What’s In the One Church Plan?

(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 –

In light of the delay in releasing the report of the Commission on a Way Forward, and in the interest of helping facilitate discussion and consideration of the three main proposals that will be voted upon at the special General Conference next February, I will be sharing the elements involved in each plan over the next three weeks that can be made public. I will not be sharing the actual legislation or the details of the report, in deference to the desire for that information to come at the same time to everyone in their primary language.

In the interest of thoroughness, many details will be included. For those looking for a shorter report, you can skip to the summary at the bottom of this article.

The One Church Plan is the proposal with the most amount of information that has been publicly released. It is based on the idea that the church’s teaching regarding the practice of homosexuality and gender identity is a non-essential issue. Proponents of the One Church Plan believe that Christians can disagree about these issues and even have different practices and still work together within one church.

Key elements of the One Church Plan:

  • The plan states that we are not of one mind regarding human sexuality and affirms “those who continue to maintain that the Scriptural witness does not condone the practice of homosexuality,” as well as “those who believe the witness of Scripture calls us to reconsider the teaching of the church with respect to monogamous homosexual relationships.”
  • The definition of marriage is changed from “one man and one woman” to “two adults.”
  • The plan deletes the language, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
  • NOTE: the above three changes apply to the whole church and are not adaptable by the central conferences outside the United States.
  • The plan deletes the requirement that ordained clergy not be self-avowed practicing homosexuals, allowing each annual conference board of ordained ministry and clergy session to determine how standards relating to human sexuality would apply to candidates for ordination. Those who are ordained clergy must be appointed by the bishop to serve.
  • The plan states that ordained deacons and elders, as well as licensed local pastors, are not required or compelled to perform any marriage, union, or blessing of same-sex couples, nor are they prohibited from doing so. The decision about whether to participate in performing a same-sex wedding or blessing would strictly be up to the individual clergyperson.
  • The plan provides that clergy who cannot continue to serve in their annual conference due to disagreement with the conference’s standards for ordination around human sexuality may transfer to a different annual conference. It also provides that clergy who cannot continue to serve a given local church due to disagreements over same-sex marriage should be reassigned to a different church.
  • The plan forbids clergy from performing a same-sex wedding on church property unless the church has approved the use of church property for that purpose by a majority vote of the church conference.
  • The plan allows that no bishop is required to license, commission, or ordain any person who is a self-avowed practicing homosexual, but that another bishop should be brought in to provide these services. The bishop is, however, required to appoint any person who is a self-avowed practicing homosexual and is ordained.
  • The plan forbids bishops and district superintendents from either requiring or prohibiting pastors from performing same-sex weddings or unions. It also forbids them from either requiring or prohibiting local churches from holding same-sex weddings on church property. It forbids superintendents (but not bishops) from coercing, threatening, or retaliating against any pastor for either performing or refusing to perform a same-sex wedding.
  • The plan allows an annual conference clergy session to adopt a policy regarding what standards to apply to candidates for ministry regarding human sexuality.
  • The plan deletes from the chargeable offenses against clergy being a self-avowed practicing homosexual or performing a same-sex wedding.
  • The plan gives central conferences outside the United States 18 months to decide whether or not to accept the above proposals or continue with the current Book of Discipline.
  • The plan requires any local church leaving the denomination to pay its share of the annual conference’s unfunded pension liabilities, but it does not include any additional provisions for local churches to leave the denomination and keep their property. Whether or not the local church can keep its property is still left up to each bishop and each annual conference.
  • The plan provides that any clergy who leave the denomination would have their pension benefits converted from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan. This means that the amount of future benefits is not guaranteed, but that the amount of benefits would depend upon how much money is in the person’s pension account at the time of retirement.

Summary

 

What does this plan actually do?

