April 23, 2019

Setting the Record Straight on the 2019 UMC General Conference, Part 2: What Was Adopted

There continues to be much misinformation and confusion about what happened at the February 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In Part 1, I countered some widespread myths and misunderstandings about what this denominational assembly decided not to do.  Other articles on this site have debunked the myth that two-thirds of American United Methodists want our church to start officially blessing same-sex unions, and refuted the factual misrepresentations about this General Conference made in a video by James Howell of the liberal “Uniting Methodists” caucus.

Now here are some widespread misundertandings and misrepresentations about what the 2019 General Conference actually did in adopting the Traditional Plan, followed by the truth:

MYTH #1: The Traditional Plan involved policies on transgendered or “LGBT” pastors. 

MYTH #2: The Traditional Plan adopted by the General Conference established dramatically new policies of banning same-sex union ceremonies and non-celibate gay clergy. 

MYTH #3: The Traditional Plan excludes gay people from the United Methodist Church.

MYTH #4: The Traditional Plan and the multi-cultural coalition supporting it were harsh, excessively punitive, and opposed to our Wesleyan tradition. 

MYTH #5: The Traditional Plan’s supporters chose to single out homosexuality, while the Traditional does not do anything to enhance accountability for other moral concerns.


 

MYTH #1: The Traditional Plan involved policies on transgendered or “LGBT” pastors. 

FACT: For better or worse, the UMC’s official stances are currently rather silent about transgenderism. There were various petitions submitted to the 2019 General Conference, separate from any of the main plans, which would have shifted our church law in a more conservative or liberal direction on transgenderism. But the 2019 General Conference declined to take up any of these.

I understand that the acronym, “LGBT,” is a convenient shorthand. But given the above, it is not quite accurate to say, as many in the media have, that the Traditional Plan made some policy about “LGBT clergy.” It would be similarly misleading to say, for example, that “Sally and George both live in Virginia” if in fact only Sally lived in Virginia.

 

MYTH #2: The Traditional Plan adopted by the General Conference established dramatically new policies of banning same-sex union ceremonies and non-celibate gay clergy. 

FACT: The UMC’s governing Book of Discipline has already had rather longstanding policies forbidding “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy (since 1984) and banning any of our clergy from officiating at or any of our congregations from hosting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” (since 1996). The Traditional Plan involved provisions to ensure that these requirements were more consistently upheld. But the vast majority of United Methodist clergy still in active ministry were ordained after the first of these was added to the Discipline, and all United Methodist clergy have already vowed to uphold the Discipline. So the 2019 General Conference did not adopt any fundamentally new standard in banning same-sex union celebrations or non-celibate gay clergy.

 

MYTH #3: The Traditional Plan excludes gay people from the United Methodist Church.

FACT: Even the most theologically traditionalist United Methodist congregations sincerely welcome all people, including our friends and loved ones who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, to come into our churches and participate in church life.

This is not abstract, but something our congregations have already been practicing for all the years that our denomination has had the traditionalist stances mentioned above. The rhetoric of some liberal United Methodists seems to carry an assumption that no gay person would ever set foot in a church that does not prominently fly a rainbow “gay pride” flag out front. But one does not have to look far at all among evangelical congregations of our denomination, and others, to see how utterly false this assumption is.

It is true that under the Traditional Plan, gay people are not given an unconditional right to be set apart for the highest levels of leadership in our denomination, with no questions asked about whether or not their beliefs and lifestyle choices align with our church’s core values. But that is also true for everyone else.

 

MYTH #4: The Traditional Plan and the multi-cultural coalition supporting it were harsh, excessively punitive, and opposed to our Wesleyan tradition. 

FACT: First of all, holding each other accountable was historically THE defining feature of Methodism. It can be surprising to read about how often Methodist laypeople were suspended from membership in their small groups (classes and bands) for sins ranging from drunkenness to wife-beating. But no one can deny the objective, historical fact that that is our Wesleyan tradition.

There are three main areas in which the Traditional Plan directly involves punishments, all of which focus on those set apart for leadership, and none of which subject laypeople to anything like what they would have faced in early Methodist classes or bands.

