Was General Conference’s Adoption of the Traditional Plan Really That “Narrow”?

on April 22, 2019

Since the special 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, much of the commentary by liberal caucus activists and U.S. bishops (a distinction that has become increasingly blurred in the last couple of years) has emphasized that how the vote to adopt a partial version of the Traditional Plan was so “narrow.”

It seems that there is some intent to raise doubts and at least partially undermine the perceived legitimacy of the decisions made by General Conference to reject the One Church Plan (to liberalize the church’s definition of marriage and roll back longstanding prohibitions on same-sex unions and non-celibate gay clergy) and adopt the Traditional Plan (to maintain our standards with enhanced accountability).

There can be confusion around references to “the vote,” as there were really several votes. First, delegates in a committee of the whole, voted by 461-359 (56.2 to 43.8 percent) to support the Traditional Plan. After some further debate that day, there was a slight drop in traditionalist voting strength, with delegates voting by 436-386 (53 to 47 percent) to reject the liberal “One Church Plan” (OCP). By the end of the next day, the divide was virtually unchanged (technically a miniscule shift back in a traditionalist direction), with delegates voting by 438-384 (53.3 to 46.7 percent) to adopt the Traditional Plan. An earlier vote on that fateful final day also saw a slight drop of support for the OCP, with delegates voting by 449-374 (54.6 to 45.4 percent) to reject a parliamentary move by liberal delegates to substitute the OCP for the Traditional Plan as the main plan to be considered.

Talk of the absolute numbers of these vote spreads (ranging from 50 to 102) is largely unhelpful, as that is more a reflection on the overall size of General Conference than on the divide of its members.

Depending on which vote we are talking about, between 45.4 and 47 percent of delegates supported the OCP while between 53 and 56.2 percent supported the Traditional Plan. Doubtless a few supported neither.

As a supporter of the Traditional Plan, I admit that this was closer than I would have liked to have seen.

But before rushing to conclusions about the how “narrow” these votes were, there are several points worth considering.

When people say these margins are “narrow,” it is worth asking, “Compared to what?”

Compared to the more recent votes cited above, some specific sexuality votes at previous General Conferences had significantly larger margins. But others did not, such as the vote in 2012 to reject Adam Hamilton’s proposal to partially liberalize the Social Principles by 53.5 to 46.5 percent, or the vote in 2004 to add heterosexual as well as homosexual immorality to the list of chargeable offenses for clergy (which had previously been more implicit) by 50.6 to 49.4 percent.

In the 2019 votes, one side prevailed by margins ranging from 6 to 12.4 percentage points. As O. Wesley Allen, Jr., a liberal United Methodist seminary professor and Traditional Plan opponent notes: “In today’s cultural climate, any politician would love to have the kind of margin we saw at General Conference (especially given that a number of international delegates were denied visas and likely would have added to the margin of victory).”

Allen’s parenthetical aside highlights a major problem. While the 2019 General Conference should have been a voting body of 864 delegates, it was actually one of 833 delegates, due to 31 non-American delegates being unable to attend or be replaced “primarily because they were unable to gain visas.”

From preliminary checking with sources in the Philippines and different parts of Europe, it appears that those regions were fully represented. So it would seem that the 31 missing delegate slots ALL were losses of African voices and votes.

There is a great need to examine the systemic racial and economic injustices of how our system involves meetings which selectively impose unique burdens upon certain non-American delegates while we do too little to help them meet these burdens.

But for our present purposes, it is reasonable to expect that had Africa been fully represented at the 2019 General Conference, at least 25 of these 31 missing delegates would have been traditionalist voters. If we add this to the votes noted at the top of this article, the Traditional Plan would have been supported, at its peak, by a vote of 486 to 365 (57.1 to 42.9 percent), while the OCP would have been supported, at most, by 392 in favor to 461 opposed  (46 to 54 percent).

So the true margin of the 2019 General Conference’s traditionalist majority, if there had been full representation, would have likely ranged from 8 to 14.2 percentage points. Not quite a landslide, but not the narrowest of margins, either.

Even if all 31 missing African delegates had been seated, the 2019 General Conference’s representation would still have been skewed in ways that effectively lower traditionalist voting strength. I have written elsewhere about how the U.S. delegates, as a whole, are significantly more liberal than American United Methodists as a whole. And the allotment of delegates structurally ensured that Africans would be under-represented relative to combined clergy and lay membership, with Sub-Saharan Africans constituting over 38 percent of the world’s United Methodists but no more than 30.1 percent of the 2016-2019 General Conference delegates. (You can read the statistics for yourself here.)

Furthermore, at this last General Conference, it was striking to see the degree to which so much of our official, apportionment-funded denominational establishment threw their weight into heavily promoting the OCP and undermining alternatives, in both public campaigns and private lobbying.

