Connectional Table Proposes Dramatic Change

By Walter Fenton –

The Connectional Table voted 26 to 10 (there was one abstention) to forward a petition to General Conference 2016 that would dramatically change The United Methodist Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

The proposal, called a “A Third Way,” would change the definition of marriage to include “two people,” allow United Methodist pastors the freedom to preside at same-sex weddings, and it would give annual conferences the right to ordain openly gay candidates for ministry. Advocates described it as a plan that would move the church past its decades-old impasse over the issue of homosexuality.

The 58-member Connectional Table (CT) essentially serves as the church’s general administrative council. The body is charged with implementing the vision and ministries of the UM Church as set forth by the quadrennial meetings of General Conference. Twelve bishops currently serve on the CT with voice and vote. The secretaries of the church’s general boards and agencies and the president of the publishing house also serve on the CT, but they do not vote on matters before the Table.

The Rev. Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

The Rev. Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

The Rev. Kenneatha Bigham-Tsai, chairperson of a sub-committee charged with vetting proposals, explained why her team settled on “A Third Way.” “We believe,” she said, “this proposal will keep everyone at the table, allows for the exercise of conscience, better provides for the inclusion of LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and best maintains the unity of the church.”

Among other changes proposed to the UM Church’s Book of Discipline, its governing document, the plan would now refer to “two people who are married” (emphasis added), but also state that “We believe that God’s blessing rest upon such a marriage, which is traditionally between one man and one woman.” It would add the word “historically” to a key section of the BOD. Currently the UM Church says it “does not condone the practice of homosexuality.” Under the “Third Way” proposal it would now read, “The United Methodist Church historically has not condoned the practice of homosexuality” (emphasis added).

“We are disappointed in this vote, but we are not surprised by it,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News. “While I appreciate the CT’s role, this group is not a good representation of the church as a whole. For instance, I find it disturbing that of the 12 bishops serving on the CT, not one of them is from Africa, even though Africans, at the end of 2013, comprised over 40 percent of the church’s members. The CT also does not reflect the strength of conservative-evangelicals in the US church.”

The CT’s proposal will now go before the UM Church’s General Conference that will meet in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20, 2016. The petition, in one form or another, will come before 864 delegates charged with establishing church teaching on such matters.

In an impromptu move, the CT members voted to allow observers from Love Prevails and Good News (myself included) to speak briefly to the “Third Way” proposal.

The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice-president for Good News, said he did not think the proposal would accomplish its intended goal. “I think this plan will just localize the debate and create even more conflict. There will be pastors that will want to preside at same-sex weddings serving with congregations that don’t want the pastor to preside, and vice-versa. There will be bishops that want to ordain openly gay clergy, but annual conferences that will not approve of such a move, and vice versa. And in those ‘middle of the road’ annual conferences, the debate could go back and forth for years.”

The Rev. Amy DeLong, spokeswoman for Love Prevails, compared the plan to the U.S.’s creation of reservations for Native-Americans and “separate, but equal” laws for African Americans. “When you vote for this proposal,” she told CT members, “you are comfortable with a continuing level of oppression of people like me.”

The CT’s “A Third Way” is very similar to a proposal championed by the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter called “A Way Forward.” Both plans can be implemented without constitutional amendments, and both attempt to localize decisions within annual conferences and local churches. The plans are similar to previous petitions that have come before General Conferences, but have failed to gain the support of a majority of the delegates.

“Progressives will get much of what they want, while traditionalists will be expected to live with a church that promotes what they believe to be contrary to God’s will,” said Renfroe. “We also know that these issues will be brought up year after year in our annual conferences until the progressives win. This is not a compromise. This is a strategy for progressives to one day control the church.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.


  1. William T says

    Did our Lord and Savior say a man and a woman or two people, Connectional Table? By what authority do you challenge Jesus?

    • William Jesus never addresses the subject of same sex relationships.

