Cindy McClendon explains: how did United Methodists' sexuality conflicts escalated to this point?

Cindy McClendon: How Did United Methodists Get to This Place?

Methodist Voices on January 18, 2022

Cindy McClendon has an M.Ed. in Guidance & Counseling and is a retired School Counselor. She is a pastor’s wife and mother of two United Methodist elders. She is the secretary for the South Carolina chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and is an Intercessory prayer leader.

UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational and/or social concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.

In 1972 due to the liberal influences of the time, the delegates to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference felt the need to pass legislation that would state that we stand on Biblical principles regarding the practice of homosexuality. It has been included in our Book of Discipline ever since. However, through the years the battle has been ongoing.

General Conference 1996 in Denver was the first time that Bishops openly declared their defiance of the Book of Discipline they had committed to uphold at their consecration. Fifteen Bishops broke ranks with the Book of Discipline (BOD) and the Council of Bishops (COB). Plenty of clergy, mostly in the US and Europe, had already broken their vows to uphold the BOD. Gay rights groups somehow found out where every delegate was staying in Denver, and put doormats at their hotel rooms that said, “We’ll open the door for you, if you’ll open the door for us.” Well, the vote didn’t go their way by a 65-35% margin, so they barred the exits at the convention center, and, finally, when the delegates were able to push through, they were indiscriminately slapped and spit upon.

In 2000, General Conference was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Once again there were those who opposed the historic stance of the Church, the one throughout Christendom’s history. More Bishops were openly on the side of the protesters, as were many delegates, but once again their efforts failed. There was even a young woman who climbed on a ledge right over where the South Carolina delegation was sitting, saying she would throw herself down as a protest against where our denomination stood. Wisely, Bishop Solomon, appropriately named, said for everyone to keep their heads down and pray. The woman was rescued and hundreds were arrested as they stormed the convention hall.

At the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh protesters were emboldened to ratchet things up. The presiding Bishop, as if on cue, heard a drum beat and said, “We have guests among us.” The pro-gay protesters marched in and harassed the delegates taking up time for about $20,000 a minute, and did the unthinkable when they went by the stage. One of them picked up the pottery communion chalice, and threw it crashing and broken to the floor. Once again those who wanted to change our BOD were voted down, but there were more delegates and Bishops who stood with them in protest, and, once again, these are the same people who promised in their ordination, consecration, and membership vows to uphold our beliefs.

In 2008 tactics changed at the General Conference in Fort Worth. The more liberal side tried to come at the presenting problem from a subtle, and devious angle. Thirty-two Constitutional Amendments were proposed that would allow each geographic section of the church to write its own Book of Discipline, supposedly based on each region’s particular missional needs. It was, in reality, a way to defeat the traditional side of the church with a “live and let live” take on human sexuality. Various conferences would no longer be called Jurisdictional (in the US) or Central Conferences (outside the US), but were to be renamed as “Regional Conferences” everywhere in the Book of Discipline. It was a way to try and promote the One Church Plan years before the Special Session of 2019 by promoting supposed missions at the expense of connectionalism and unity.

The Judicial Council was asked for a ruling on one of the proposed amendments as a test to clarify what would happen if it was passed: “Would it give every region the latitude to change its particular stance on human sexuality, and, therefore, most everything else?” The Judicial Council came back and said, “Yes.” Nevertheless, the shift toward loosening our prohibitions had gained traction, so the amendments passed GC by the requisite 67%, and were sent back to the annual conferences for ratification where they were soundly defeated approximately 75% to 25%, pretty much the exact opposite of General Conference. By then, people figured out that the whole effort to regionalize the church was little more than a ploy for the church’s left-wing to get its way. Thank God for Bible-believing folks in annual conferences who could see through the efforts to regionalize our standards for ordination and marriage!

In 2012, at General Conference in Tampa there was a two-pronged approach to loosen our stance on homosexuality. One effort was from the Council of Bishops to have a set-aside Bishop to supposedly keep wayward Bishops in check. That effort failed because many felt that the main purpose of a set-aside Bishop was to increase the power of the Council of Bishops, so they could do what they wanted to do. They also worked to stop “Plan UMC,” an effort that was led by conservatives who wanted to rein in the church’s General Agencies. The agencies of the denomination historically are a place where liberals outnumber conservatives, and push a pro-homosexual ordination and marriage agenda. Plan UMC passed in Tampa, but was shot down at the last minute by the Judicial Council. However, because the issue was pressed, every agency except the Board of Church and Society willingly reduced their numbers of directors. Accountability was somewhat regained, and church law still dictated that no local church monies could be spent by any general church agency to promote the acceptance of homosexuality as compatible with Christian teaching.

