Dead on Arrival?: GBCS Rewrite of Social Principles Redefines Marriage, Rebuffs General Conference

on May 1, 2019

A revised draft of the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church (UMC) that will come before General Conference 2020 includes changes to the church’s definition of marriage, setting the stage for significant pushback from the denomination’s orthodox majority.

The new language was developed by a task force within the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), the UMC’s agency that works on issues of social justice. The GBCS has been working since the 2012 General Conference on an ambitious project of comprehensively rewriting the denomination’s Social Principles, the core official UMC teaching on social issues, supposedly for the sake of making the Social Principles more globally oriented, biblically grounded, and succinct. But the proposed revision’s redefinition of marriage instead rebuffs the decisions made by the global church this year’s Special General Conference to uphold and affirm traditional biblical teaching on marriage and human sexuality.

This occurred despite GBCS intentionally waiting to finish working on the section on human sexuality after General Conference 2019 so that they could be informed by the decisions of the global legislative body. GBCS’ stated goal for the whole project was to make the Social Principles more succinct, more theologically grounded, and more globally relevant. However, the section on human sexuality disappointingly emphasizes the current American cultural context over a global one and two millennia of church history.

At the GBCS’ plenary meeting of all board members last Friday, April 26, the Rev. Dr. Chappell Temple, lead pastor of Christ Church Sugar Land in Sugar Land, Texas, raised concern with not following the lead of General Conference, the only body that can speak for the entire church. He felt that the Social Principles Task Force, of which he was a member, left their statements on marriage too ambiguous, and added that “it is the stated position of the UMC that marriage is between one man and one woman, and if our Social Principles do not reflect this… it will be reflected as an end-run by the GBCS.”

For this reason, Temple proposed an amendment that would return the definition of the covenant of marriage as being between “a man and a woman” instead of simply “two persons.”

Dr. Randall Miller of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, chair of the task force and vice-president of the entire board, gave the Social Principles Task Force report to the plenary and explained the rationale of the group’s choice to make those changes.

Speaking first for himself but also for the majority of the group that authored the changes, he said: “it just seemed at this difficult and conflictual time in the church, I wanted to speak into the healing of our church.” He also pointed to a desire to draw from the latest in biology, psychology, and other branches of science, as well as recently-changed laws on same-sex marriage and other topics of sexuality. He further expressed an aim of having the statements on marriage better fit the secular environment in the United States in which the church operates. He continued, “It didn’t seem in the moment we are in the church, wiser or wise or helpful to single out individuals or exclude individuals in the statement we would put forward. It’s not meant to offend people or exclude people.”

Temple’s amendment was voted on by acclamation and defeated by a vote of approximately sixty to seventy percent against, a clear but not overwhelming majority.

The application of these liberal, American values is disappointing but not surprising. As John Lomperis reported last year, of the 13 individuals on the team, 11 were Americans. Further, Miller is a longtime LGBTQ activist who was once Interim Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network, the main unofficial LGBTQ caucus in the denomination. Serving as chair of the editorial team is Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of the Boston University School of Theology, who was a long-time leader in the ultra-liberal California-Pacific Annual Conference. Despite Africans constituting more than 42 percent of all United Methodists, they compose only three percent of the GBCS board with just two members. In their meetings last week, the board declined the opportunity to do justice to their African brothers and sisters in Christ by increasing their representation.

Bishop Sally Dyck, President of the Executive Committee, announced that the full transcript of the proposed new language for the Social Principles would not be made public until it is translated into all of the UMC’s official languages, a task she expects to be completed around July. A working draft that does not include the section on human sexuality that was released by GBCS in April 2018 can be viewed here.

Regardless of all the good work the GBCS may have done to make the Social Principles overall more clear, concise, or biblically grounded, the document born of this “mammoth task” of 7 years, as Miller described it, may be doomed and dead on arrival come General Conference 2020. With the passage of the Traditional Plan in St. Louis, the global orthodox majority is unlikely to support amending the Social Principles with compromised language similar to the so-called One Church Plan.

  1. Comment by Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary on May 1, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    The GBSC is another example of an unelected, unaccountable, bureaucratic agency – one tail of several on the dog – seeking to wag the dog – namely, the whole UMC, where the laity vastly outnumber both clergy and bureaucrats.