      • William T says

        Please read Matthew 19 and Mark 10 for the Christian definition of marriage. So, if God created marriage as that between a man and a woman, as affirmed by Jesus in his discourse on divorce, then that is the only way for two people to become ‘one flesh’ in God’s eye. And, the left continues to make this argument — but Matthew 15:19-20 begs to differ. By using simple reason, it would be unreasonable to conclude that the practice of homosexuality would somehow have been excluded from the reference Jesus made to sexual immorality. He even separated adultery and sexual immorality for emphasis. So, that argument holds no water.

        • That is where we differ William. I will not debate this issue, I have spent many hours researching scripture, looking at both sides of this debate and praying for the direction of the Holy Spirit. I think we have to be very careful in making statements that fuel the fire of discord rather than unity. This is more than just a sexual issue in the church. Society is watching the church as a whole to see how we handle this issue within the family of God. I think we can both agree that there needs to be a spirit of compassion no matter what “side” of the fence you stand. Jesus made a stand without being rude and never stopped reaching out to the untouchables or society. We have not done a good job with this when it comes to this sect. I’m not asking you to agree with me, Im simply asking you to draw that line in the sand with the same compassion that Jesus did because the world is watching us. We must be careful about the dialog between each other. I will continue to pray for the the Church and for the leaders to be lead by God on every issue placed before them.

          • I am more concerned that God is watching than that the world is watching. It still amazes me that we continue this debate since 1972. I for one will not continue my support for the UMC in anyway if it deserts the stand that Scripture and the Book of Discipline presents. The church is weakened when it is more concerned about what the world thinks than what God thinks. In this case, all that I have read on this issue has yet to convince me that truth is in favor of changing that which has always been truth to the church.

          • At John 5:46, Jesus validates the things Moses wrote when he said:

            For had ye believed Moses, you would believe me: for he wrote of me.

            The Perfect One, acknowledging and validating what Moses wrote. (Yes, Moses learned to write when he was raised in Pharaoh’s household)

      • Moreover, Kristy, if you believe Jesus and the Father are One (John 10:30) and that all Scripture comes from God, then if God said it so did Jesus, and vice versa. So every statement about homosexual relationships in the Bible comes from God, which is the same thing as saying it comes from Jesus.


  2. Harold Reynolds says

    it is my opinion that to ordain an openly gay per is totally against the Bible teachings I have read all my adult life. I am no a member of a UMC church as I am a Southern Baptist by choice. I was attending a Methodist Church in 1959 at a Spring re via where I met Jesus. I have a goodly number of my family that are members of a UMC. I trust you all will do a lot of praying before you think about adopting a policy to ordain gay pastors.

  3. Sandy Ferguson says

    I am sorry to see this happen. Not because i don’t love my brothers and sisters who disagree with me, but because I do love them. I love them enough to speak of hope and transformation and true love in Christ Jesus.
    I believe this controversy is not the real issue, that what is at the root of this mess is much more serious. I believe that the REAL issue is: WHO do we as United Methodists, as Christ-followers, see GOD to be: Is God the Lord, the creator, sustainer, the redeemer? Is God Holy, Just, Reliable?
    Is God’s Word, the Bible, the infallible Word of God? Does our Scripture contain everything necessary for salvation and holy Christ-like living? Or have we become Genesis 11 people who are proud, thinking we can build our tower of self-righteousness and self-determination to the heavens and become god?
    Do we believe that God’s Son came to earth to show humankind the full extent of God’s love? If we believe that Jesus is one with God the Father, and that God affirmed Jesus as His beloved Son with power to do the miracles that were recorded in the Bible and are still happening today in His Name, then why do we doubt Jesus’ ability to heal and forgive and restore today? Did he not heal people who were born blind? Did He not heal and bring back from the dead and cast demons, and cure the lepers? Did He not forgive the sinners, and offer them God’s grace, mercy, and love? Why do we settle for less than God’s best for our lives by aligning our lives with lies, instead of becoming more and more like God’s Son as we walk with Him and are guided, not by our flesh, or by the world’s standards, but by the Word of God?
    Do we believe that the Holy Spirit is active in our world today? Did Jesus promise that we would have the Holy Spirit, to counsel, correct, teach, comfort, proclaim justice, helps us worship, leads in truth, remind us of Jesus’ teachings, gives gifts and talents, discernment, wisdom, seals the relationship with God through Christ, intercedes for our spirit, sanctifies and more?
    Will we stand on the foundation of Jesus Christ or not? This is the issue.
    Do we believe that Jesus is not coming back to judge us all, each and every one of us?
    Let us be very careful how we treat all the issues if holiness, lest we blaspheme the Spirit or find ourselves like Ananias and Sapphira.
    Satan is our enemy! (We fight not against flesh and blood.) And he has been working overtime these past 2000+ years trying to destroy Christ’s church. Those church’s that are built and founded on Jesus Christ alone will stand. those that are not, will fall. Where will we find ourselves?
    2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

