Responding to Talking Points

By Thomas Lambrecht –

An organization formed to promote the One Church Plan (OCP) at the special called 2019 General Conference has recently issued a dozen talking points in support of the OCP. Some of those talking points are true and worthy of consideration. Upon closer examination, however, other talking points are either misleading or do not tell the full story. Here are responses to the talking points, quoted from Mainstream UMC.

  • The OCP is faithful to Scripture and the example of the Apostles in Acts 15 of allowing different practices in different mission fields.

The OCP changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” and affirms same-gender relationships. That can hardly be called “faithful to Scripture” (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:23-25; Matthew 19:1-12; I Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 1:21-27). The more applicable example from Acts 15 is the decision by Paul and Barnabas to honor each other as brothers in Christ, but separate to do ministry in different ways (vs. 36-41).

  • The OCP has been vetted by one of the most rigorous processes in our denomination’s history, a faithful, two-year study by the Commission on the Way Forward.

While the Commission did work on the One Church Plan, along with other plans, it never took a vote to endorse any of the plans. A lot of thinking and learning went into drawing up the details of all three plans, and they all benefited from that process. The Commission, however, did not endorse the OCP (nor either of the other plans).

  • The OCP has been recommended by nearly two-thirds of all active UM Bishops.

The bishops who endorsed the OCP were primarily from the U.S. According to the information we received, bishops from the central conferences outside the U.S. generally voted against the OCP. This appears simply to be a North American “solution” recommended to a global church.

  • The OCP allows different regions in the U.S. to adapt to their mission field.

One of the major shortcomings of the OCP is that it treats the disagreement over marriage and sexuality as a geographical problem, when it is really a theological problem. There are churches that would favor same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals in every annual conference. And there are churches in every annual conference that would find such an accommodation unacceptable. The OCP treats the minority position in any annual conference unfairly.

  • The OCP has no impact on the Central Conferences outside of the U.S.

The OCP changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” or qualified as “traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman.” According to the Judicial Council ( decision 1185), these definitions bind the church in its universal understanding of marriage and are not adaptable by central conferences outside the U.S. Our brothers and sisters outside the U.S. would be forced to live by and defend marriage as a union of two undefined adults. It is also unclear whether it is constitutional to allow different annual conferences to have different standards for ordained ministry – so can the central conferences really adapt the requirements of the Discipline to their own context?

  • The OCP retains the global structure of the church and shared critical ministries.

Both the OCP and the Traditional Plan maintain the church’s current global structure and ministries (different from the Connectional Conference Plan). Both plans, however, would need to recognize that significant structural changes would undoubtedly follow upon the loss of members, no matter which plan is passed. The Traditional Plan explicitly maintains a way for those departing the denomination to continue participating in the UM pension and benefit plans, as well as mission partnerships, support, and cooperation. The OCP contains no such provisions for any departing churches.

  • The OCP removes most of the controversial and hurtful language about LGBTQ persons.

While the language is controversial and perceived as hurtful by some LGBTQ persons, the church has been forced by progressive advocacy to clarify its understanding of the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality. It is unfortunate that much of the prohibitive language in the Discipline was needed because of the refusal of some annual conferences, clergy, and bishops to abide by the teachings and requirements of the church. What is often interpreted as hurtful is not the language itself (which can be tweaked), but the basic position of the church that same-sex relationships are not congruent with God’s will for human flourishing. This is not a matter of removing language but of changing the church’s understanding of same-sex relationships.

  • The OCP protects the conscience of individual bishops, conferences, pastors, and churches.

These protections, however, are found in the regular part of the Book of Discipline that can be revoked by any future General Conference. In other denominations, when the affirmation of same-sex relationships has become the majority position, such conscience protections have been revoked. Some of those promoting same-sex marriage and ordination in our church have said they will not rest until such is affirmed by all parts of the church (including the central conferences outside the U.S.).

  • The OCP requires no votes by conferences or churches.

While not requiring votes, the OCP sets up a situation where inevitably many annual conferences and local churches would have to vote. Every time an openly gay or lesbian candidate for ministry comes up in an annual conference, the clergy session (or in some cases the whole annual conference) would have to take a vote on whether or not to ordain a practicing homosexual. Every time a gay or lesbian member or relative of a member wants to get married in a local church (using the church’s sanctuary), that local church would have to vote whether or not to allow the use of the church’s property in a same-sex wedding. Any annual conference that does not initially ordain practicing homosexuals will be targeted by progressive advocates to change their position, with resulting controversies and votes year after year until the position in that conference is changed.

