What’s in the Traditional Plan?

By Thomas Lambrecht –

The report of the Commission on a Way Forward and the legislative proposals for the three plans they developed are now posted publicly on the Judicial Council website. 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. You can read about the One Church Plan here.

Although this article is shorter than the 232-page full report and petitions, 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 Traditional Plan is founded on retaining what evangelicals and traditionalists believe is the Scriptural teaching that sexual relationships are to be reserved for the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. Based on the votes of previous General Conferences, a Traditional Plan appears to have the best chance of the three main proposals of being adopted. It is the approach favored by most evangelicals and traditionalists, including the Renewal and Reform Coalition (Good News, The Confessing Movement, UM Action, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association).

The Traditional Plan retains the current stance in the Book of Discipline that values all persons as equally “of sacred worth, created in the image of God” and believes that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to God’s will. Because of widespread disobedience to the church’s prohibition of same-sex weddings and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, the Traditional Plan dramatically enhances accountability to the church’s requirements and closes many of the loopholes currently being used to avoid accountability. At the same time, the Plan offers a gracious exit for annual conferences, congregations, bishops, and clergy who cannot in good conscience abide by the church’s historic standards. 

Key features of the Traditional Plan include:

  • The requirement that every annual conference vote on whether or not it is prepared to fully uphold and enforce the standards of the church around same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Those annual conferences unwilling or unable to enforce the Discipline are encouraged to withdraw from The United Methodist Church and form a self-governing Methodist church that would allow same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination.
  • Annual conferences that did not agree to enforce the Discipline or who failed to do so would, as of January 1, 2021, no longer be able to use the United Methodist name or logo, and would be unable to give or receive funds through the general church.
  • Any annual conference could, by a simple majority, vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church and keep its assets and liabilities. The annual conference would still be responsible for its pension liabilities and could continue to sponsor a pension program through Wespath.
  • Any local church in a departing annual conference could vote by a simple majority to remain in The United Methodist Church and abide by the current provisions of the Discipline.
  • Every bishop would be required to submit a statement as to whether or not he or she is prepared to fully uphold and enforce the standards of the church around same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and to hold those under their supervision accountable to those standards. Any bishop unwilling or unable to do so would be subject to a disciplinary process administered by the Council of Bishops.
  • The Council of Bishops would establish a committee to respond to bishops who are unwilling to enforce the Discipline or who are charged with the offenses of immorality or practices incompatible with Christian teaching. Upon the committee’s recommendation, the Council of Bishops could vote to place a bishop on involuntary leave or involuntary retirement.
  • Any group of 50 or more local congregations could vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church to form a self-governing Methodist church, upon payment of each local church’s share of their annual conference’s unfunded pension liability.
  • Any local church that wants to allow same-sex marriage, but is in an annual conference that will continue to prohibit such under the current Discipline, could vote by a 55 percent majority to withdraw from The United Methodist Church to join a self-governing Methodist church that allows same-sex marriage. The local church would have to pay its share of their annual conference’s unfunded pension liabilities.
  • Bishops and clergy who are unable to live within the boundaries of conduct established by the Discipline would be encouraged to transfer to a self-governing Methodist church that affirms their beliefs.
  • Annual conferences and congregations that depart from The United Methodist Church could continue to participate in Wespath and could negotiate fee-based services from other general boards and agencies of the UM Church. They could also continue to participate in joint mission through the General Board of Global Ministries, as well as partnerships for mission and other joint projects, with the agreement of the UM entity involved. Changes would be made to the pension program to ensure that pension liabilities are fairly cared for.
  • Institutions related to The United Methodist Church would remain affiliated with the annual conference it is affiliated with, whether that annual conference withdraws or remains in the church. But such institutions could form cooperative relationships with other bodies and could, under the provisions of their own bylaws, change their relationship from one body to another.
  • Any self-governing Methodist church would create its own Book of Discipline and be self-supporting financially, including funding its own bishops.
  • The definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” would be expanded to include persons living in a same-sex partnership, union, or marriage, in keeping with Judicial Council decision 1341.
  • Bishops are required to nominate as members of the conference board of ordained ministry only persons who are committed to upholding and enforcing the provisions of the Discipline related to the candidacy and ordination of LGBT persons. Bishops are also prohibited from ordaining a self-avowed practicing homosexual as a clergy person. In addition, bishops are prohibited from consecrating as bishop anyone who is a self-avowed practicing homosexual.
  • Clergy found guilty by a trial court of performing a same-sex wedding would have a mandatory minimum penalty of one year’s suspension without pay for a first offense, and removal of clergy credentials for a second offense.
  • Bishops would not be allowed to dismiss a complaint unless it has “no basis in law or fact.”
  • “Just resolution” process and agreements would be reformed to ensure that complainants are included in the process and, where possible, agree to the “just resolution” before it is finalized.
  • The counsel for the church in a church trial process would be given the same right of appeal for egregious errors of church law that the defendant now enjoys.

