This is the fourth in a multi-week series to help us be informed about -- and prepared for -- the Special Session of the General Conference (aka #GC2019) to be held February 23-26, 2019 in Saint Louis, MO.
Those initial installments have (or at least link to) all the background information about how the United Methodist Church found itself in the position of needing the Commission on a Way Forward and #GC2019.
This week I want to focus on two topics:
- a fourth plan, which I personally believe to be the best option;
- a way in which the Northern Illinois Annual Conference (that's our Annual Conference!) is leading the denomination.
Last week (in Primer No. 3), we took a closer look at the most important aspects of the three main proposals for A Way Forward. Now let's look at The Simple Plan and why it is the best option for all of us. The Simple Plan truly lives up to its name. As the Rev. Jeremy Smith writes in his excellent post:
This proposal requires neither constitutional amendments nor hundreds of pages of technical translations. The Simple Plan proposes to “simply” remove the language from the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation in the church. It is the shortest legislation of the four plans.
The first rule in the Wesley tradition is "do no harm." The Simple Plan excises the incredibly harmful, exclusionary language first added to the Book of Discipline in 1972. This plan removes the wording that prevents LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the life of the church. However -- and this is huge -- it does not add any affirming language. While I believe that we need to take that next step further and fully affirm all LGBTQ+ people for full inclusion in civil and church life, I am all too well aware that many others in the UMC are not there yet. The Simple Plan does not force any pastor or congregation or Annual Conference to accept anyone. It simply removes the institutional system of harm that LGBTQ+ experienced for over 40 years.
Again, Rev. Smith puts it well:
"the Simple Plan seeks to include both the silent service of LGBTQ clergy and the outspoken Traditionalist pastorswho are unwilling to affirm LGBTQ inclusion. By removing the restrictive language and not adding in affirming language, the Simple Plan allows the Discipline to be followed by progressives and conservatives alike. When all clergy candidates are asked:
Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
Do you approve our Church government and polity?
Will you support and maintain them?”
Since there is nothing excluding or explicitly including LGBTQ persons, then both sides can say yes with integrity."
The Simple Plan would not create full justice for LGBTQ+ people. We cannot stop seeking that justice. However, given all the present acrimony, finding a solution that maintains everyone's integrity seems to me to be the very best solution available to us. Plus, the Simple Plan puts an end to the ridiculous, harmful, expensive, terrible, awful church trials of clergy who celebrate same-sex weddings or are themselves not straight and cis-gender.
As the main focus of the "Traditionalist" Plan is to increase such punishments and trials, I'm sure the Simple Plan will have a very tough time getting passed. But we must try.
Alright, this post seems long enough as it is and with plenty of homework further reading available through the links, so...I will put the good news about our NIC in a future post. If you want to read ahead, here's a post from the Northern Illinois Conference Board of Pensions about the impact of the "Traditionalist" Plan.
What questions does this raise for you? Leave them in a comment below -- or email me directly -- and I'll do my best to address them in a future post.