  2. Comment by William on May 1, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    Exactly. A petition must be brought before the 2020 General Conference to ABOLISH this board and rid the church of this nonsense and blemish. This is just one example of several of these boards and agencies, hijacked by liberals, that operate virtually independent of the church, do little or nothing to carry out the mission of the church, have little or no connection or relationship with the local church, are mostly inaccessible and unresponsive, are vastly unknown by the laity and most clergy of the church, and hold these endless, money wasting secretive meetings in order to look busy and important while stroking each others’ inflated egos, relishing in their titles, and strutting their church hierarchical status while pressing their mostly self designed agendas — too often secular looking agendas at odds with official church and Christianity.

    This all reminds of another task ahead for the church —- a house cleaning and a restructuring of the general church so as to reestablish it as a Christian witness again, and to make it known, open and transparent to its members so they know where their apportionments are going and for what.

  3. Comment by Wayne on May 1, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Bingo! Perfect description. The GBCS is pro-abortion, anti-israel and pro-LGBT.

  4. Comment by Jim on May 1, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Must be the Democratic Party!

  5. Comment by Joe E. Sherrill on May 18, 2019 at 10:48 am

    It is that!

  6. Comment by Bruce on May 12, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    And with only two Africans on the board, maybe racist too?

  7. Comment by Robert P Fulton on May 1, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Yes , It is DOA. I will not be approved. This is just another attempt to shove an agenda down the people’s throat that is not supported by the people who support the church with their tithes and offerings.

  8. Comment by David F Miller on May 1, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Why do we need the GBSC? It is a bloated bureaucracy that no longer reflects the church or historic Christianity.

  9. Comment by Pat on May 1, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    One of a number of attempts and strategies the progressives will try once again to rebuke the Traditional Plan regarding marriage in the book of discipline at the 2020 General Conference. The conservatives have to remain alert and on guard to quickly recognize all that will be attempted at the 2020 General Conference. Conservatives must remain faithful and engaged until the last vote, the last attempt is made to destroy the Methodist Church of John Wesley. I was raised in the Methodist church many years ago and to observe the changes and moving away from all the Bible says has just broken my heart. I judge no one with their personal beliefs as each person’s relationship with Jesus is just that personal. But, I believe all of the Bible including those verses that confront me with my own sin. May the Lord help all of us to focus on Christ and what His word says, not what we think.

  10. Comment by Olin Edwards on May 3, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    Amen…and Amen!

  11. Comment by David on May 1, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Marriage and divorce are legal matters of government and not religion. Churches may have ceremonies if they wish, but none are valid without the permission of the state. Churches may restrict their rites to members, persons of certain races, or whatever other criteria they wish. In many countries, it is customary to have the legal civil ceremony followed by an optional religious ceremony.

    “A an institution, Christianity remained overwhelmingly ambivalent about most forms of heterosexual marriage during the first millennium of its existence. This is hardly surprising for a religion whose founder was supposed to have no biological father, whose parents were not married at the time of His conception, who was believed to have no siblings, who Himself never married, and whose followers—in direct opposition to those of Judaism and most pagan religions—considered celibacy the most virtuous lifestyle.”—John Boswell

  12. Comment by Laura on May 1, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Would you please provide context for that statement from Boswell? He was a much-respected, brilliant man and a devout Roman Catholic who also was gay. I have never seen a statement such as this one attributed to him. Where did it come from? Thanks!

  13. Comment by David on May 3, 2019 at 9:02 am

    Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, p. 111.

  14. Comment by Jeff on May 1, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    David, Boswell’s work has been seriously undercut by historians over the years since publication. He drew conclusions not supported by the evidence, and most importantly, neglected to take into account that institutions such as the Church rarely make a teaching crystal clear until a situation demands it, such as a challenge to accepted teaching/practice.

  15. Comment by David on May 1, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Boswell implied that a mysterious same sex male union ceremony was the same as modern same sex marriage. I do not think he made the case for that, though his history of western marriage is well documented.

  16. Comment by Elisabeth Staton on July 27, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Boswell has been completely debunked, see particularly numerous articles in First Things magazine. Characterising him as devout is incorrect.

  17. Comment by td on May 1, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Why would they write a social principles document that contradicts both 2000 years of christian belief and also contradicts 40 years of consistent umc decision making by the umc?

  18. Comment by William on May 1, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    They have had their cake and have been eating it also for far, far too long. While funded by the deceived and ignored church donors(the cake), they have used their unaccountable positions to push their own mostly liberal agendas (eating of the cake). They have become so accustomed to this arrangement that they have come to believe they are entitled to it without question and completely protected from oversight. It is way past time for this to end. Like I said, future General Conferences will be compelled to bring this to an end.