Summary

The Traditional Plan would retain the current stance of the Discipline regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. It would enhance accountability by:

  • Encouraging annual conferences, bishops, clergy, and congregations unwilling to live within the requirements of the Discipline to withdraw from The United Methodist Church and form their own self-governing Methodist church.
  • Providing that annual conferences not enforcing the Discipline could no longer use the United Methodist name or logo and could not give or receive funds through the general church.
  • Providing a new accountability process for bishops, whereby the Council of Bishops could place a bishop on involuntary leave or involuntary retirement.
  • Expanding the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include persons living in a same-sex marriage, union, or partnership.
  • Requiring that bishops nominate as members of the conference board of ordained ministry only persons willing to uphold and enforce the Discipline.
  • Providing a mandatory minimum penalty for clergy found guilty of performing a same-sex wedding.
  • Prohibiting bishops from dismissing a complaint unless it has no basis in law or fact.
  • Reforming the “just resolution” process to include the required participation of the complainant.
  • Allowing the church to appeal any egregious errors of church law from a trial process.

At the same time, the Traditional Plan acknowledges the reality that there are segments of the church that cannot live with the current prohibitions on same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. The Plan provides a gracious way for annual conferences, bishops, clergy, and congregations to leave The United Methodist Church by a simple majority (or in some cases a 55 percent majority) vote and keep all their property, buildings, assets, and liabilities, in exchange only for covering unfunded pension liabilities.

Implications

  • The Traditional Plan maintains the majority position of the church, reaffirmed by every General Conference since 1972. It maintains the unity of the church with its members outside the United States, who overwhelmingly hold the traditional view. It follows the premise that those who want to change the church should be the ones to leave, not those who are in continuity with the church’s historic teachings.
  • It recognizes that there are parts of the church that can no longer live with the current strictures of the Book of Discipline and provides them with an easy and gracious way to leave the denomination and form a church that agrees with their theological understanding. Those who simply disagree with the church’s position are welcome to stay in the church, as long as they are willing to conform their behavior to the church’s requirements.
  • The Traditional Plan seeks to enhance accountability for bishops, clergy, and annual conferences, to ensure that those remaining in The United Methodist Church do indeed live by its standards.
  • Some progressive leaders have said they are not willing to leave the church under any circumstances. This may require that disciplinary measures are taken in order to align with the Discipline. There is some risk that such disciplinary measures may not work or may not be taken, which could lessen the effectiveness of the plan.
  • The Traditional Plan offers a hopeful way to end the conflict in our church by allowing those disagreeing with the church’s teaching to go their separate way with a blessing. Church property and the trust clause ought not be used to coerce people to remain in a covenant against their conscience. The Traditional Plan is the only one of the three that includes a gracious exit provision for those unable to live with the church’s teachings and requirements.
  • The Traditional Plan offers those who disagree with the effectiveness of this approach to also seek an exit from the denomination under the same terms.
  • As annual conferences and congregations depart from the denomination, it will be necessary to redraw jurisdictional and annual conference lines.
  • The Traditional Plan seeks a gracious end to the conflict of our church, so that valuable resources, time, and energy can be directed to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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 Traditional Plan seems the most faithful to Scripture and the most gracious in acknowledging that all members of the church may not be able to live with that solution. It provides a way for those who cannot live together to go their separate ways with blessing, allowing both to pursue ministry in faithfulness to their consciences without coercion.

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. Stephen Rhoades says:

    Thank you, Tom, for these informative and helpful summaries. I believe this is a great service to our church!

  2. I am very pleased with how this Traditional Model takes a definitive Scripture-affirming theological position — one where unity with God’s Word and the 2000-year traditions of the Church take precedence over late-breaking normative trends. I fear we would only hamper the UMC’s ability to bring the saving knowledge of Christ to the lost sinners of the world if we attenuate the doctrinal clarity of our message and adopt the One Church Plan: a Plan that locks the UMC into perpetual theological disagreement on the parameters of sinful behavior.
    Unity with the One Faith of the One Lord is the purest unity to which we are called, and the Traditional Model thankfully provides that. It is appropriately specific and firm, but I feel it also correctly shows great magnanimity to those persons who have rejected the UMC’s existing stance on same-sex issues.
    Let us indeed part — if we cannot agree on this important doctrinal matter and the Scriptures’ testimony — but part without any acrimony, praying earnestly for each other to grow closer to the unchanging and pure wisdom of Almighty God.

