What the Bishops Really Did

(l-r) Outgoing COB President Bishop Bruce Ough, incoming COB President Bishop Ken Carter and COB President-designate Bishop Cynthia Harvey address a press conference at the end of the Council of Bishops meeting on May 4,2018. Photo by Mike DuBose.

By Thomas Lambrecht –

Since the Council of Bishops finished their decision-making process on May 4 outlining their proposal for a Way Forward for the church, there has been much confusion. Part of the confusion stems from the careful language used by the bishops in their press release explaining their action. Part of the confusion results from the varying statements and interpretations that individual bishops have released to their annual conferences.

Based on conversations with a number of bishops, I believe that I can answer the most prominent questions that have been asked about what to expect from the bishops’ report and proposal. (Note that this is my interpretation of what I heard and is not in any sense “official” from the bishops.)

What exactly will be in the Council of Bishops’ report and proposal?

As the motion reported in the press release stated, the COB report will contain a recommendation that the General Conference adopt a One Church Plan as proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward. That recommendation will include petitions to change the Book Discipline to remove all language prohibiting same-sex weddings and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. It will also add language protecting those who want to maintain the current understanding of human sexuality and want to continue acting within that understanding.

In addition to the recommendation and proposal for the One Church Plan, the report going to General Conference will also contain a “historical narrative” that will explain the Council’s reasons for their proposal. That material will also contain the two other plans proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward, a Connectional Conference Plan and a Traditionalist Plan. The Connectional Conference Plan would create three theological jurisdictions (one traditionalist, one progressive, and one uniting) that would each operate under different understandings about marriage and sexuality while sharing a common core of doctrine and mission. The Traditionalist Plan would retain the current stance of the church prohibiting same-sex weddings and self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy, enhance accountability to these standards to create uniform enforcement across the church, and provide a gracious exit for those who are unable or unwilling to live within the current boundaries of the Discipline.

Will the two plans not recommended by the bishops include possible legislative changes related to those plans?

The Connectional Conference Plan has been fully developed and contains all the legislation (including constitutional amendments) that would be required to implement that plan. That legislation will be part of the historical narrative and background material in the report. That legislation could be put forward by General Conference delegates as a substitute for the One Church Plan on the conference floor in St. Louis.

The Traditionalist Plan has not been fully developed. The COB asked the Commission to focus its attention on developing the One Church and Connectional Conference Plans coming out of the bishops’ November 2017 meeting. That essentially took the Traditionalist Plan off the table, and it was not developed beyond the initial sketch of the proposal. At its meeting ending May 4, the COB changed its mind and asked the Commission to develop a Traditionalist Plan for inclusion in the report along with the other two plans.

Because the request to develop the Traditionalist Plan came to the Commission just one week before its final meeting, the Commission was unable and perhaps unwilling to further develop the plan. The other two plans received intensive and comprehensive participation from the Commission and the COB over an extended period of time, including consultation with outside legal and financial experts. That same process was unavailable for the Traditionalist Plan because it was reintroduced so late. There are legislative proposals that have been written to implement the Traditionalist Plan, but they have not been extensively vetted by the Commission. It will be up to the executive committee of the Council of Bishops whether to include legislation for the Traditionalist Plan in their report to General Conference.

If Traditionalist legislation is not included in the bishops’ report, does that mean a Traditionalist Plan cannot be passed by General Conference?

No. If legislation for a Traditionalist Plan is not included in the bishops’ report, a legislative proposal that implements the Traditionalist Plan can still be introduced at General Conference. Such legislation could be submitted as part of the regular petition process for the 2019 General Conference (deadline of July 8). It is possible (but not very likely) that the Judicial Council could prohibit other petitions besides the bishops’ report and proposal from being submitted through the regular petition process. In that case, the legislation could still be separately translated and mailed to the delegates prior to General Conference. Either way, delegates could then propose that legislation as a substitute for the One Church Plan. So yes, a Traditionalist Plan could still be passed by General Conference.

Will there be a “gracious exit” path available for churches and clergy who cannot live with whatever plan is passed by General Conference?

The bishops decided that their mandate was to provide for the unity of the church, not to encourage the departure of congregations and clergy. Therefore, an exit path will not be part of their One Church proposal. However, at least one form of exit path legislation will be included in the supplemental material, and it could be added by the General Conference delegates to any of the plans. Other exit path proposals could be submitted as part of the regular petition process, if permitted by the Judicial Council, or else submitted independently. The delegates could add any of these exit path proposals to any of the plans.