Bishops Bruce Ough of Dakotas-Minnesota and Ken Carter of Florida chose to largely run Council of Bishops as if it was a liberal caucus group, with little evidence of them caring how many bridges they and other liberal bishops burned or how much trust they shattered in their heavy-handed push for victory at all costs.

The denominational establishment’s all-out campaign to adopt the OCP repeatedly involved striking misrepresentations of the truth.

In a slick video advertisement for the OCP he made as Council of Bishops President, Bishop Carter made some rather misleading statements. He described the OCP as “provid[ing] religious freedom, freedom of conscience, to traditional persons,” conveniently whitewashing the severe ways in which it would trample on the consciences of any traditional believers in the UMC. (In a similar vein, Bishop Robert Schnase falsely claimed that under the OCP, “no annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors are compelled to act contrary to their convictions,” while similar claims were echoed on a controversial pro-OCP website supported by several leading liberal bishops.) Carter portrayed the OCP as uniquely allowing for a diversity of beliefs related to homosexuality, when in fact the OCP would greatly restrict the diversity of opinion in what would be left in the UMC, while the Traditional Plan was ultimately far more tolerant of members and leaders with different opinions.

It would take a whole article to list other examples of pro-OCP bishops making misleading statements in their win-at-all-costs crusade.

But it seems that other OCP supporters learned from the example set from the top by “their” pro-OCP bishops.

For example, as I have explained, it is a rather objective fact that the OCP would have a major impact on United Methodism outside of the United States by:

  • Liberalizing the church definition of marriage in ways that no non-American central conference could contradict;
  • Making a major change in the public witness and reputation of our denomination overseas on matters of marriage and sexual morality;
  • Splitting apart the denomination in ways that would cause the UMC to lose significant chunks of both its U.S. financial support base and its overseas presence;
  • Imposing significant unfunded mandates on any central conference in which some United Methodists wished to retain traditional standards; and
  • Leaving the door wide open for liberalized future General Conferences, by simple-majority vote, to force non-American central conferences to dramatically liberalize their sexuality standards.

However, Mark Holland’s “Mainstream UMC” caucus repeatedly (again, and again, and again, and again, and again) spread the false claim that the OCP “has no effect on Central Conferences outside the United States.”

Traditional Plan supporters tried to set the record straight with as many delegates as we could about as many of the misrepresentations of the truth as we could. But we could not keep up with all of them, including some of the misleading statements made by some delegates from the General Conference floor in seeking to pass the OCP and defeat the Traditional Plan.

Strikingly, I have not seen a single example of any bishop who supported the OCP or any leader or advisory board member of any liberal caucus publicly retract, apologize for, or challenge their allies’ misrepresenting the truth in such ways.

Not one.

Nor have I seen any example any bishops or caucus leaders who supported the Traditional Plan engaging in such deceptive tactics.

So to be clear, some of the strength of support for the OCP and the relative “narrowness” of votes at the 2019 General Conference was driven by widespread disenfranchisement of poorer black people, skewed representation of parts of General Conference, the transformation of apportionment-funded ministry structures for the whole church into partisan advocates for one narrow faction, and some blatant deception.

Do my more liberal United Methodist friends really wish to keep pursuing such a path?

  1. Comment by Verity on April 22, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Can you tell me why the bishops ‘allotment’ is so unfair? The US has 55% of the worldwide congregants but 70% of the bishops. Africa, Asia and Central Europe have 45% of the members but only 30% of the bishops. Are Africans still counted as 3/5 of a person?

  2. Comment by Verity on April 22, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Why do US Methodists comprise 55% of the worldwide church and have 70% of the bishops? Do Africans count as 3/5 of a person? http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/united-methodists-at-a-glance

  3. Comment by William on April 22, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Pursuing such a path? Adam Hamilton and cronies are going around advocating such a path. They’re meeting at his “church” in May. A strategy that many of them apparently support is continued church lawbreaking, and NOW support for an exit path, in hopes of running the traditionalists off!! Yes, they envision running traditionalists off and ridding the current church of them!

    Bottom line — it is now time for a direct vote by all who call themselves United Methodists through whatever process that takes place by voting for either 1, 2, or 3.

    1. A traditional Biblical denomination as currently exists and was approved and reaffirmed at the St Louis General Conference.

    2. A liberal, non-Biblical denomination.

    3. Leave the denomination to avoid choosing since there is no middle ground.

  4. Comment by Diane on April 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Your traditional, biblical church will still breed lgbtq people (always born as the result of sperm and coupling). They will still serve you; they’ll just remain in the closet. The church will be known as those who worship God in spirit and deception.