Then at the Portland General Conference in 2016 protests ramped up, more liberal delegates and Bishops were elected, including Karen Oliveto who is a married lesbian in direct contradiction to our BOD. Most delegates were ready to once again vote the same way they had since 1972 against condoning the practice of homosexuality, but a semi-compromise was struck to create a Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) to craft legislation for a special session of General Conference to be held in 2019. The Commission was stacked with liberals and over-represented “Progressive” bishops. Some United Methodists have lately begun calling themselves “Centrists” and advocated everyone compromising their values for the sake of unity, as if unity is more important than Christian teaching. You either uphold the Bible and the Discipline, or you don’t.

The Commission gave their report in St. Louis at the called special session of General Conference in February of 2019, and they presented their preferred legislation called the “One Church Plan.” This plan allowed various groups and churches to choose to do what they wanted, and we would still be called “United” Methodists? Thankfully, GC 2019 upheld historic Christianity, albeit a close vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. If approximately 31 more persons from a more-orthodox Africa had been given their visas, the Traditional Plan may have been approved by as much as 58 percent to 42 percent. When it became apparent that the liberals were going to run out the clock by making multiple amendments to the Traditional Plan, the Lord made a way for a conservative delegate to call for the vote and the Traditional Plan passed.

In this brief synopsis, one sees the progression of things from small disobediences to larger ones. Covenants and vows have been cast aside so it makes a person wonder, “Can we live together?” There are Bishops, annual conferences, Boards of Ordained Ministry, and others who are still disregarding what we have voted in favor of since 1972.

We need to be in prayer for General Conference 2022 and for all the delegates who will be a part of it. May the Lord give them wisdom and discernment in what He would have them do.

  1. Comment by Roger on January 18, 2022 at 5:02 pm

    Thank You for this summary of the GC’s in the past. Accountability is the key element that is missing in our Methodist Church. Because of a nail, a shoe was lost, because a shoe was lost, a horse was lost, because a horse was lost, a rider was lost, and then the message was lost. Our Church is far from delivering the Gospel message to the congregants and outside world. Recent news indicated that Asbury Graduates would not be accepted as inclusive of the Methodist Church.
    Legal action has been brought against a Methodist Church in Marietta. Defiant delegates have acted in contempt of conservative delegates in the past. The Publishing House of the Church has been sold or is in the process. Incrementally the Church is about lost, of any worthy pursuit of professions of Faith. Many members are awaiting the outcome of the GC2022, to see if they will stay or move. A divided House can not stand, therefore a clean separation is required.

  2. Comment by Anthony on January 18, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you for a succinct history of our conflict at the General Conference level. I plead guilty for failing to keep up with General Conference over all those earlier General Conferences. Like most lay people leading busy lives, we trusted our leaders who, as it turned out, egregiously betrayed us. 20/20 hindsight reveals that these earlier General Conferences should have taken aggressive steps resulting in real accountability and dismissal from the church those leaders in defiance of church law – constitutional amendments – that the Judicial Council could not have touched. Of course the liberal elite saw a green light and took full and complete advantage of these timid General Conferences, thus seizing control of the church hierarchy through outright defiance, intimidation, and bullying. So, here we are in schism.

  3. Comment by Tom on January 18, 2022 at 5:28 pm

    Again, I am in the PCA, and we are apparently just beginning to head down this road. Thank you for letting us see where exactly it leads.

  4. Comment by Reynolds on January 18, 2022 at 6:37 pm


    You have the one preacher out of Missouri. You do not have the trust clause. Why not just kick out the preacher and if the church gets mad, they can vote to leave. I understand some churches left because creation issue and started Vanguard. The issue here is who gets the property in UMC. You have a mechanism to get rid of wayward churches

  5. Comment by Anna Jimison on January 19, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    Thank you for this over view of the GC over the years. I had heard much of this, but only heard the progressive side for the special called session. I appreciate and pray for all who stand on YHWH’s Holy Word and uphold it to the fullest.