Why will the COB report and proposal not be released until early July?

There are several reasons why it will take until July to release the final report and proposal.

  • The report has yet to be finished. Some minor but legally important changes were made to the One Church and Connectional Conference Plans at this week’s Commission meeting. As noted above, the Traditionalist Plan was not finished by the Commission. If the executive committee of the Council of Bishops wants to include legislation for a Traditionalist Plan (and other supporting material), that has yet to be written and decided upon. The COB executive committee will also need to reformat the report for General Conference, including putting the legislation in petition form. So the report is nowhere near finished.
  • Translation of the report will have to begin from scratch, once the report is finished. The translation work that was done for the COB meeting was done by their regular interpreters, not the official legal translators that work with General Conference legal material. So that preliminary translation work would not carry over to the finished product.
  • It was important to all the bishops, and particularly to the central conference bishops (those outside the U.S.), that all the delegates receive the report at the same time in their native language. If the report were issued in English right away, it would give U.S. delegates an unfair advantage in digesting and responding to the proposal. This way, all the delegates will have the same amount of time to deal with the report.
  • The bishops felt that releasing a summary of the three plans without the accompanying context could create misunderstanding of the plans. Releasing all three plans in summary form would also indicate that the bishops gave equal weight to three, whereas they clearly recommended only the One Church Plan. They believe enough descriptive information has been given about the One Church Plan for people to understand what the bishops are recommending.

In an earlier statement, I called the delay of the release of the bishops’ proposal “unacceptable.” I understand and support most of the reasons the bishops have given for the report’s delay. However, the management of this whole process left a bit to be desired. If more developed plans had been given to the bishops earlier, perhaps they would have given their feedback earlier. At the same time, if the bishops had shared their feedback earlier about the need to develop a Traditionalist Plan instead of waiting until a week before the Commission’s last meeting, the Commission could have done more work to develop such a plan.

I think the COB was hoping that the report they received at their meeting ending May 4 would be complete and need only minor cosmetic changes. It could have been sent for translation quickly and would have been finished well before the July 8 deadline. The dramatic (and helpful) decision of the COB to include a Traditionalist Plan at the last minute threw off those plans and leaves us in the situation we now find ourselves.

Did the bishops really “overwhelmingly” recommend the One Church Plan?

No. The “overwhelming majority” vote in support of the bishops’ report was based on the inclusion of all three plans. Note that even then, the vote of support was not unanimous. A clear majority supported the One Church Plan, but according to one bishop it was less than a two-thirds majority. There was significant support among the bishops for both of the other two plans.

It is important to note that the bishops do not decide what the church will adopt as its way forward. (Many of them probably wish they were able to decide that.) Instead, it is the delegates to General Conference, representing all of our global church, who will decide our way forward. They will not be limited to voting only on a One Church Plan, but can consider all three options sketched out by the Commission and perhaps other plans as well, submitted by others. The gestation period is beginning, and nine months from now, we will see what the General Conference brings forth to help our church resolve its conflict and refocus on our primary mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Please pray for the delegates, as they bear this significant responsibility.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.  He is also a member of the Commission on a Way Forward.

Comments

  1. It is so sad to see this ongoing “debate” over something GOD has already clearly settled in His Word. I am not a UMC ordained pastor, but I am serving a small conservative UMC church. Even though I love my congregation, I often regret coming into the UMC to serve. This is a BIG distraction from our job of making disciples and it tarnishes our witness both in our local communities and around the world.

  2. Mark Hillard says:

    God’s word is clear. It is unfortunate that the Traditionalist Plan was not developed more thoroughly and was given such limited attention. If, and that appears to be a big if, the Traditionalist Plan were to be voted by the delegates as the most appropriate way forward, than the bishops who are, at least in part, the ones who would have a significant influence on the enforcement of it – likely would not. That would leave us in the same exact position we are in now. Clearly, unacceptable to the majority of us.

    • Nell Key says:

      Mr. Gadboury, I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ to give you a word of encouragement. I am not a pastor and no longer serve on the board of my local church; I am however a long time faithful Christian member. It is disappointing to me that you are feeling sorry you invested in the UMC. My church is also a small congregation of bible believing Christians and we see no reason to allow anyone or any group to discourage our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. No one can change our mission but us. We (as a church are members of the WCA and believe that no matter what vote comes out of general conference will not deter us from that mission as Christians true to God’s word. I urge you and your congregation to stand with us (and many others) and continue to pray that God will lead in our endeavor to preserve the UMC and its discipline as intended in the beginning. I pray you will find peace in your ministry.