  • It changes the church’s official teaching on marriage and sexuality to affirm monogamous same-sex relationships. This is a change that affects all United Methodists everywhere, even if we disagree.
  • It delegates to each annual conference the decision about what standards to impose on clergy regarding same-sex practices. Importantly, laity will have no voice in this decision; it will be strictly a decision of the annual conference clergy.
  • It allows pastors to perform same-sex weddings if they want to without any repercussions.
  • It delegates to each local church the decision of whether or not to allow same-sex weddings to be performed on church property.
  • It includes protections of conscience and forbids bishops and district superintendents from coercing or punishing clergy who disagree with them about same-sex weddings.
  • It protects bishops from having to license, commission, or ordain someone whom they believe does not meet the qualifications for ministry, but it gets around that by bringing in another bishop who is willing to do so. And it does not protect bishops from having to appoint someone as clergy whom they believe does not meet the qualifications for ministry.
  • It allows central conferences outside the United States to continue operating under the current provisions of the Discipline, but the whole church would affirm monogamous same-sex marriage.
  • It changes the church’s pension plan to accommodate clergy and congregations that might leave the denomination, but it provides no mechanism for congregations to leave with their property. 

Implications

 

There are many issues that this plan raises for evangelicals and traditionalists. A few of them are:

  • It changes the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality to endorse conduct that Scripture prohibits. Such a change not only violates our consciences, it very well could remove the religious liberty legal protection that pastors and congregations have relied upon in not performing same sex weddings. While United Methodist clergy currently may point to the church’s official teaching as a basis for not marrying same-sex couples or hiring practicing homosexuals in our churches, that would no longer be the case under the One Church Plan.
  • It officially allows practices in parts of the church that the Bible calls sin.
  • It takes the conflict over the practice of homosexuality from the general church level down to every annual conference and every local church, as each makes its own decision about whether to allow same-sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality. This will multiply the level of conflict in our denomination, rather than resolve it.
  • It sets up a situation where one annual conference will have different teachings and practices than another, and where two local United Methodist churches in the same community could have diametrically opposite teachings and practices on marriage and sexuality. This will cause confusion and lead to the further weakening of the United Methodist “brand.” What it means to be “United Methodist” will depend upon what local church one attends. There will be a much weaker connectional identity for the denomination.
  • Many evangelicals will seek to leave the denomination if the One Church Plan passes because for most of us, adhering to Scriptural teaching on sexuality is an essential issue, but there is no orderly mechanism for congregations to do so and keep their property. This is a recipe for widespread lawsuits over property that consume the church’s resources meant to be spent on mission.
  • Many progressives will not be satisfied with this compromise and will continue to push for the full affirmation of same-sex relationships to be required in every annual conference and local church. The conflict will continue.

There is no easy or painless way out of the impasse that besets our church, and there is no perfect solution. Of the three plans, however, the One Church Plan seems to be the least faithful to Scripture and the least able to practically resolve the impasse. It will not accomplish what the General Conference intended in providing a way forward that resolves the conflict in our church.

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

Comments

  1. I can only wonder why our bishops thought this was the best plan. What is the probability that it will pass GC?

  2. “It takes the conflict over the practice of homosexuality from the general church level down to every annual conference and every local church…”
    While the general church level has taken years to mull over the conflict that same conflict would be thrust upon local churches to be decided in a much shorter period of time with many congregations ill equipped to do so. The congregation I belong to simply doesn’t discuss the homosexuality issue within the UMC. There is no discussion about how our lay leader should vote at annual conference and no report about how our congregation was represented. Against this backdrop the one church plan will demand decisions to be made. And decisions must be made or the first same-sex couple that asks to be married in the local church will steer the decision. If it involves the son or daughter of a long-time influential parishoner the answer is likely to be ‘yes’.
    Under the one church plan the higher the level in the UMC the greater the illusion of unity, but at the lower levels the reality of painful separation will be acutely felt.
    Let us pray the authority of scripture rules.

    • Jacqui Mason says:

      Tim, I would submit that, if your Annual Conference delegate is neither soliciting input from the congregation nor reporting how he voted, then he is NOT adequately representing the congregation.