  • The OCP is financially faithful to pension commitments for active and retired pastors.

The Traditional Plan is also financially faithful to pension commitments. Changes in the pension plan will be needed regardless of which plan passes General Conference. While the OCP envisions some local churches leaving the denomination, it provides no mechanism for churches to do so while keeping their property. This creates the conditions for unfair treatment of local churches by different annual conferences and the potential for widespread expensive litigation over property and trust clause issues.

  • The OCP puts an end to church trials.

 

  • The OCP holds the denomination together to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.

The idea that the OCP will prevent a separation in the denomination is a fond wish, but not grounded in reality. In fact, the North Georgia Annual Conference, which is generally more conservative in its rural areas and more progressive in its urban areas, took a survey this year as to how people might respond to the passing of either plan. It found that 5 percent of its conference members would seek to leave the denomination if the Traditional Plan passed, while 26 percent would seek to leave if the One Church Plan passed.

It would be wise of the General Conference delegates to acknowledge that no matter which plan passes, a significant portion of our denomination’s membership is likely to depart. The delegates essentially face two decisions at the upcoming General Conference:

1)     Does The United Methodist Church want to take a traditional or progressive approach to the issues of marriage and sexuality in the years ahead (which will determine the identity of the denomination)?

2)     Will The United Methodist Church provide a gracious way for churches to depart with their property, while maintaining the financial integrity of the pension program?

Given that some amount of separation is likely to occur, will that separation be amicable or adversarial? Will local churches be treated fairly across all annual conferences, or depend upon the whim of their annual conference leaders and the individual circumstances of the church, creating the potential for widespread expensive litigation over property and trust clause issues?

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. If the One Church Plan is chosen, unless the GC creates a way for gracious exit, many pastors and churches will be penalized for leaving because they cannot stay in good conscience.

    This will be very difficult for some older clergy who are close to retirement (like me, at 60), because leaving will have a very negative financial affect on our retirement. Yet I would face charges if I tried to stay until retirement, yet would not be willing to perform a same-sex “wedding”.

    Likewise, churches will either lose their buildings and assets, or spend large sums of money to keep them. This will cause much pain and diminish ministry that may never recover from such punishment for, again, standing against the changes for conscience’ sake.

    Ironically (or maybe not so ironically!), we are witnessing the same kind of painful, angry division in our nation over the choice of an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.

    Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy.

  2. The One Church Plan will lead to bankruptcy within 20 years. If you look at the UCC and PCUSA, they are both on the fast track and this plan will put us there. The solace that I would get form this is knowing that these Bishops would be financially ruined within 20 years. They will have no one to pay their pensions.

  3. Point one —- “faithful to Scripture” and “Acts 15 of allowing different practices in different mission fields”. Faithful to what Scripture? As Tom points out, there’s no Scripture that supports same-sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality. That goes without saying. But, liberals continue to perpetuate this deception, perhaps believing that by repeating it often enough that it will eventually become true.

    In reading Acts 15, I see disagreement and resolution over a ritual, not disagreement over individual behavior. Both Jews and Gentiles were warned against the practice of sexual immorality and those other things. Plus, there’s no indication at all there that Paul and Barnabas disagreed over the Word, doctrine, or mission, thus leading them to “different practices in different mission fields”. This is preposterous. They simply disagreed over taking John Mark with them.

    Thus, trying to present the one church plan based on this first talking point kills it right out of the starting gate and renders irrelevant the other talking points.

  4. Concerned Methodist organization recently printed a UMC membership chart. In 1969, there were 10,789,624 members and in 2016, there were only 6,951,278 members. As anyone can see, we have lost approx. 35% of our membership, already. The upcoming GC2019, will cause many more to leave the Church regardless of which plan is selected. The N. Ga. Conference poll indicates a possible 25% membership loss, if the OCP is chosen. Faith is just taking God at his word. Do we stand on the solid Rock or do we choose the sinking sand?

  5. It seems to me there is a lot of wisdom in the letter by the group United Methodists for a Gracious Exit. This was initiated in Ohio by clergy from across the theological spectrum (progressive, centrist and traditionalist), but has been signed by United Methodist clergy and laity from across the spectrum and around the world.

    https://um-gracious-exit.com/blog/

    I agree with their thinking that passing legislation that will allow for a gracious exit FIRST will remove the opportunity for it to become a punitive thing later (either by those who want to leave or those who may want to resist their leaving).