One petition says that any minister who is found to have blatantly violated our longstanding rules against performing pastorally harmful same-sex union ceremonies must be subject to a minimum penalty of at least a one-year suspension from ministry for the first offense and permanent removal from ministry for a second offense.

This is obviously a more serious penalty than the joke-penalties of “24-hour suspensions” others have proposed. But until recently, there was already a widespread expectation in most of our denomination that ministers should expect to be permanently removed for even the first offense of this. Even in the ultra-liberal Northern Illinois Conference, a church trial effectively defrocked Greg Dell in 1999 for doing a same-sex union (although an appeals committee later commuted the sentence to a more limited suspension). By allowing for second chances, the Traditional Plan is actually more lenient than what the expectations have been. And these penalties would only apply to cases in which someone entrusted with clergy leadership has broken his or her promises to God and the church, inflicted serious pastoral harm on others (according to the UMC’s beliefs), refused all offers of a just resolution, and insisted on forcing the annual conference to divert as much as $100,000 from mission and ministry to have a church trial, with all the emotional turmoil and negative publicity that came with that. By establishing a serious deterrent, this petition protects the rest of the church from being further harmed by a single out-of-control minister going rogue. Not having this provision is a recipe for increasing the number of church trials, with annual conferences needing to pay for one church trial after another for repeat offenders.

One group of petitions, presently being contested before the Judicial Council, would clarify some new processes with which the Council of Bishops may remove someone from serving as an area’s active bishop, for a full range of disciplinary reasons (not necessarily related to sexuality), through imposing early retirement or an involuntary leave of absence. It is widely agreed that there needs to be some global means of accountability for bishops, and this basic idea was already approved by some 90 percent of 2016 General Conference delegates and 80 percent of annual conference members in 2017. If we do not want our bishops to act like unaccountable dictators, then what is so “punitive” about having some realistic means through which someone blatantly, consistently, and unrepentantly abusing the office of bishop could potentially be prevented from continuing to enjoy all the privileges and benefits of leading a whole area of our denomination?

Another group of petitions, also now being contested before the Judicial Council, would prevent annual conferences from receiving funds from the rest of the denomination or using the official UMC logo if key leaders make an unforced choice to stubbornly refuse to uphold our denomination’s covenant. Branding is a fundamental function of any denomination. If leaders of an annual conference choose to unilaterally declare independence and no longer operate according to the UMC’s values and rules, why should the rest of us be forced to subsidize them and let them hurt our church’s reputation? Objections to this provision seem to stem from an attitude of some people feeling entitled to the privilege of receiving large amounts of money from the church, but with no accountability about how they spend them

Finally, it seems worth noting that there was one key part of the recently enacted Traditional Plan was substantially identical to the committee-modified version of a petition entitled “Complainant as a Party to Just Resolution” that was actually endorsed on the second page of a public Voting Guide of the liberal “Love Your Neighbor Coalition” (Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, etc.). There is zero credibility in claiming that something those groups found acceptable is somehow harshly conservative.

 

MYTH #5: The Traditional Plan’s supporters chose to single out homosexuality, while the Traditional does not do anything to enhance accountability for other moral concerns.

FACT: First of all, several of the measures adopted in 2019 as part of the Traditional Plan were similar or identical to provisions that were being considered at the 2016 General Conference. If everything had gone normally, those petitions would have faced final debates and votes to adopt or reject back then, sandwiched between debates and votes on various unrelated issues.

But these petitions were basically tabled by the “Way Forward” process, which prevented votes on these petitions and talked about coming back for a specially called General Conference to specifically focus on petitions related to homosexuality. It is hardly honest to blame the limited focus of this special conference on “the traditionalists,” when the record shows that those who spoke and pushed for this process in 2016 were Bishop Bruce Ough along with delegates who later emerged as leaders of pro-OCP caucuses: Adam Hamilton, Tom Berlin, George Howard, and Mark Holland.

Even then, the Traditional Plan did not actually single out homosexual sins to the extent that many seem to think.