    • Keith Wilson says:

      You don’t discuss your church’s official teachings at church?

  3. William says:

    As you so throughly point out — this “plan” surpasses all understanding of what we once thought the definitions of the English words confusion, convolution, deception, dishonesty, disharmony, distrust, destruction, conflict, incoherence, insanity et al meant.

  4. What jumps out for me? “It delegates to each annual conference the decision about what standards to impose on clergy regarding same-sex practices. Importantly, laity will have no voice in this decision; it will be strictly a decision of the annual conference clergy.” The laity of my annual conference – North Georgia – appear to be more conservative than our clergy, in general, and certainly moreso than the ordained clergy. If this plan passes as it is written, I’m just wondering what will happen when the people in the pews realize they, or their representatives, have no say in determining the sexual standards of the clergy who lead their churches. Don’t think I’d want to be a DS at some of those Charge Conferences in the fall!

  5. Two details that are glaring in this plan. 1. A church can vote on whether or not to allow gay weddings, but not on whether or not to accept gay clergy. Would progressive bishops appoint gay clergy to churches that vote not to allow gay weddings so that they might “learn” the error of their ways? This is a quick way to purge traditionalists hold outs from churches, especially larger ones that the bishops want to control. The bishops have become highly political and we should expect them to act in that manner. 2. Laity would have no say in whether or not an AC ordains lay clergy. The beliefs and practices of an AC would be changed solely on the vote of the elders, the laity would have no voice as would LP’s. Since the elders are becoming increasingly liberal due to the indoctrination of the seminary students in the majority of our UM seminaries, this would guarantee that almost all, if not all AC’s would have gay ordination, even in the deep south. This plan is just a step on the road to full gay inclusion. If traditionalists, especially the laity don’t wake up, it will happen. Just look at what has happened to the Episcopalian church. Their present is our future in a few years if we do not stand up!

    • Paul Stevens says:

      So true…especially here in Southern California. This conference follows neither the word of God, the Book of Discipline or for that matter, Federal Law!. Even if my church votes on not allowing gay marriage, we will still be pressured into sending our LA centric conference Apportionments for them to misuse. Besides, our conference has made it a practice of doing whatever they please so its unlikely they will follow any restrictions that the approved plan will dictate!

  6. Should the General Conference adopt this plan, the only thing we will. have to offer the world is nothing but the world.

    • Dale parker says:

      Time to think about the presentation church. The Methodist church is loosing it backbone and giving in to sin on a grand scale. The church of corinth was warned about this very thing.

  7. This would indeed become a convoluted mess that would bring less unity – it would actually feel more like chaos – in the church/churches!

    Also, I see implications in this plan that haven’t even been discussed yet, like what kinds of standards jurisdictions will now have for selecting and electing future bishops. My sense is that it will push the church even farther left in these elections. While bishops are supposed to be “blind” in their appointment of pastors based on the pastor’s personal beliefs and views about homosexuality and same sex marriage, we all know that we are imperfect people, and bias will impact appointments, and even acceptance for ordination.

    We can’t kid ourselves. The One Church Plan is a plan that will blow the church into bits and pieces without any semblance of unity. I’m sure by February there will be many more negative implications of this plan discovered and discussed – hopefully leading it to go down in flames!

  8. This insanity confirms just how far off track our Bishops really are. It also reveals what I already suspected: a total disregard for the laity in the pew. If it somehow passes I am done. There are enough other denominations and large non-denominational churches that have already gone down this path to leave any doubt as to what the future holds if this mess passes. Because of my location, I don’t know what my future with organized religion will be, but it will certainly not be with the United Methodist Church.