  3. William (Bill) Fitzgerrel says:

    I believe that the Council of Bishops have not served the church well at all in the 2 years since General Conference 2016. They were extremely slow in getting the Commission on the Way Forward together. Most of these people (the bishops) were pastors who were expected to get their work done on time. Yet they took months and months to get the Commission appointed and on its way. Then, because of this, they delayed the called session of General Conference. It could have happened in 2018, but was put off until February, 2019. In the last few months they have messed around and confused people about what they were approving and how it would be presented. They knew they had a deadline of July to get their report done, and they could have pushed the Commission to get its work done (it, too, dilly-dallied throughout the process). The appearance is that they pushed their final report so late that people would not have time to create petitions in reaction to their proposals. Moreover, in the last week or so, there has been utter confusion about Bishop Ough’s dealings with the Judicial Council. There is the appearance of double dealing, and Bishop Jones seems to be calling his hand on it. Notice that I am using “appearance” and “seems” because I certainly do not know the detailed facts. Nevertheless, in the midst of utter turmoil, the Council of Bishops has not displayed the kind of leadership that is needed.

  4. William says:

    This is the ultimate of all conglomerated malarkey to date, hands down. No teflection on Tom — we are greatful that he is attempting to make sense of an unexplainable, in any language, process that’s underway by our bishops. The clock ran out on the inclusion of a detailed Traditionalists Plan? A two church plan can be called a One Church Plan? Sure, of course — we all know that our bishops would never try to rigg the General Conference with confusion, fraud, deception, manipulation, et al. Sure. We really trust them now. They are just swell.

    The Judicial Council must put a halt to this manipulation, deception, and fraudulent maneuvering and opens the 2019 General Conference up to the honest and lawful conducting of church business.

  5. William says:

    Our Council of Bishops are now fully exposed. They have no credibility at all left. People across the church must now repudiate what they are doing. Their dishonesty and deception has reached a new low and seems to have no bounds. The Judicial Council has no alternative now but to put a stop to this madness and open the 2019 General Conference up to honest and lawful church business.

    http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/bishops-clarify-statement-on-commission-on-a-way-forward-recommendation

  6. The bishops clarification statement says they are presenting the One Church Plan. The other two plans do not seem to be on the table. Or did I read that wrong?

  7. Andy Wilson says:

    Let me get this straight. If a traditionalist plan is approved with teeth in it, these same bishops will be the ones to enforce this plan and many have already said they will not enforce the current BOD? Why would they enforce a stricter one? This whole thing makes me sick. We are spending time and money and doing absolutely nothing. If a traditionalist plan is passed, our horrible leaders will do nothing about the problems and we will be right back where we are now. Our bishops are the worst leaders I have ever seen in my 61 years.

  8. Thomas Luther says:

    I believe it is time to walk away from this church structure and eliminate bishops in the process of returning. To the Bible as our guide! I refuse to be yoked to spiritual darkness of this magnitude! I will not follow a bishop who is not following Christ! I am fed up with this management style and with leadership that compromises the Word of God for the sake of unity within this dead sect and that is exactly what the United Methodist Church has become! If there is no repentance, then I suggest the name be changed to the Untied Methodist!

  9. Licensed Local pastor says:

    Thank you Tom for trying to make sense out of a most disingenuous process on the part of the Council of Bishop’s. It is sad to see the Council of Bishop’s running headlong to be friends with the world.

  10. No traditionalist plan, no exit plan. The bishops just want to control and make sure the money keeps flowing. I doubt they understand how much angst there is out there or how much distrust there is in the bishops for the traditionalist, who represent the majority of the laity in the denomination. Unless the judicial council rules allowing something other than the bishops one plan this will be punted to 2020 when all H will break loose. Satan must be really enjoying this!

  11. Herb Flanders says:

    I can imagine the high likelihood that GC 2019, after spending days of deliberation on the COB plan and then rejecting it, runs out of time and approves aboslutely nothing, leaving us exactly where we are now. Delegate election for GC 2020 begins amid traditionalist erosion due to total frustration. Perhaps GC 2020 is a decidedly more progressive body and the One Church Plan passes with no gracious exit. More traditionalists simply give up and mosey into the sunset. COB gets what it wanted all along – preserve the name and purge the rabble rousers. And all who remain can live happily ever after in The United Contextual Methodist Church.

  12. OB Everson says:

    As a faithful Methodist at this time, I say the Bishops can “kick rocks”. The council is all about money and power to most, but not all Bishops within our church.

