April 23, 2019

Setting the Record Straight on the 2019 UMC General Conference, Part 1: What Was Rejected

Editor’s note: See also Part 2 of this pair of articles, which sets the record straight on what was actually adopted.

Leading up to the special 2019 General Conference in February, there was so much misinformation and misunderstanding about the plans proposed for the United Methodist Church.

In the last couple of months since that historic denominational assembly, the confusion and misinformation have sadly continued, with gusto.

Within the last week, I have debunked the myth that two-thirds of American United Methodists want our church to start officially blessing same-sex unions (the most recent scientific surveys paint a rather different picture) and questioned the conventional wisdom about the key votes at the 2019 General Conference being exceptionally “narrow,” while Dan Moran has refuted the blatant misrepresentations of the Traditional Plan that Pastor James Howell of the “Uniting Methodists” caucus has spread in a video.

But there seem to be several other widespread misunderstandings about what actually happened, perhaps due to a mix of sloppy reporting, partisan propaganda, and the confusing complexity of it all.

But whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that there is for many a widespread gap between their perception of what was decided at the 2019 General Conference and the reality.

If you are interested in an accurate, honest understanding of the current state of the United Methodist Church, regardless of whether or not you agree with my perspective, I respectfully invite you to read on to get the facts.

Here are some top misunderstandings I am observing about the 2019 General Conference, followed by the truth:

MYTH #1: If the General Conference had adopted the “One Church Plan” (OCP) pushed by liberal American bishops, our denomination would have remained inclusive of traditional Christian believers and would have respected and protected their consciences on matters related to marriage and sexual morality. 

MYTH #2: Most leaders supporting the OCP (who may have a different perspective than some more rank-and-file liberals) were committed to ensuring that our denomination would continue including strongly traditionalist pastors.

MYTH #3: A vote for the One Church Plan would have been a vote for church unity and compromise, while voting for the Traditional Plan meant voting to split our denomination.

MYTH #4: The majority of pro-OCP delegates were committed to seeing our church continue clearly teaching and upholding a sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in monogamous marriage, and simply wanted this to apply to homosexual as well as heterosexual couples. Any OCP supporters feeling otherwise were no more than a tiny, fringe minority of liberal United Methodists. 


MYTH #1: If the General Conference had adopted the “One Church Plan” (OCP) pushed by liberal American bishops, our denomination would have remained inclusive of traditional Christian believers and would have respected and protected their consciences on matters related to marriage and sexual morality. 

FACT: As I have outlined previously, the OCP would have necessarily required a large-scale purge of traditional believers from the United Methodist ordination process as well as key leadership positions. Specifically, it would have subjected traditionalist United Methodists to dramatic new vulnerabilities, without providing any firm conscience protections, in such situations as:

  • Traditionalist-leaning congregations for whom it would be destructive for the bishop to impose a pastor known to have a same-sex partner or known to perform same-sex weddings;
  • Traditionalist-leaning congregations and pastors who could not in good conscience submit to the authority of, or collect apportionment money to pay for, a homosexually active bishop;
  • Traditionalist pastors understandably concerned that they may be subject to a punitive appointment change if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings; and
  • Any traditionalist concerned about how after the passage of the OCP, future General Conferences would shift in a more liberal direction and address proposals to go further in requiring full submission to liberal values on sexuality.

 

MYTH #2: Most leaders supporting the OCP (who may have a different perspective than some more rank-and-file liberals) were committed to ensuring that our denomination would continue including strongly traditionalist pastors.

FACT:  I really wish that this were true. But we cannot ignore some unsettling facts.

In 2005, the Rev. Ed Johnson, a mild-mannered small-town Virginia pastor, had a man who was actively involved in a gay relationship come to his church. Johnson compassionately welcomed the man to come to worship, sing in the choir, and otherwise participate in the life of the church. But when he approached Johnson about becoming a formal member (and thus eligible for leadership positions), the pastor discerned that he was not yet ready to immediately say the membership vows, which include acceptance of biblical Christian faith and renunciation of sin, before he stopped engaging in homosexual practice (just as I expect Johnson would have done with someone in an adulterous affair or cohabiting with an opposite-sex partner). While not every evangelical United Methodist pastor would have handled things this way, it is hard to argue that that is wildly inconsistent with a traditional biblical view of sexual morality. Virginia’s bishop at the time, Charlene Kammerer, tried to heavy-handedly force Pastor Johnson out of the denomination, and some of the same liberal leaders who more recently pushed the OCP fell over themselves in demonizing Pastor Johnson and trying to change church law to force out any traditionalist pastors who would have done likewise.

I have not observed a single OCP supporter say that the demonization of Pastor Johnson was wrong, or repudiate the (still-ongoing!) efforts to amend the Discipline to force out other evangelical pastors whose consciences would compel them to minister in similar ways.

The concerns noted in #1 above were repeatedly shared with OCP supporters. What else can we conclude from how about the only response I saw was to ignore our concerns and press on, other than that most did not care?