    • William says:

      Betsy,
      We will be “placing on hold” our annual pledge this November for our 2019 local UMC budget pending the outcome of the 2019 General Conference. Instead of submitting our usual pledge card, we will submit a written explanation of our dilemma. Of course we are only two tithing members (wife & self). But, our individual consciences demand this action. However, should there be an across the denomination uprising of traditional givers withholding their money, it would certainly get some attention — even the attention of the liberal bishops. My guess, a big, big portion of this UMC is underwritten by the traditional/orthodox ‘laity in the pew’.

      • Nina Long says:

        I agree…I think the majority of UMC members are conservative and do not support what the Bishops are proposing. But the conservatives have little voice in the process. We speak our opinion with the checkbook.

      • Deb Ketcham says:

        Please remember you are giving to God, and to give freely and without reservation. Tithing is worshiping God. Do not withhold from God. Sure we can’t filter out where every dollar goes, but supporting your local church, it’s mission, ministries, and the numerous missions around the world is vital.

        • The UMC is not God. You need to specify where your offering goes.

        • It is illegal to spend money in a way that is inconsistent with how the giver states that is to be used. Simply write “for local church use only” to keep the local church going, yet sending a message to those higher up, based at the mother ship.

        • Edward Smythe says:

          The only thing to remember about the giving to God argument is that the money would used to promote a sinful lifestyle that is forbidden in scripture.

  9. Creating disciples of the world for the transformation of the church.

  10. I don’t know what my future with organized religion will be, but it will certainly not be with the United Methodist Church if the Bible is ignored when it comes to marriages. I will also not participate in a conference or congregational fight. If same sex marriages are condoned, what is next and then next after that.

  11. Gary Bebop says:

    “If” is the operative word in many of the comments. What’s missing is a word of resistance and resolve. More bleak prognostications about the One Church Plan if enacted contribute nothing to transformation. Enough handwringing! Traditionalists must be shown leadership (resistance and resolve). Show us leadership!

  12. No religious organization designed by man could induce me to close my eyes to God’s truth as revealed in His living Word. Further, I would implore others to consider the true source of any suggestion to the contrary.

  13. Guess what? The UMC began sliding down this slippery slope with the ordination of women expressly cautioned about in Scripture. Disregarding any part of “unpopular” Scripture eases the slide into ignoring others. What’s next indeed…

    • If Rev. Renfroe is any example, the conservatives are very vocal and in his case embarrassingly so. I am a long time United Methodist , and the fact that I wholly disagree with this position does not make me inherently wrong.

  14. I encourage all who wish to follow Biblical principles to either place their pledges on hold for 2019 or state that they will only be honored if the traditional values now in the Book of Discipline are maintained. If enough laity do this, the church hierarchy will have to listen.

    At least they will be forewarned.

  15. I am glad that this progress is being made. There are many who have left the church because they were not accepted for who God made them (LGBT). Those who consider themselves conservatives within the church should take the time and search out what the scriptures truly say about the topic in the Hebrew and the Greek. They will find, like I did, that NOWHERE in the original bible were same sex monogamous relationships condemned. The translating committees who translated the biblical manuscripts translated according to their own biases. It is easy to see for anyone who will just be obedient to the Word when it says to study to show ourselves approved.. workers that need not to be ashamed. It’s time for us to start to be agents of healing, instead of unrighteous judgmentalism and fear!

    • So none of the Bible is reliable unless you read Greek or Hebrew
      Guess I’ll just have to depend on God to let me hear him through the Scriptures that I have available to me

    • It is not unrighteous judgmentalism and fear to require Biblical morality. Would you have a minister who was engaged in an adulterous affair? Of course not. It is sin, and it should not be condoned. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love those involved, but it does mean that they should not be in positions of church leadership. As for same-sex marriage, Jesus spoke of marriage as being between one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-5.

    • Keith Wilson says:

      So, you condemn gay bar hookups? Gay “dating” apps? Anything not “monogamish” as you would define it?

  16. I am not in favor of the One Church Plan. It will create chaos instead of unity. It is disobedience to the plan of God for man. Just think.of the consequence-what happens to a congregation whose pastor is a practicing homosexual or lesbian?