The version of the Traditional Plan that was adopted by the 2019 General Conference consisted of 14 petitions, all being reviewed this week by our denomination’s supreme court, the Judicial Council. Eight are petitions which the Judicial Council has already declared would be constitutional to enact. Another six petitions – some related to accountability for bishops and others to the commitment of members of boards of ordained ministry to upholding the Discipline – are strongly contested, with opposing legal briefs arguing for and against their constitutionality. For two of these six petitions, whether or not they can be upheld as constitutional depends on if the Judicial Council decides that a single phrase specifically referencing our standards on homosexuality can be severed and stricken while preserving the rest of each petition. And only one adopted Traditional Plan petition is universally agreed to be constitutionally unsalvageable in its present form.

So the best-case scenario for the Traditional Plan this week would be for the Judicial Council to uphold a total of fourteen petitions, some of which would only be partial versions of the petitions that were passed.

And of those fourteen petitions, only four explicitly mention anything about homosexuality or sexual morality.

The other 10 petitions would obviously have implications for our denomination’s treatment of sexual morality, but not exclusively so. As a whole, the Traditional Plan addresses far more fundamental matters of church governance, by strengthening accountability for clergy to all the standards of our Discipline to which they are subject.

In an extended denunciation of the Traditional Plan, Bishop Sally Dyck of Chicago admitted that there are other offenses not necessarily related to homosexuality in which clergy “hurt others, such as sexual misconduct or abuse,” but complained that in such cases, “no bishop is punished if they don’t adjudicate a clergyperson who has committed egregious acts toward their parishioners.”

But now the more of the Traditional Plan is upheld by the Judicial Council this week, the more there will be new tools in church law to require real accountability for clergy who “commit egregious acts towards their parishioners” unrelated to homosexuality, and also, yes, to in turn bring accountability to any bishops who are covering up for abusive pastors.

Furthermore, perhaps one of the most under-reported aspects of the 2019 General Conference is the admittedly less sexy matter of the nature of the role of bishops in our church. So much of the controversy that led to the passage of the Traditional Plan stemmed from how several U.S. bishops have recently acted in a dictator-like fashion to effectively declare that the only parts of church law which are binding in their respective areas are the ones they selectively choose to uphold. The Traditional Plan restores some much-needed democratic checks and balances on the unilateral powers of bishops.

If people could think about this apart from emotionally charged arguments about homosexuality, then I would expect many more United Methodists across the spectrum to agree that this is a helpful matter of basic good governance.

 

 


16 Responses to Setting the Record Straight on the 2019 UMC General Conference, Part 2: What Was Adopted

  1. “If people could think about this apart from emotionally charged arguments about homosexuality, then I would expect many more United Methodists across the spectrum to agree that this is a helpful matter of basic good governance.”

    Yes, but as the men of Sodom persisted even though literally blinded by God, the LGBTQX lobby will never give up trying to destroy the church from the inside and the outside.

  2. Diane says:

    All those lgbtq folks were raised by UMC parents, mostly heterosexual and both conservative and progressive. Explain, please. There must be a secret ingredient in the UMC that stirs the pot and creates so many lgbtq folk.

    • Dan W says:

      I know it has been mentioned several times in response to your comments, but I’ll mention it again. LGBTQ persons/couples are welcome to worship in U.M. congregations, join U.M. congregations and serve in lay leadership. U.M. parents and church families love their children gay, straight or whatever. We’re just regular people. Regular people trying to obey our Lord and Savior 🙂

  3. David says:

    I have often wondered about the women and children of Sodom. Such a remarkable thing as the town being all male would surely have attracted attention. Those that are so concerned about the unborn seem indifferent to the children of Sodom and those killed in the divinely sanctioned genocides elsewhere. I guess all those evil babies had it coming.

    • Dan W says:

      The men of Sodom may have abused and murdered their wives and children. That would certainly justify fiery judgement wouldn’t it?

    • JR says:

      Ezekiel 16:48-50.

      No need to make stuff up. And just because “all the men” showed up, it’s quite a leap to assume no women or children (Lot himself offered up 2 of his daughters).