  6. Comment by Tom on January 19, 2022 at 5:16 pm

    Reynolds, thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately, kicking him out is a lot easier said than done. His presbytery (local area of churches, similar to a conference) exonerated him. So we now have the whole Missouri Presbytery to deal with. AND the Standing Judicial Commission (sort of like a Supreme Court) just said that Missouri Presbytery was right in everything that they did. So we are up a creek according to our own polity.

    General Assembly did pass two changes to the Book of Church Order that would officially make “gay Christians” ineligible for office in the PCA. But, again, by our procedures, those changes now have to be ratified by 2/3 of the presbyteries–and it is very disconcertingly close–and then passed again by the General Assembly next year.

    If all this sounds needlessly complex, well welcome to the presbyterian form of government. Our hope is in the Lord, needless to say; and we are praying that He moves the remaining presbyteries to vote in favor of the changes to the BCO. We should know fairly soon. If they pass, then on to the General Assembly in June. And if it passes again there, THEN we have the tools to discipline our wayward pastor.

  7. Comment by Dr. Lee D. Cary on January 21, 2022 at 10:22 am

    “General Conference 1996 in Denver was the first time that Bishops openly declared their defiance of the Book of Discipline they had committed to uphold at their consecration.”

    And so began the dissolution of the UMC

    If you violate the oath you take when entering the military, you get discharged. Sometimes dishonorably so. In the UMC a Bishop who defies the Book of Discipline and their oath of office becomes a Social Justice Warrior and a hero of Progressives.

    That which Progressive cannot bend to their will, they aim to destroy. Hence, the UMC today is the walking dead.

  8. Comment by JR on January 22, 2022 at 12:51 am

    I once had a PCUSA minister tell me that once church polity had been decided that it was no longer up for debate. My response was, hadn’t Christian polity been decided by God thousands of years ago, so why then was it acceptable for so called Christian denominations to challenge that? His response was that I didn’t have the right temperament to be an Elder. Naturally, my wife and I left that church, as did a great many other members. Not because my wife and I left, but because of the direction of the denomination. The result was that, that particular church missed its $2 million budget projection by $300,000.00, had to lay off staff, and curtail programing. We found a wonderful ARP church and pray for all of the people both inside of the church and those outside of the church that have been affected by the reductions programing.

  9. Comment by Jeff on January 24, 2022 at 10:42 am

    I have watched many churches lose focus over the preceding 5 decades. Even 50 years ago individual churches failed to adhere to common sense and the true spirit of Christianity. I grew up in Methodism and tried to stay loyal.

    The church leadership failed to realize the danger, and failed to stand against the continuous erosion.

    A waterfall starts with a trickle.

    The narcissistic destructive lefts’ ability to find weakness and destroy good is only surpassed by its devious methodology. Just months after moving away from Lansing Michigan, militants stormed the Mt Hope Church during services and attacked parishioners and the alter, and acted out deviant sexual scenes on the alter. In front of children and adult parishioners.

    Local congregations need to be freed of the larger political fighting of the church hierarchy, and simply leave. But people focused on human society find it hard to stand alone. We like potlucks.

    We forget that our bodies are the Church. The Church is Christ and it’s structure is the Bible, not some buildings and books managed by man and changed by a vote.

    We are being prepared for the harvest. He comes to separate the wheat from the chaff. That likely implies further degradation of society and organizations that are controlled from the top down. Those organizations and the leaders have too much to lose in a face-off with society and the governments that Control their tax free status.

    Congregations can vote with their tithes and their loyalty to an organization held hostage by buildings and and leadership paychecks

    Stay strong, stay merciful, stay in a state of Grace.

  10. Comment by betsy on January 26, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    My1894 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church South contains an appendix titled “An Adress on Worldliness.” In it, church leadership express their fears and concerns that they see the church already drifting from its original “good discipline”; specific lapses in Discipline were cited including those involving laity who are not living up to the vows they made. This moment has been building for generations. There is not a person alive who truly knows what it means to be a member of a truly Methodist Church that comes anywhere close to what was brought into existence by John Wesley.

  11. Comment by Maribeth Buck Kelley on April 3, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    All I can think to say is, “WWJD” but it would be taken that I believe you. I believe we have NO right to judge others. One of many reasons I left the UMC. The judgmental attitude extends to more that Gay’s acceptance. Have you ever taken the time to talk to someone who is a Homosexual? Taken time to understand this is not a choice? I will pray for you!

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