Or perhaps, for some OCP supporters, pushing traditionalist members out of the denomination so that they could take over what was left was precisely a main goal they had with the OCP in the first place. If that sounds too paranoid, consider how immediately before the 2019 General Conference, some of the leading liberal delegates publicly said such things as describing traditionalist United Methodist leaders as “a bunch of evil folks in the church who are into the pain thing” (Randall Miller, chair of the Social Principles rewrite task force), and “If [traditionalists] want to leave, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” (Dorothee Benz of New York).

I have not observed a single bishop, caucus leader, or delegate who strongly supported the OCP ever publicly apologizing for or challenging their allies use of any of the misrepresentations of the truth, harsh words, or exclusive treatment against traditionalist United Methodists cited throughout in this article.

In other words, there is no evidence that more than perhaps a tiny minority, if that, of the leading OCP supporters have any problem with this sort of mistreatment of less liberal United Methodists.

When liberal leaders have sought to force traditionalist pastors out of the denomination, have consistently refused to extend Golden-Rule honesty and civility to them, and really believe that they are “a bunch of evil folks” whose approaches to ministry sadistically impose pain on people, then is it really reasonable to give unquestioned trust to these liberal leaders’ claims to want our denomination to lovingly include traditionalist pastors, when such claims are only made in politically convenient contexts of trying to sell the OCP?

 

MYTH #3: A vote for the One Church Plan would have been a vote for church unity and compromise, while voting for the Traditional Plan meant voting to split our denomination.

FACT: Contrary to the widespread spin, the Traditional Plan that was adopted does NOT require a large-scale “kicking out” of liberals from the denomination, and does not prevent anyone from joining the membership, clergy ranks, or even leadership of the United Methodist Church solely on the basis of disagreeing with the denomination’s official stance on sexuality matters. On these measures, the Traditional Plan is actually FAR more inclusive than the OCP.

It is true that some more liberal United Methodists may now choose to leave the UMC in protest. But this amounts to a choice of essentially saying that if the whole denomination will not radically redefine its historic values to conform to their personal views, they will leave.

And there seems little doubt that the numbers who would have already left the United Methodist Church by now if the OCP had passed would have been far greater than any departures seen at this point.

Perhaps the only real compromise plan was the Connectional Conference Plan (CCP), which had at least some support from theologically liberal as well as traditionalist Commission members. But the few people who actively promoted it seemed entirely limited to moderate traditionalist seeking to minimize conflict with liberals. But again and again, by rejecting the olive branches offered by CCP supporters and fiercely denouncing “gracious exit” proposals, key liberal leaders chose to push the 2019 General Conference towards a winner-take-all approach. Thankfully, there were some liberal delegates who were more reasonable about gracious exits for congregations.

Despite the misleading name, the “One Church Plan” was no compromise and no path to unity.

Traditionalist members of the Way Forward Commission consistently made clear that the OCP would be unacceptable to them. And yet the OCP ended up being much more liberal than even the liberal policies that split apart other denominations, as the final version of the OCP would have forced local congregations to accept partnered gay pastors (with no firm conscience protections) and prevented church leaders in traditionalist annual conferences from preventing same-sex unions or disciplining clergy who “came out” as homosexually active in their regions.

By any definition, that is the very opposite of a “compromise.”

The OCP’s much-touted “contextualization” allowances for traditionalists to remain begrudgingly tolerated in the UMC lacked firmness, ignored many of the main crises of conscience that would arise (see #1 above), and most importantly, would only be temporary.

The primary difference between the OCP and the “Simple Plan” promoted by the Queer Clergy Caucus was that only the latter would immediately remove official church teaching and some related standards for clergy that pre-marital sex and adultery are wrong.

So the only way to not be misleading in describing the OCP as a compromise is by making explicitly clear that it was a compromise insofar as it did not soften the UMC’s opposition to pre-marital sex and adultery, as many OCP supporters wanted.

 

MYTH #4: The majority of pro-OCP delegates were committed to seeing our church continue clearly teaching and upholding a sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in monogamous marriage, and simply wanted this to apply to homosexual as well as heterosexual couples. Any OCP supporters feeling otherwise were no more than a tiny, fringe minority of liberal United Methodists. 

FACT: On this one, I had really wanted to extend some benefit of the doubt.

But then the numbers came in.

Several OCP supporters were clear that they saw adopting the OCP not as a final resolution of our denomination’s sexuality battles at General Conference, but rather as a stepping stone to make it easier to later pass something like the aforementioned eight-petition “Simple Plan” at a future General Conference.

Again, arguably the biggest difference between the Simple Plan and the OCP would have been how the former would have also liberalized our church’s approach to sexual-morality issues other than homosexuality. One of the Simple Plan’s petitions would have completely deleted from our Social Principles the core teaching that sexual relations are only for the covenant of monogamous marriage, and, implicitly, that adultery and pre-marital sex are wrong. And another Simple Plan petition would have deleted from the list of chargeable offenses for which clergy can be disciplined, not only current standards related to homosexuality, but also the offenses of “immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage.”