  3. Gabrella says:

    Thank goodness someone is finding a way forward consistent with the Bible. If clergy, bishops etc refuse to uphold and leave the UMC, there is a path, called termination that will work. People need to understand the vow of the church are sacred. God doesn’t say we can pick and choose which of His laws to follow.

  4. Bill Fitzgerrel says:

    I certainly agree that this Traditionalist plan is one that almost all conservatives, including myself, can support. I am concerned about the practicality of making this plan work since a majority of bishops oppose it. I glanced over the petition that provides a plan for dissolution of the denomination. It seems to me that that plan makes the most sense. It would provide for a denomination with sexual ethics that conservatives can support, and it provides a denomination for progressives. Such a plan would allow for REAL UNITY and not forced unity.

  5. It seems a bit odd and perhaps unfair that the Traditionalist plan provides for a gracious exit policy for those whose conscience would not allow them to remain a part of the denomination if that plan is adopted by the General Conference whereas the other two plans do not offer a similar gracious exit plan for Traditionalist whose conscience would not allow them to remain a part of the UMC if one of the other two plans is adopted. What gives?

  6. If this traditional plan is adopted, what happens to the general boards and agencies? Can they split also? Can they be tamed?

  7. William says:

    The Traditional Model is an actual, true one church plan in that it essentially continues our denomination as is with the necessary modifications to strengthen and sustain it. It, as the only model to do so, graciously offers those who have already separated from the church a way to leave and make their separation official, and it offers a way to effectively and justly deal with those in continued defiance. If this plan is not adopted in February, then the 2020 General Conference will have to deal with separation legislation.

  8. Gary Bebop says:

    The Traditional Plan has much eye appeal. However, by what mechanism will annual conferences be declared non-compliant? Annual conferences are virtually self-regulating entities and jurisdictions have wide latitudes. What happens when a conference declares itself compliant but is actually defiant? In the West, reality is upside down; defiance is named “obedience” by clever construal and dissemblance. Such calumnious obfuscation of reality will frustrate attempts to enforce a Traditional Plan.

  9. Thank you for your articles on the plans. I have read the appendices attached to the COB’s motion to the Judicial Counsel which contain the proposed legislation accompanying the three plans. I applaud the authors of the Traditional Plan for including within the accompanying petitions a plan for a gracious exit for those whose consciences compel them to leave the denomination should the Traditional plan prevail next February. I see, however, that the other two plans, both of which are more favored by the COB, do not contain any such gracious exit plan or option. It seems the COB in February of this year made the decision to abandon or at least soft pedal any development of a gracious exit plan for Traditionalists whose conscience will not allow them to stay in connection if either of the other two plans prevails. Is this a heavy-handed power play on the part of the COB or is it fear on the COB’s part that either of the two plans the majority of COB prefers (with the “One Church” plan being the top choice for that group, a misnomer if ever there was one) likely will not garner a majority of delegates to the special-called conference?

  10. Sally Hart says:

    When I try to print this, it leaves out entire phrases. Is there any way to print a copy as written?

  11. Thomas Luther says:

    How will the bishops be able to hold disobedient bishops accountable in the Traditional plan when those same bishops cannot do it now? I think General Conferance should be able to remove bishops and clergy who do not uphold the BOD.

  12. P. Perry says:

    The source of our problem is dishonest Bishops and the clergy and laity who support them. All of them at the time of their ordination said they believed what is stated in our Discipline but they do not believe it and have no intention of supporting or defending it. Meanwhile those who do believe and defend what is in our Discipline are labeled as bigots and racists who are filled with rage. We need a term limit for Bishops.

    Tolerance and inclusiveness can cause problems and a plan to sanctify sin will not solve them.

  13. Thanks for your summary. After reading the three plans, I find the Traditional Plan has the theme of “punishment.” However, my impression may have been influenced by Rev. Renfroes speech. I was very disturbed by Rev. Renfroe’s youtube presentation. His anger needs to be checked. Where is the love and grace? I know he’s not Jesus, but he doesn’t speak for all traditionalists. When the opposition goes low, we must go high. I can understand why the clergy from NC called out Rev Renfroe. Please Rev. Renfroe, we need you to do better don’t take the bait.

    I do wish the Traditional Plan message reflected traditional love/grace/Wesleyan concepts written in the plan (outside of the graceful exit recommendation for churches who cannot abide by the BOD) The Traditional Plan doesn’t sound Wesleyan at all, it just sounds so punitive. I do agree with other commentators that it would seem only fair to offer a graceful exit plan for traditionalists in the One Church Plan. I do believe separation is certain. I feel the way things are going now that the One Church Plan will pass, hopefully with a “graceful exit plan” for traditionalist. An exit plan for all should be offered.

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