    The only thing it doesn’t require that is different from the gracious exit made available in the Traditional Plan is that the Traditional Plan would require a group of at least 50 churches initially to band together and leave together, then others could continue to do so later (over a specified period of time). The above “gracious exit” proposal requires payment of some apportionments, retirement fund costs and any loans or grants made by the Annual Conference, but does not require them to stay in a Methodist denomination or any denomination (from how I read it).

  6. I am curious as to what book the progressives are reading Acts 15 from? This chapter in Acts has nothing to do with LGBTTQQIAAP issues directly.

    No matter what version you read, all authoritative versions are clear – Acts 15 is talking about how to share the Gospel [Good News] with Gentiles – and how it is not appropriate for them to be burdened with THE LAW of Moses as the Jews of that time lived under.

    It appears there is need for a refresher course in just what Scripture does say!

    I am daily amazed at how so many UMC people don’t know what the Bible actually says. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the WORD of God”. How do we “hear” God’s Word?….by reading it, studying it, meditating on it – not by changing it to fit our desires, wants and wishes.

    Acts 15:8-10 (NLT) says…..
    “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke [the Law] that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?”

    Paul in Romans 7:6 (NLT) explains……
    “But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”

    Romans 8:9-10 (NLT) says to true believers…..
    “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)”

    -So how does ones get the Holy Spirit living within them?
    See Romans 10:9 (NLT) “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

    What happens to us when we believe and confess our faith?
    Titus 3:4-5 (NLT)…..
    “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth [regeneration] and new life through the Holy Spirit.”

    Because of this new birth [regeneration], new life and washing away of our sins, Romans 8:10 (NLT) goes on to say….”Since Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.”

    Romans 6:15-16 (NLT)….
    “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.”

    If the LGBTTQQIAAP community wishes to be a “slave to sin” that is their choice, but I for one do NOT wish to be such. Trying to force me and others to agree with their choices is NOT going to happen.

    It is interesting to watch how many ways the UMC Progressives will come up with to try to change Traditionalists minds.

    Someone said, “Our ability to sin is only limited by our lack of imagination.” We NEED healthy firm boundaries, or we will be in big trouble. The path desired by the OCP is dangerous and unhealthy – spiritually, emotionally and physically.

    • Ann,
      It would appear that one of the biggest stumbling blocks, one that progressives are taking full and complete advantage of, is the widespread Biblical illiteracy across the UMC, especially in “highly educated” America. Much misleading information and outright heresy are flowing down the line to a large segment of unsuspecting laity. Taking advantage of people and betraying their trust in order to promote a secular agenda are egregious sins, reminiscent of the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church prior to the Protestant Reformation.

      • AND THE TWO WILL BECOME ONE FLESH

        The seven words of Jesus sealed the definition of God’s created order for marriage as that between a MAN and a WOMAN — no exceptions. With these seven words to show the absolute uniqueness of marriage, Jesus had no reason to further explain why other forms of marriage, both then and now, are forbidden by God. No amount of intellectual interpretation, conjecture, or contextualizing can honestly change this Biblical fact.

        https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A4-6&version=NIV

  7. Thomas Luther says:

    If we love God, we will over His commands. We will seek to do His will as His servants and not do what the world desires. I think the structure of the church needs to be changed. District superintendents are good to have some structure but why have Bishops??? They are the ones who have lied to God by violating their covenant with Him and the UMC at their consecration when they all vowed to teach and uphold the Discipline of the UMC. The truth will set you free even if it is offensive to some. I just think that our problem stems from the structure we live under in the UMC. I don’t know how many of us are aware that John Wesley was opposed to having Coke and Asbury call themselves bishop. In fact Wesley’s letter concerning this said he had rather be called a scoundrel than a bishop and that he would never allow anyone to call him a bishop. I wonder if he knew where this would one day lead the Church. I recommend we agree to follow the teaching of the Bible and leave the doctrines of men. I believe that is the only true way to have unity in the church and in the nation.

    • Lee W Whitaker says:

      I am with you, Thomas. Like you, I am not one of the clergy entangled with the money of the UMC, and I see little to no value in the larger organization. Pension? I think my grandpa had one of those before a corporate raider drained the fund, but there is none such for most working Americans. I love my local congregation of believers who worship together, not some book and tradition that eclipses the truth of the Gospel for the sake of its business processes and the convenience of its marketing brochure. It ts time for this larger organization to take themselves off the table. Take Wespath and go to some island where you can worship yourselves with yourselves with whatever tangled relationships you can still express with your aging and wrinkled bodies, and leave the Church alone.

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