  19. Comment by Kay Hawks on May 1, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Why are we wasting money on this and other agencies? It is unnecessary.

  20. Comment by Tracy on May 1, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Where are the salaries of each member of this board listed? I would be very interested in knowing the budget and the money that is wasted instead of doing real mission work. They don’t represent the majority of the membership of the Methodist church. When we split and restructure, we need to ensure that these boards go with the progressives. I have no wish to further have ministry funds used for this liberal board agenda. And that is what it is, a very liberal agenda. We must not be silent and trust that the leadership and administrative boards that have been appointed are truly following our Methodist discipline and vision. Follow the Methodist news daily, believe me they are going to pull out all stops to topple the UMC as we know it and try to turn it into a liberal “church” that want to follow society’s lead and let society dictate what the church should follow. We need to separate sooner rather than later.

  21. Comment by David on May 1, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    The MEC/UMC was a liberal church for many years. Bible literalism and anti evolutionism were not favored in the north while workers’ rights and reproductive rights were. As the membership shifts south, we see these policies being reversed. Given all the prayers for discernment at GCs, it seems heaven is sending rather mixed messages.

  22. Comment by John Smith on May 8, 2019 at 6:20 am

    The boards would gladly go if you let them go with all the trust funds and bequests they’ve accumulated since the early 19th century.

  23. Comment by Rick Detjen on May 1, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    Lets see…the US voting contingent for the 2020 Gen Conf has been reduced by 19 delegates, while the African contingent has been increased by 19 delegates. Add to that the additional Western European and Philippines votes.
    Want to waste more liberal dollars with another vote? Good luck!

  24. Comment by Paul W. on May 2, 2019 at 12:26 am

    Not the least bit surprised by this. GBCS is a rogue apostate agency.

    They’ve done an overall horrible job on the rewrite so far, so why would we expect this to be any different. Seriously, their first draft included fake John Wesley quotes and the scriptural support provided for their positions often seemed to be written by seminary dropouts who knew little about the Bible and cared even less about context. I’m not joking; I’m convinced our youth group could have done a far better job than GBCS has! In a healthy organization, most of the folks on the task force would have been terminated.

  25. Comment by Roger on May 3, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Traditionalists are going to have a hard fight again at GC2020. Delegates will be voted on at Annual Conferences very soon and through the Summer to attend the GC2020 meeting. We need a strong strategy to combat the Progressives again. We cannot let our guard down yet.

  26. Comment by Loren Golden on May 3, 2019 at 10:21 pm

    Does United Methodist polity allow for the General Conference to dismiss the current board and call for new elections to fill the vacancies?  Or failing that, could the General Conference vote to defund the insurrectionist board?

  27. Comment by td on May 6, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    I have no idea. But I assume that General Conference does not have any authority except while it is in session every four years or in special session. I am not sure it has any authority to call itself into special session when it is out of session. It may not even have the authority while it is in session to remove a board member. The only authorities that I would assume that they have is to abolish the Board or to defund it.

  28. Comment by John Smith on May 8, 2019 at 6:17 am

    Defunding of boards and societies is complex. Much of their money comes from trusts and bequests that are not fully tied to the GC. I remember something from a few years back on how the Temperance fund was repurposed by one of the boards but a major reason that was successful was no one fought it. I can’t see any board or society not fighting tooth and nail for every red cent to counter the heinous and cruel decision of the GC.

  29. Comment by Loren Golden on May 12, 2019 at 12:52 am

    How, under UM polity, are these trusts and bequests apportioned?  Do any of them name the GBCS specifically as beneficiaries?  If not, is there GC oversight intended to prevent the misuse and abuse of the funds toward causes that would be deemed reprehensible to the donors?

  30. Comment by John Smith on May 13, 2019 at 6:12 am

    The GC exercises very little oversight of anything. The time is too short and the number of issues too great. Throw away the time wasted on COB approved political stunts, procedural games designed to run out the clock, etc you get the idea. If there is any oversight it is exercised by the COB and occasionally the GC in its selection of agency heads and board members. This is one reason why they run an independent fiefdoms that routinely criticize the GC and the UMC in general.

  31. Comment by John Smith on May 8, 2019 at 6:14 am

    There are but humble servants of God striving valiantly to correct the errors of the naive, superstitious, uneducated fools who went of the rails at the GC. The worst part is they actually do believe this is a true self portrait.

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