africans are currently at least 42% of membership and will soon become a majority.
African delegates nearly unanimously opposed the One Church Plan despite pressure from USA bishops and USA church bureaucracy. They were joined by most Filipino and European delegates.
All the forces of institutional USA United Methodism were arrayed behind the One Church Plan. But USA evangelical and overseas delegates together were an insurmountable majority. As the USA church declines and continues to lose delegates in favor of Africa, overturning the church’s marriage teaching becomes increasingly unlikely.
This afternoon, General Conference delegates will discuss the Traditional Plan, which would enhance enforcement of the church’s marriage teaching. Parts of the plan, which was approved yesterday in legislative committee, must be amended to overcome constitutional objections from the church’s top court.