  17. I have already essentially left the United Methodist church, although my name remains on the church membership and I give $100 a month to my local church. I have been there twice since Easter. I haven’t stopped attending church. I spend my Sundays at a nearby Catholic Church, listening to a clearly devout priest who could out-preach most Methodist preachers I have heard lately. I haven’t decided yet whether to leave the Methodist Church altogether, although if the “One Church Plan” comes to fruition it will be an easy decision to go. I cannot be a part of a church that will countenance blatant sin by permitting same-sex marriages which are plainly incompatible with not only Scripture but Judeo-Christian values for thousands of years. Accepting same-sex marriage is neither “progressive” nor “enlightened.” It is simply an aberration of Christian doctrine.

  18. I remember as a child when the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church merged or joined with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church, a Cross and a Flame. How things have changed since the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Sadly the United Methodist Church has been hijacked by the progressive left and Hebrews 13:8 immediately comes to my mind, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” We need to pray for these leaders because those of them that are supporting this One Church Plan have been corrupted by the devil and are doing the devil’s bidding. It is obvious that after reading the One Church Plan that the Lord’s touch is not on this. I can guarantee you that Jesus wants no part of this decision. I heard a sermon years ago and the pastor stated the following, “When you listen to a preacher preach and you don’t understand how to be saved when it’s so simple and so plain, God wasn’t in that message.” How true and I can assure you that God want’s not part of this One Church Plan. This plan if that’s when you want to call it is of the devil. I pray that God will have mercy on thos supporting adopting this plan.

  19. Georgia M says:

    I have been a Methodist all my life and have never been so appalled at the suggestion that we adopt this one church plan. Read the first chapter of Romans. The message is clear. I will not be a member of a church that clearly defies the word of God.

  20. Georgia M says:

    Totally agree.

  21. I have never been so appalled at the suggestion of a one church. This clearly is in defiance of God’s Word. I have been a Methodist is all my life and I will not be able to be one if this one church plan is adopted.

  22. As one who will identify with the more progressive thought process, I risk even making any comment here. It is obvious most commentators have already made up their minds, which is too bad. Yet, I respect everyone’s right to an opinion. Having said this, please allow me to share my opinion.

    First, I believe this is not the greatest issue facing the United Methodist Church. That is the falling numbers. The church is irrelevant to most under 40. That’s true for all mainline denominations. A lot of time and effort are being spent on a topic that will only (potentially) cause the demise of the denomination.

    Next, I have read these two articles by the author. Obviously, he very strongly believes that homosexuality is a sin. After all, it says so in the Bible, right? But the Bible also says lots of other things that are now illegal AND immoral, such as slavery. And, how many atrocities are done in the name of Christianity? What about racism? How many “Christians” discriminate against people of color or gender or sexual orientation or ethnicity in ANY way, shape or form. I grew up in the South (Texas) and witnessed many accounts of racism by people who, for all accounts, considered themselves Christian. Before we become judgemental of this, I’d suggest all is in play. In the end, neither you nor me make the final decision.

    Lastly, yes, it is true the Bible refers to homosexuality as sin. I cannot find where Jesus himself says it. He talks about marriage being between a man and a woman, but he goes on to condemn divorce. (Anyone reading this guilty?) Paul says it. It says it in Leviticus, but not Jesus.

    After reading the opinion of this author, he basically proposes a (Traditionalist) plan that says “fall in line or get out.” He cannot accept the One Church Plan, which is more of a compromise. But, I believe there is one more option; let’s call it the “Progressive” Option. He can “fall in line or get out.” If he cannot adjust, why should those of us who like a more progressive UMC change to fit him? There’s always the Southern Baptist church, which is more consistent with the theology on the LBGTQ issue.

    Didn’t like the tone of that? That’s how his plan comes across to me and many people.

    If we care about the longterm viability of the UMC as a whole, the Open Church Plan provides the best option for the future. If there is a split, no one wins. But if we’re only worried about ourselves, then we may as well all leave now.