Delegates had access to all petitions months in advance of the 2019 General Conference. The specific concerns about the Simple Plan’s opening the door to heterosexual immorality were widely noticed and commented upon by United Methodists across the spectrum. No delegate had any excuse for claiming to not be aware of this.

On the penultimate day of the 2019 General Conference, 323 delegates voted for the Simple Plan, shortly after 386 delegates had voted for the OCP.

So over 39.5 percent of delegates voted to liberalize the UMC not just on homosexuality, but also on pre-marital sex and adultery. And if all Simple Plan supporters had also voted for the OCP, as seems likely, then this would mean that 83.7 percent (over five in six) pro-OCP delegates also wanted to make the church more accepting of sex outside of marriage more generally.

These numbers hardly reflect such anything-goes-as-long-as-it’s-consensual sentiment being a fringe minority of OCP supporters.


9 Responses to Setting the Record Straight on the 2019 UMC General Conference, Part 1: What Was Rejected

  1. andrewhughes@windstream.net says:

    Your words are sad indictment… But very true John. Help us Lord!

  2. Andrew Hughes says:

    Your words are a sad indictment… But very true John. Help us Lord!

  3. Gordon says:

    From all I have heard or read, no one has brought up the Bible…it is plainly written in both the old and new testaments that the homosexual lifestyle is a sin and abomination to God. We lean on the Holy Bible for TRUTH. If the Bible is the UMC book for truth and life teachings, why wasn’t it brought up to liberals? Make them point out in the Bible where it states the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable to God…. they won’t be able to.

  4. Hill says:

    You actually promote denying church membership based on a homosexuality litmus test?? That is ridiculous. As a UMC member who is a lifelong heterosexual, I have taken the “acceptance of biblical Christian faith and renunciation of sin” oath even though (along with everyone else) I sinned every day before taking the oath and (along with everyone else) I have sinned every day since. Why hasn’t the UMC morality police come for me to revoke my membership? Homosexuality isn’t a greater or lesser sin than any I have committed. I can understand holding leadership to higher standards as the Bible states but despite your carefully crafted spin, I fear that this is really about purging “undesirables” from congregations and feeding the natural prejudices of conservative church members.

    • John Smith says:

      Indeed we all sin but are you in a local congregation if the local morality, ie gossip chain, hasn’t come for you once or twice?

      More seriously I’ve maintained it was the Christians who destroyed marriage as they accommodated themselves to adultery, divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, etc to maintain/placate members, keep the pews and offering plates full, yada yada.

      To expand it to the point of homosexuality and purging undesirables… One, we are all undesirable in many, often hidden ways so we should be careful in what we say. Two, there used to be a difference between attending and being a member. Where many balk at homosexuality in the church is that homosexuals claim that there is no sin in homosexuality, either the preference or the acts. This is seen as a direct challenge to scripture and its authority. We will accept the sinner if he confesses his sin (or even overlook it if it is the same as ours) but if a sinner comes in and claims his sin is a virtue or a God given gift then Katy bar the door, man the ramparts and heat the oil!!

      And yes, many who are uncomfortable with homosexuality but do not worry too much about scripture are quick to use it to further a personal agenda. Welcome to sinful man.

  5. Michael Stidham says:

    And the hits just keep on comin’, as they used to say on the radio. Recently, progressive and centrist UM’s held a meeting, as reported by umnews.org, to work on “next steps” after GC 2019.
    Assuming that GC2020 upholds the Traditionalist Plan, Adam Hamilton (another self-appointed would-be bishop) spelled out two plans of action:
    “One would have centrists and progressives leaving to form a new denomination, a process Hamilton said would need cooperation from traditionalist groups and would likely involve dissolving The United Methodist Church into “two or three new Methodist bodies.”

    That would be a lengthy and legally complicated process, Hamilton acknowledged.

    A second would involve centrists and progressives staying in The United Methodist Church and supporting a financially-smooth “gracious exit” for traditionalist congregations wishing to form their own denomination, Hamilton said. ”

    Uh, call me crazy, but if the traditionalists are upheld, what are the progressives doing saying “we’ll help traditionalists leave if they want to start their own denomination”? Who do they think they are to say they’re going to flout the laws and “support a gracious exit” for people who don’t like it????

    • John Smith says:

      They are the ones who are “in the right” so of course those who have erred-traditionalists would have to leave. The progressives have no interest in walking away from the money and numbers of the UMC, even if they have to start their underground campaign again. After all the COB is firmly in their camp.

  6. Marie Little says:

    Has any of the’ liberals’ left the church?

    • John Smith says:

      Liberals and conservatives leave the UMC all the time. Just look at the continued decline in membership numbers in the US. The liberals that many would like to see leave-Bishops, Agency heads, seminary professors, are too invested in the structure to voluntarily leave. At most you might see one or two “quit” (we call it retirement-gotta keep the check!) in some public spat.

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