  4. Pat says:

    The OCP plan did the opposite of uniting. Those supporting the OCP wanted a mechanism to rid the Methodist church of anyone supporting the Tradition Plan which only supports the stance on marriage and homosexuality as clearly stated in the Old and New Testament of our Bible. I read both plans and those supporting the OCP know what was in the alleged plan to unify the church. Praise the Lord, the Traditional Plan was approved and the liberals will continue to attack, play the victim card like so many other liberals who don’t get their way. The fight is long from over. My prayer is those Methodists in the USA who support the Traditional Plan will not become weary but let the liberals leave and form their own denomination. They want all the money, property and retirements set in place for them. If you really want to clean up the Methodist church, enforce the Book of Discipline and move on. Those in the positions to make those decisions need to do their job or quit and put people in those positions who will enforce the rules. Time for traditional Methodists to step up and do their job, including the judicial body of the Methodist church responsible for enforcement of the Book of Discipline.

  5. William says:

    Wolves in sheep’s clothing personified, our liberal brethren! They do exactly what Jesus predicted they would do. And Paul added deception to that warning. Hamilton and his folks meet next month. Will they come out of that meeting with a new denomination plan, come out of that meeting with a church lawbreaking plan designed to run traditionalists off, or come out of that meeting ready to work out a separation plan?

  6. Andy Hughes says:

    Thank you again John for setting the record straight on this matter.

  7. Skipper says:

    Thank you so much for this good and concise information. While we are not afraid of homosexuals, Progressives are a clear and present danger to those we love (all others). They cause people to veer away from the Christian lifestyle. Jesus spoke of a wide and easy road that should be avoided. People of faith must do everything they can to help others toward a good relationship with Christ.

  8. Pudentiana says:

    I have come to believe that the poison which was inserted into our churches and seminaries back in the day when no one was watching as explained in Forgetting How to Blush by Karen Booth. (See: https://store.seedbed.com/products/forgetting-how-to-blush.) Putting that together with the Witch’s Brew of the Sophia movement’s Reimagining which was inspired by feminists and lesbians has yielded a very perverse understanding of human sexuality as supported through the seminaries and their publications. We truly need an exorcism.

  9. George says:

    Can openly Gay person serve as lay servant,Lay speaker,Lay minster or license local pastor.

    • Lil says:

      I can’t speak from a position of authority when it comes to the wording of the Book of Discipline as it appears after the decisions made by the 2019 called General Conference (assuming alterations per the Judicial Council’s present approving/rejecting the remaining petitions). However, if lay pastors have to affirm in their commissioning/ordination vows (as ordained pastors must) that they will uphold the provisions and doctrines contained in the UMC Book of Discipline, it would be wise for all, not just any homosexual, candidates for this pastoral role to very carefully read every word it contains. It is possible that they might find some rules, provisions, etc. which they cannot honestly consent to both verbally uphold (and teach accordingly) and obey (in both private and personal life and duties). Better for all candidates, of all sexual orientations — and others as well — to know exactly what they must agree to, if they plan to preserve their personal and spiritual integrity by agreeing to uphold the Discipline. If they cannot (for any reason, not just sexual), then better for all concerned to abandon any plans for serving as a lay pastor. The guidelines included in the Traditional Plan give prospective candidates for this and other UMC leadership offices the gift of being able to withdraw in advance, based upon stipulations/qualifications to which they cannot adhere, rather than having the embarrassment of having their candidacy denied. My hope would be that all who apply will be prepared to uphold the requirements of the office they seek, just as those who apply for secular jobs agree in their contracts to uphold the rules/procedures of the company for which they hope to work.

  10. George says:

    Okay I’m going to try posting this again not sure what the problem is. My question is can an openly gay person be a lay servant, lay speaker, lay minister and licensed local pasto I ask this question because I think the United Methodist Church gives out mixed signals.

    • Diane says:

      Actually, your question is lacking in one significant point – civil marriage. Can an openly gay or lesbian person who was married elsewhere and holds a civil marriage license/certificate serve?

      If not, what is the United Methodist Church’s social justice policy in regard to recognizing civil marriage? If the denomination disapproves of same-sex civil marriage, where does it stand on the Social Security taxation of same-sex couples who would be denied the Social Security surviving spouse benefit if not allowed to marry? Requiring same sex couples to pay this tax while denying them marriage is a majority power-over economic arrangement wherein those denied marriage are penalized, being forced to financially support the widows of the privileged majority (heterosexuals). For heterosexuals, this is a self-serving use of power to rob others for the sole benefit of heterosexual couples.

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