    Now, I get to see what type of replies I get. That’ll be interesting.

    • Amy O'Meara says:

      Thank you Doug. I selfishly wish they would “fall in line or get out” of the church I chose as a 10 year old and in which I have chosen to raise my own children.

      I am an under-40 parent and my kids are Gen Z. When they are adults, they will absolutely not tolerate a One Church plan that keeps them supporting and affirming those who abuse LGBT around the US and the world. I am not sure why any of us should tolerate behavior which is so un-Christlike and absolutely not supported by early translations of the bible.

      I have been side-eyeing UMC since I moved in 2016 to Rob Renfroe’s church from a Reconciling church in Minneapolis. This church is busted and I truly had no idea how bad it was until I moved here.

  23. I feel the U.M. Bishops are trying to shove this plan down our throats. This plan is about as political as it can get. This plan is of the enemy and is clearly in opposition to the Word of God.

  24. I have stood back, watched and listened while the “way forward” discussion has gone on. Now, the moment is almost at hand that could change the face of the UMC. While this middle of the road approach appears, to many, to best serve the majority of the global church by allowing for increased autonomy, it is actually just another band-aid approach that further maintains the status-quo.
    Decisions on how this new plan will be implemented/ consequences for rule breaking will still be concentrated in the hands of the “powers that be.” As UM’s we like to believe that the persons assigned to our local churches, as our district superintendents, and those selected as lay members to annual conference or general conference, and those placed on committees at the local church serve and act with the best interest of the church in mind. It has been my experience this not always the case. Lay members are often selected by the clergy themselves, Clergy are selected by the Bishop via input by District Superintendents. All parties wish to keep their positions, so they frequently go along to get along or else they will find themselves no longer on committees or at an assignment.
    The point I am attempting to make is that this plan makes new rules, but has little teeth to mandate anything. Annual Conference clergy determine the standards to be imposed (laity will not have say), more of the “good ole boy network” maintained. If a local church (and that’s a big if) is allowed to determine if same sex marriages may be performed in their church, who is actually going to hold the assigned clergy to the decision as final? Except in rare occurrences , the answer is no one. Church members often feel that to make waves is not appropriate, so they are not likely to raise the concern with their SPRC (who too often is hand picked by the clergy themselves, because they don’t want anyone on this important committee who isn’t a cheerleader for them) or speak with the District Superintendent (yes, I know we have protocols in place for members concerns regarding their clergy, but some issues go over and above the ability of that to work.). So, clergy as many do (not all) they do just want what they want how they want, when they want. They are given far too much authority to make decisions for the church and its congregation. Bottom line here is that business as usual will prevail and regardless of what laity wants the local church will go the direction the clergy decides. In very rare cases the DS or Bishop may address “violations of the churches decided policies”. But only when push gets down to shove, and the penalty will only be a slap on the wrist, likely. Church members also often just feel that as long as they are tithing and meeting their pledge, all is good/ their clergy knows best, who are they to question anything?
    This whole Commiion On A Way Forward has really been a waste of time & money. The UMC. Has much larger problems and deciding only on full or no inclusion isn’t going to solve them. Once again more more money has been thrown away without identifying where the actual problems are. To assess this it would require actually asking the persons who still attend and those that have left, for feedback. We can’t do that though because we have selected groups of people who are all knowing and wiser than the general members.

  25. I just have to wonder if bigger is better. A little more faith, less worry for butts in the seats and money in the coffers may be the better choice. “Where two or more are gathered…”. There will always be sinners in church (myself included), but as Christians we should not make church an abomination before God. Sadly the UMC, like many other churches are business first. The moment our opinions – on either side- are more important than our focus on God, we loose.

  26. Shelly R Caldwell says:

    I am going with
    I rather stand with God and be judge by man then to
    stand with man and be judged by God
    His teaching are very clear about marriage and they are that a marriage
    is to be between a man and a women

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