    The liberal church will also breed lgbtq folks (born from the coupling of a speed
    and egg). Those lgbtq folks will also choose to serve, but will not be punished for doing so openly and honestly. That church will be known as the biblical church that worships God in spirit and in truth.

  5. Comment by Diane on April 22, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Correction – coupling of sperm and egg, not speed and egg

  6. Comment by William on April 22, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Well actually — it depends on what one would be seeking. If one is seeking forgiveness of sin, whether that be sexual immorality or other, the traditional church that Paul described to the Corinthians would fit. On the other hand, if one is seeking the affirmation and even the celebration of sin, whether that be sexual immorality or other, the liberal church Paul talked to Timothy about would fit.


  7. Comment by Thimas on April 23, 2019 at 11:12 am

    Truth William!

  8. Comment by Reynolds on April 22, 2019 at 2:43 pm


    Why do you stress out? Most liberals churches won’t be around in twenty years. If you want to see the future just look at the UCC just don’t blink you might miss them

  9. Comment by JR on April 22, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    UCC is an interesting comparison.

    They are down a little over 50% from their founding, which was 10 years before the UMC – which is currently about 30% down from it’s basis (using US figures only).

    Based on the recent trends – not including any potential exodus effect from the LGBTQ+ issue – 30 years to hit that 50% mark point. No matter how the LGBTQ+ issue works through, I’d think that that 50% mark could be hit within 10 years. Again, these are US based numbers only – the UMC is doing great in other areas of the world, but it’s not immune to the US downtrend, and it’s probably very vulnerable right now.

    But you go right ahead and feel immune to the realities.

    I actually wonder how long before the UMC is a primarily African-based church. I think that will come pretty quickly in the grand scheme of things.

  10. Comment by William on April 22, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    Jesus said the last will be first!

  11. Comment by brandon m on April 25, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    cant let the umc become african, now you show your true colors, lmao.

  12. Comment by Russell on April 22, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    Enjoying forms of sexual behavior with a same-sex partner is not “bred.” There is no “gay” gene. The Human Genome Project found none and the largest identical twin studies have not found a strong genetic determinant. (If there was, would you support parents aborting a child because of its “gay” genetic marker?) Homosexual theoreticians have long been saying the choice of one’s sex partners is “fluid,” to use their term. No one, after all, is forced to engage in homoerotic sex, any more than one is forced to engage in heterosexual acts. To that extent, homoerotic sexual activity is indeed a choice. One can, therefore, choose not to do.

  13. Comment by Diane on April 22, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    Sexuality is a good gift from God. Makes no sense to demand celibacy from an entire class of people as pleasing to God. Just looking at the UMC, y’all have done a great job of producing lots of lgbtq kids – some raised in conservative homes and some in progressive homes. What’s your secret?

  14. Comment by Russell on April 23, 2019 at 12:33 am

    Enough with the insipid bumper sticker arguments. You put yourself in the position of having to defend pedophilia, adultery and promiscuity each as a “gift from God.”

  15. Comment by Thomas on April 23, 2019 at 11:20 am

    My apologies but I have to disagree. I have observed progressive tactics across several issues and numerous denominations. From these observations it is clear that progressives certainly engage in deception to advance their agenda. Perhaps that is your own motivation in calling the traditional church “deceptive.”

  16. Comment by Gary Bebop on April 22, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you, John Lomperis, for parsing the numbers and declaring the truth. Keep turning on the lights.

  17. Comment by Diane on April 22, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Using facial recognition algorithms in facial recognition, a Stanford University study resulted in a 91% accuracy rate in positive identification of men who are gay. Thousands of facial images from gay and straight dating sites were used. That kind of accuracy, the researches suggested, offers “strong support that sexual orientation stems from exposure to certain hormones before birth, meaning people are born gay and being queer is not a choice.”

    Pity the UMC conservatives if they’re judgment is wrong.

  18. Comment by Diane on April 22, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    Their judgment, not they’re

  19. Comment by Diane on April 22, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Sorry, should be “using facial recognition algorithms in an artificial intelligence study at Stanford University, researchers found a 91% accuracy rate in positive identification of gay men”. These results give strong support to the prevalent understanding that being gay or queer is not a choice.

  20. Comment by Russell on April 23, 2019 at 12:26 am

    The study has been severely criticized. No gene or hormone has been identified that makes one enjoy homoerotic sex, though researchers have specifically been searching for such a biological key for decades.

  21. Comment by William on April 23, 2019 at 11:35 am

    No matter what science comes up with regarding human behavior, they will never be able to scientifically explain the transforming power of Jesus Christ for those who repent and genuinely partake of God’s justifying grace!!

  22. Comment by Jim on April 23, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    On this matter of sexual identity, I will follow the scriptures written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the hand of the Apostle Paul rather than Stanford researchers.

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