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#GC2019 Primer no. 4

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.

Click here to read the previous entries in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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. 


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#GC2019 Primer no. 3

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).

Read earlier installments here: Primer no. 1, Primer no. 2

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"?


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