  4. Susan Wet says

    I don’t have to quote scripture that proves all this is very wrong. These people know their Bible. They are supposed to be bringing the Good News; the true Word of God to the world. Instead they have let the world infiltrate the church. Woe to these leaders on judgement day. They will not be hearing “Well done My good and faithful servant.”

  5. Steve Zinser says

    This CT proposal is not a “Third Way”. It actually is “Our Way or the Highway”.

    A true third way allows for a division of the church into folks going different ways on this subject of homosexual marriage. Let them cooperate on a few organizational concerns like pensions and health benefits at a denomination-wide level. The heart of a 3rd way isn’t just sleight of hand tricking or coercing one side to capitulate under the banner of compromise. It is a former conference afterwards being 2 conferences, formerly with one bishop now having 2 separate bishops. There will be separate agencies, boards, finances…everything… and local churches choosing which direction they will go.

  6. It’s a shame to say this, but so many of our UMC leaders simply have been deceived by Satan.

  7. Steve Salis says

    Whatever happened to sin? You cannot condone or ordain that which is detestable in God’s sight!
    Lev 18:22 “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Then in Lev 18:29 “Everyone who does any of these detestable things – such persons must be cut off from their people.” To emphasize the point, in Lev 20:13, the punishment for having gay sex is stated as death. Ok, so what changes in the new testament? Christian doctrine tells us that Christ died for our sins. He stands in our place in judgment. 1 Timothy 1:9-11, homosexuality is listed as a direct sin against God, confirming the Levitical law. In Romans 1 – 18:32, Paul outlines the depravity of sin in the world and specifically includes homosexuality and lesbianism in the definition of depravity and wickedness. So, it would be pretty difficult for anyone to say that scripture finds homosexuality as acceptable. Jesus dispelled the letter of the law adherence to many similar rules when challenged by the Pharisees in his day. No where though does he ever accept our sinfulness, but rather he admonishes us to repentance and justification through his blood to the Father. If you need a reference, his work with Mary Magdalene, his saving of the woman caught in adultery and his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. In each case, he shows grace, provides hope and forgiveness through love and tells them to sin no more. That is the example that we need to strive for. Accepting gay unions or condoning homosexuality violates scripture. The culture may do so, but we as Christians had better not go down that road.

    • Steve Salis says

      My statement is what it is. If moderated (whatever that means) you will have violated your pretense to free speech and free exchange of ideas.

  8. Sandy Ferguson above is absolutely right that the real issue is not same sex marriage but about a lack of consensus when it comes to who God is and who we are. It is also disagreement when it comes to the role General Conference and the Book of Discipline plays in the life of the church. Settling for a false façade of unity will not address these deeper issues.

