Episcopalians and the One Church Plan

By Thomas Lambrecht –

The Episcopal Church, one of the seven mainline denominations in the United States, has gone down the road toward the full affirmation of LGBTQ persons and practices. The conflict has cost the church hundreds of thousands of members and tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits over property. Their experience can help us see what the likely effects of a similar decision would be on The United Methodist Church in 2019.

Here is the trajectory The Episcopal Church followed:

  • 2003 – The first openly gay bishop was consecrated
  • 2009 – The church’s standards were changed to allow openly gay or lesbian persons to be ordained, subject to the approval of their bishop (some dioceses did not grant such permission)
  • 2012 – Ordination of transgender persons was allowed, subject to the bishop’s approval; a provisional ritual for same-sex union/marriage was adopted
  • 2015 – Same-sex marriage performed by priests was allowed in the church, subject to the approval of the bishop (8 dioceses out of 101 declined to grant approval)
  • 2018 – Same-sex marriage was required in every diocese, whether the bishop approved or not, but clergy were not required to perform same-sex weddings and the provisional ritual was not adopted into the official church worship book

(Sources: Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: The Episcopal Church; Episcopal convention approves a ‘pastoral solution’ on same-sex marriage; and LGBTQ in the Church)

The Episcopal Church took a “local option” approach to resolving its conflict over same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. Since The Episcopal Church gives more authority to bishops in setting policy, that “local option” revolved around the decision of the bishop, rather than the diocese (equivalent to our annual conference). This is the same approach that the One Church Plan takes, allowing annual conferences to decide about ordination and local churches and pastors to decide about performing same-sex weddings.

One thing to notice is that taking such a “local option” approach, even when spread out over a period of 15 years, did not stave off massive membership losses. Several whole traditional/evangelical dioceses left The Episcopal Church over the last ten years. Attendance dropped from 857,000 in 2000 to less than 580,000 in 2015-a 32 percent decline. Membership dropped from 2,329,000 in 2000 to 1,745,000 in 2016-a 25 percent decline. The national church spent over $45 million on lawsuits to retain church buildings when congregations left. In the same way, adopting the One Church Plan will cause hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of United Methodists to depart from The United Methodist Church and could well cost millions in lawsuits over property.

Another thing to notice is that each step along the way was only a step in the process of becoming more affirming of LGBT practices. Even the most recent Episcopalian action in 2018 is not the end of the story for their denomination. It is anticipated that the formal approval and adoption of a same-sex wedding ritual will take place in 2021 (their next general convention). And provisions mandating equal access to bathrooms and shower facilities regardless of gender identity that were turned down in 2018 may pass the next time around. The process (and conflict) leading toward full affirmation will not stop until same-sex weddings and ordination for LGBT persons are required for all.

The recent gathering of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition reportedly discussed that very prospect. Although many were loath to accept a solution (the One Church Plan) that allows for what they consider discrimination against LGBT persons in some parts of the country, others saw adoption of the plan as a good first step that allows the church to move farther in the direction of affirmation in future years. Dorothy Benz, a New York delegate and leader in Methodists in New Directions (MIND), called the One Church Plan “the necessary first steps for justice,” implying that other steps will need to be taken.

There are no guarantees in the One Church Plan that protections for traditional pastors, churches, and annual conferences will remain in place. In The Episcopal Church, what was once allowed is now becoming required. The “local option” is continually becoming more restricted in favor of required affirmation. By a simple majority vote, the General Conference in 2020 or 2024 could turn around and remove the protections for traditionalists and institute greater requirements for inclusion and affirmation of what the Bible restricts.

Evangelicals will not remain part of a church that forfeits its moral authority based on Scripture in order to go along with the tide of American public opinion. While the One Church Plan seems to offer a “live and let live” way forward, the experience of the Episcopal Church shows that it is only a slippery slope on the way to abandoning the clear teachings of Scripture.

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. 