    I hope the General Conference tells them to go away with their evil ways and prays for GOD to send a revival to our church.

  13. Option 1 will never preserve the church with or without a gracious exit. The conservatives will either rebel by trying to withdraw churches from the denomination, leading to extensive legal battles (Episcopal church), or they will withhold their funds as an act of rebellion and try to change things in 2020, or most likely they will just walk away as has happened in every denomination that has tried some version of the one church plan. Traditionalists are not going to suddenly “see the error of their ways” and change their theology. Why the bishops thing it is ok for us to be double minded or why a plan that has created a death spiral in every other denomination it has been tried in is beyond me. They are challenging the word of God and they will loose.

  14. Here is an excellent article by Dr. Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, “Seven Reasons Why the ‘One Church’ Plan Should be Rejected”:

    http://timothytennent.com/2018/05/19/seven-reasons-why-the-one-church-plan-should-be-rejected/

  15. With all Christian brotherhood and respect to those at GN and WCA, we are now finally beginning to see the “end game” for the COB and their society-dictated vision for the future of the UMC. There have been a core group of UM’s who have been suggesting, via responses to GN articles, that the power structure of the church should not be trusted. We are now seeing the truth of these observations. The UMC has been sold out by the COB, plain and simple! Neither progressives or traditionalists will be satisfied with any potential outcome, at this point…and perhaps, that is the goal: to make all parties equally unhappy, in order for double-talking bishops to control the outcome. If there is even a modicum of Christian honor and decency left among the UM bishops, they should resign in mass and allow the GC to dictate the future of the church. Unfortunately, at this juncture, the prevailing motivation seems to be money and power, secured by the COB, at the expense of UM laypeople and pastors.

    • Jim,

      Remember – not ALL of the Bishops on the COB are in favor of the One-Church Plan. Bishop Scott Jones of Texas has asked to speak before the Judicial Council this week (along with Bishop Bruce Ough of Minnesota/Dakotas) because (he claims) Bishop Ough does NOT speak for all the Bishops in what he is bringing before the JC.

      Also, I read in an article by Scott Ritter (I believe) that the African Bishops nearly packed their suitcases and walked out of the recent COB meeting because the Traditional Plan wasn’t being considered seriously.

      All is not well in COB land…

  16. Two recent articles by Chris Ritter (“Denominational Pain and the Way Forward, Part One & Part Two) give an excellent argument for why any plan is going to cause pain – because division IS coming – and why the Bishops’ On-Church Plan will be the most painful of the three!

    https://peopleneedjesus.net/2018/05/20/denominational-pain-the-way-forward-part-two/

    In his conclusion (in Part Two, linked above) he gives voice to something that I think many of us feel:

    “The Traditionalist Model, paired with a gracious and non-punitive exit provision, creates our best hope for a global, relevant, continuing, and reforming United Methodist Church. It places the burden of change on those demanding it…”

    The Bishops’ One-Church Plan will put the burden of change on those clergy and churches who have been faithful to the BOD, and on clergy who have been consistent in keeping their ordination vows.

    When Progressives (including all the progressive bishops on the COB) are given the option to move forward in faith and create a new denomination that reflects their theology and agenda, they shrink back, knowing how much they will lose (of denominational dollars, power and influence). Instead, they expect traditionalists to pay the price for their desired change.

    I hope the delegates to GC19 keep these facts in mind as they vote on the One-Church Plan and consider any other allowed legislation for the future of the UMC. The One-Church Plan is a bad deal for those who continue to honor and follow the Book of Discipline – how ironic!

    • One of the weird aspects of this argument has been that those who believe that GC has consistently come up with the correct answer and are willing to abide by that decision have been considered as much a problem as those who are blatantly disobedient.

    • William says:

      It is looking more and more that our liberal bishops are our modern day Pharisees — preserve their status, power, affluent lifestyles, power, and pension security at all costs. Aren’t these some of the similar reasons the Pharisees feared Jesus and eventually had him killed at the hands of the Romans as they were in this “arranged” sort of relationship with the occupying Romans? Aren’t our liberal bishops, with some similarities, in a strange sort of relationship with the modern day secular sexual immorality movement as a strategy “to be on the right side of history” and ultimately the winning side for THEM? And, do they not recognize the fact that it is this same secular movement that’s out to eventually eradicate Christianity from American culture? But, where else can Satan do the most damage to the church than from within?

  17. Matthew 23:27 surely comes to mind

  18. William says:
  19. Surely Comes to Mind

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