    Not to mention that what seems so clear cut in the upper echelons will become a mess at the local level. Here in South Texas, because of the presence of a liberal urban area, I have no doubt that the conference would be pro same sex union but only by a simple majority. Within my local community, it would be a completely different picture. Not to mention that members of the local church have no clue they might have to make this decision. A local ECLA church had a melt down over this very issue and it was not pretty. The very majority conservatives held on to the property and changed their denominational affiliation. The very minority progressives/liberals formed a new church affiliated with the ECLA; and several years down the road have not gained any traction within the community.

  9. Jay Westfall says

    We Wesleyans believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. This is a waste of time. It will never pass, and the “leadership” of the Methodist Church has detached itself from laity.

  10. i believe, if this is actually passed every church, in opposition, should immediately cease paying apportionments. From that, they can continue to pay their pastor and come up with a way to provide him/her with insurance. When the hierarchy comes knocking on the door, it will be time for members to occupy the church property and refuse to leave even though it may result in arrest. What did Jesus tell us? Didn’t He say we would have to suffer in His Name? If we’re not willing to suffer, we have no right to expect Him to say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

  11. Ian McDonald says

    Unfortunately I have seen this coming from following Good News. Slowly but surely the authority of scripture has been being eroded away since Good News was started. The leadership of the UMC has replaced the Bible as its foundation for faith and truth with a Gnosticism of its own. I was taught that the quadrilateral could be viewed in two ways concerning scripture Apparently in the quadrilateral of the current UMC, scripture is neither the base upon which reason, experience and tradition are built upon, nor is scripture overall the top authority over, experience, reason and tradition. It seems that reason overall is the new quadrilateral foundation or ultimate authority for the quadrilateral. The leadership of the UMC has failed to heed the warnings from the Old Testament, when the Israelites entered the promised land and compromised with the culture they failed to be what God wanted them to be and it cost them dearly. We are supposed to be making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and not letting the world transform the disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the church.
    The Rev. Amy DeLong said at the meeting When you vote for this proposal, “you are comfortable with a continuing level of oppression of people like me.” Apparently Jesus words in Matthew 19:4-6 Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” are not applicable to her or anyone else who wants to push this agenda.
    I really wonder after 40 years of this debate is there any hope for us to stay together as a denomination or is a split inevitable as the wheat is separated from the chaff.

  12. This action is a calculated strategy to gain control of The U.M.Church. These Leaders of the Connectional Table are hoping that the majority of the Laity will not know about this maneuver or proposal and that it can be passed at GC 2016. It is like “you must pass it to know what is in it”, politics of the Church. The vote shows one the strength that the Leadership group has 26 to 10, which is a 72% majority on the Table for it. Should this pass GC 2016, the current Local Churches will change dramatically or cease to exist and funding by apportionment would diminish dramatically.

  13. I’m praying

  14. My loyal Methodist dad must be spinning in his grave.

    For us, scripture teaching is so clearly against homosexual activity, and teaches no such thing as gay marriage, that we have left the UMC for another sounder Wesleyan Church.

    The UMC is not the only Methodist game in town. Time for it to either return to the Bible or close its doors.

  15. Janis Buhl says

    As a lay leader of my church, the First United Methodist Church in Cambridge City, I feel it necessary to speak against this decision. Why do we as a people today feel we can change what the Bible says.? We cannot add to or take away from the Word. Please reconsider your decision. We have gays in our church, but we do not put them in a place of responsibility for teaching, as we love the persons, but not the deed of homosexuality. This decision will only cause problems between the people of the congregation. When this has happened in other churches in our area, some have started a new church in order to worship as they believe. I feel this can happen to ours also,I pray you will reconsider your decision. Apparently you were in on making the decision, so would you please send me the information which you left off this message {…} I can’t get to it.


  1. […] Today, the Connectional Table of the UMC voted to put forward a proposal to the General Conference, a “Third Way” to move us beyond the impasse in our church regarding homosexuality.   The Rev. Kenneatha Bigham-Tsai, chairperson of one of the subcommittees proposing this “third way”  had this to say about how they came to their decision: […]

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