  1. Thank you for providing another exhibit of stark evidence exposing just how bad this so called one church plan would be for our church.

    Of course —- this liberal one church plan is just step ONE of forcing the full LGBT agenda, which is constantly evolving, onto the very last UMC still standing at that time. The fact that this plan is the antithesis of one Biblical church that would speak one Biblical message should be enough to expose it for the fraud that it is. But, the the blatant deceit being employed to sell it to the delegates is the most reprehensible part of the whole process.

    Each delegate must face the truth, look reality squarely in the face, and recognize what this one church plan is all about. Then she/he must ask himself/herself if this plan would first — save or split the church, and second — enhance or harm the mission of the church.

    • C Harris Collier III says

      As a recovering Episcopalian with United Methodist roots, I’m concerned the United Methodist Church is going to the same road as the Episocpalians in embracing the vogue whims of the day instead of focusing on scripturally sound principle. I came close to going back to the United Methodist Church but had several relatives and friends who are United Methodists who expressed deep concerns about their religion embracing such statist nonsense, and that they would make an exit. I wound up joining the Anglican Church of North America, but would have been very interested in attending a Wesleyan church if there was one close to where I live.

  2. Gary Bebop says

    Yes, there are no guarantees of orthodoxy remaining in place with the One Church plan. Progressives seem energized by these nihilistic fights. But are evangelical-orthodox leaders ready to lead their constituents out of an apostate denomination, or always to temporize?

      • Gary Bebop says

        Let me put it to you plainly: Do you think WCA leaders are preparing to do more than hold conferences and write books?

        • I ask myself, what choice do I have but to believe the WCA? There are some mighty fine people there. I certainly cannot believe or trust the current UMC hierarchy anymore, even my local bishop. Without the formation of the WCA, I likely would have already departed the UMC and joined another Wesleyan denomination, even if it resulted in a local congregation/distance disadvantage. One of the most practical advantages of the historic Methodist Church has bern the abundance of local congregations. This schism is certainly destroying that.

          I just pray that the WCA and that coalition prevail at General Conference and help turn our denomination back to its stated Wesleyan mission by refocusing all its resources on its stated mission of transforming the world by making disciples of Jesus Christ.

  3. I looked around me in church yesterday (Wesleyan but not UMC) and would say the evangelical-orthodox leaders will be following their constituents out of the church. I would guess well over half the attenders are former UMC.

  4. Jesus Wept.

  5. Listen and if the Lord calls you out, go. As members of the new Anglican Church if North Anrican, we have had an amazing time, being called to stand for the gospel. What a privilege. We can’t imagine a more inspiring time.

  6. A fact often overlooked regarding the loss of members in various denominations is that birthrates have been below replacement level for some decades. Even without any disputes, membership would be dropping for this reason alone. How many churches are there where the congregation is of retirement age and the Sunday school building has been rented out to keep the place afloat financially? Some years ago, I encountered an article where trends in the Episcopal Church were examined with the conclusion that there would be one clergy for each member in the not distant future. Obviously, other factors would kick in before this point was reached, but it is still ominous.

    • John Cobil says

      A church that is fulfilling its mission should not care about birth rates. Congregations that reach out are growing. Congregations that only get a new member when an existing member gives birth will indeed die.

  7. The Western Jurisdiction has been living under an essential ‘one church’ approach since Bishop Talbert steam cleaned at least 13 evangelical pastors out of Cal-Nevada. Numerous churches do same gender weddings and both clergy and at least one DS in same sex marriage serve openly, with none of the few traditional pastors who survive daring to file a complaint. Evangelical pastors have been marginalized and disempowered; graduates from evangelical schools are locked out of ordination and the air has been sucked out of the room for those not in step with favored views. Richard John Neuhaus commented that where orthodoxy becomes optional it eventually will become proscribed. If you wish to see what the future holds for the UMC if it adopts the One Church plan, look at the WJ, where the future is now.

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