This is the third in a multi-week series to help us be informed about -- and prepared for -- the Special Session of the General Conference to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis (aka #GC2019).
Those first two weeks, I really focused on bringing us up to speed on all the terminology, proceedings, decisions, proclamations, and plans in and around #GC2019. That meant providing a whole lot o' links. I hope you read most of them. If you haven't read at least a few of them, I fear much of what follows won't make much sense. I'll try to limit the homework this time.
We are now just four weeks away from #GC2019. Let's take a little closer look at the three main plans: the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditionalist Plan (which I think is more accurately labeled the "Traditionalist" Plan*).
The one main proposal from the Commission on a Way Forward is the One Church Plan. One Church Plan makes no changes to structure of the UMC, i.e., no new division of the UMC's Annual or Central Conferences. The One Church Plan eliminates all the expensive, embarrassing, and destructive church trials by:
- Removing language stating that “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," without replacing that language with any specific affirmation.
- Neutralizing language in the Social Principles concerning civil marriage so that the UMC globally neither prohibits nor affirms same sex marriage.
- Removing prohibitions against ceremonies celebrating civil unions or same sex marriage.
- Removing prohibition against gay ordination. Rules may be set by Boards of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Session suitable to each Annual Conference.
While this plan does not achieve justice for our LGBTQ+ community, it takes steps in the right direction. I don't know if that is enough. But this plan seems to me to be the most honest about where the global UMC stands now.
The Connectional Conference Plan is...the most complicated one. It completely recreates the structure of the UMC. With this plan, Annual Conferences would be organized around ideology rather than geography.
Each of the three new Connectional Conferences would make their own rules regarding human sexuality, marriage/civil unions, and ordination. A "Traditional" Conference similar to the new "Traditionalist" Plan; a Unifying Conference would be similar to the One Church Plan; and a Progressive Conference would provide full affirmation for ordaining and marrying LGBTQ+.
A sorting process would place Annual Conferences, Local Churches, Bishops, and Clergy into a Connectional Conference that matches their belief. At least this would almost certainly reduce the number of church trials. The three Connectional Conferences would be separate legal entities (501(c)3organizations) but deemed part of one UMC.
Finally, the "Traditionalist" Plan maintains current anti-LGBTQ+ language and practices, while seeking to further punish any and all who violate that language or practice:
- The UMC would continue to proclaim that “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
- The current definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” would be further detailed so as to tighten up enforcement.
- Establishes minimum penalties for pastors to be suspended for one year on first violation and expulsion for a second violation.
This plan wants to make sure that LGBTQ+ are unwelcome and not in any way affirmed by the UMC. There would almost certainly be more church trials with this plan. The plan does allow provisions for those who cannot abide by this cruelty to leave and create their own denomination. Those that did so would maintain a token representation at future General Conferences. But all the land, money, and power would be maintained by the official (and then officially anti-LGBTQ+) UMC.
Once again, my thanks to this excellent comparison of the three plans.
What questions does this raise for you? Leave them in the comments below and I'll address them as much as I am able in a future post
*I concede that, in the strictest sense, maintaining the virulently anti-LGBTQ+ language continues the tradition of the United Methodist Church. However, from the beginning of the Jesus movement, a gender fluid person was baptized and welcomed as a disciple of Christ without hesitation or question (e.g. Acts 8). That scripture is obviously much, much older than the "tradition" of the UMC (and the incident itself even older still), so why isn't welcoming and affirming our tradition? Why does the plan that excludes and cruelly punishes get to claim "tradition"?